The Unsung Heroes of ESL/FSL

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I’ve always wondered how an adult who is learning a new language felt when surrounded by the unfamiliar. Although I’ve once experienced the difficulty and hardship of learning a new language and acclimating to a brand new environment as a child, it doesn’t compare to the emotions and experiences felt by an adult learner.

Having watched both my parents in the past try to interact with other fellow Canadians without the proper use of the English language was noteworthy.  Though at times they were clearly frustrated, they seemed to get by.  Today, my parents’ command of the English language is vast and they are both able to carry on conversations and express their wants and needs. Aside from their drive to want to learn and acclimate, they also had French to fall back on. But what about those who migrate from a country that doesn’t afford them that opportunity to speak one of the official languages of our beautiful country?

I met an elderly woman a little while back, and I asked her how she felt about living in a society that she didn’t understand. She’s been in Canada for over 30 years, and to this day she speaks only a few simple words of English. She said that if it weren’t for her sister being by her side constantly, translating and taking her from point to point, she wouldn’t know how to survive. She regrets not taking any English courses, but initially she felt shy and figured her family would help her get by. Today, in her later years, she still carries that regret with her.

I decided then that I was going to help her learn. I met with her whenever I could and spent about an hour or so just going over the basics. But up until that day when she leaned in and said in her native language, which we both share, “Thank you for taking the time to teach this old lady how to get by. You teachers are heroes to people like me,” I didn’t think I was doing much at all or had any sort of impact.

So that got me thinking.  Are we doing enough as educators to help encourage those who need to learn do so? Why are so many people living in our society unable to speak the language?  Is it a lack of desire and drive?  Shyness?  Age?  Time?  Fear?  What can we do to make them feel comfortable?  I’m opening the discussion floor to you, my fellow heroes.


One thought on “The Unsung Heroes of ESL/FSL”

  1. I really appreciate the fact that my centre is (to my knowledge) the only one in Windsor with a LINC class just for those who are 50 and older. I teach that class, and it’s absolutely one of the highlights of my day.

    The thing I think makes class a positive experience for them is that they are able to shape the curriculum themselves. Most of them are retired teachers and professors; we also have a couple of physicians and an engineer. The longer we get to know one another, the more I become just a facilitator and support as they choose topics, let me know which types of activities benefit them, and even plan class potlucks complete with programmes that I have no part in writing.

    It has taken three years for this class to meld into what it is today (and it’s still evolving). I think the key to success is to tune into the learners’ needs and tailor every aspect of it to their specific circumstances.

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