Finding a Rhythm – Helping Future Canadians Learn English in the time of COVID-19

  • LINC instructor teaching from home in the time of COVID-19

Finding a Rhythm – Helping Future Canadians Learn English in the time of COVID-19

By Suzanne Charest

Lisa Olsen teaches newcomers English, helping them to reach one of the most pivotal language levels, Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 4. What makes CLB 4 so important is that it is the level required in listening and speaking for an immigrant or refugee aged 18 to 54 to be able to apply for Canadian citizenship.

Lisa has been a Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC)  instructor at OCISO for three years. She first became interested in teaching English as a second language when she studied linguistics at Carleton University. “While doing a minor in Japanese at university, I realized how much I enjoyed interacting with Japanese students,” explains Lisa. “We each had an opportunity to practice new languages.”

She then went on to complete the CTESL program at Carleton University which was a good fit with her other students. “I really like the freedom to teach using creative lessons, rather than a defined curriculum,” adds Lisa.

The LINC program is based on achieving English language competencies in reading, writing, listening and speaking by the end of each session. Students often study at their own pace and attend in different time frames.

In pre-COVID-19 times, there were many ways that students were able to practice their English. Lisa had helped to plan rummage sales, invited guest speakers and more.  She had a full class of 22 students, ranging in age from 19 to over 50. She often would help them with their resumes and organize group activities as a way to strengthen their English.

When OCISO offices were closed on March 16 because of the COVID 19 pandemic, Lisa and the seven other LINC teachers had to drastically change their direction and find ways to begin teaching the students remotely.

Lisa spent the first week contacting each of her students to set them up for remote learning. “It’s harder to do group activities online, so I transitioned to teaching using digital platforms such as Kahoot, YouTube and H5P,” says Lisa. “I used Lingt where students can record themselves speaking as many times as they want. I overlaid audio on my teaching Powerpoints and downloaded lesson plans from ESL Library.”

“I definitely miss being with the whole class, where you can quickly see who is engaged and who needs help,” adds Lisa.  Lisa has succeeded in keeping the majority of students learning English. Some of the volunteers who have worked with LINC on an ongoing basis have also continued to provide virtual support. There are Thursday conversation groups where volunteers have connected with one or two at a time students over Google Hangouts.

“Some of my students have family or friends to help them and slowly but surely the majority of my students overcome the technological barriers to the new ways of learning,” says Lisa. She has also helped some her students navigate online for the multiple government COVID-19 assistance programs.

A few of Lisa’s students have emailed her about their accomplishments, saying how much they appreciate everything being done to assist them in learning English.  One 19 year-old student named Hassan sent her this email:

“Hi teacher, I signed up for Fluentu. It’s very useful and I learned a lot of new words to use when I’m speaking to someone. Actually, I finished the three videos with their quiz. I’m so interesting in your new assignments and I’ll check them every day. I finished all of your exercises and the score is always complete. As for the fifth exercise, I finished it from the first attempt and I challenged my dad to finish it with the same score, LOL. Thanks teacher for your caring and stay safe.”

What really inspires Lisa is how even though many of her students have experienced trauma in their home country, along with new fear and hardships because of COVID-19, they remain appreciative of being in Canada. “In spite of being worried about their families here and in other countries, it is truly remarkable how my students are still so eager to learn,” says Lisa. “They realize the importance of achieving CLB 4, and remain very goal-oriented about one day applying for their citizenship.”

The strength, resilience and eagerness of these newcomers to learn has not waned because of the pandemic.  They still are working hard, so they can participate in that wonderful day when they read the oath at their Canadian citizenship ceremony. Although the rhythm of how they go about learning English has changed, their dream of becoming Canadians has not.

OCISO offers free Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC). English language instruction is essential for newcomers to feel at home and be fully productive in their new land. It offers LINC classes at various levels from Literacy to Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7. Landed Immigrants, Permanent Residents and Convention Refugees ages 18 and over are eligible to attend.

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Our Mission!

OCISO supports immigrants through the journey of making Canada their home by providing creative and responsive programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, by building community through mutual respect and partnerships, and by fostering healthy and inclusive spaces for open dialogue and healing.

What we do 🙂

We are community based non-profit organization that has been providing services in Ottawa since 1978. We are motivated by the stories of new immigrants, and we are there every stage of the journey. OCISO directly serves over 10,000 immigrants and refugees every year. Our work is augmented by the generous efforts of our enthusiastic, caring and talented staff, volunteers, both established and new Canadians.