Seniors, newcomers share culture, conversation in language program

Maureen Coulter, The Guardian
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Jun Jia, left, and Jack Howatt enjoy a beverage at Chesapeake apartments in Charlottetown. Jia is taking part in a newcomers program where he chats with seniors to practise his English

Jun Jia has had some challenges learning the English language since moving to Prince Edward Island from China in 2014.

Jia says he is "so-so" when it comes to reading, writing and speaking — it's the listening aspect that has been proven to be difficult.

"There are so many new words for me," said Jia. "If in one sentence, I don't know one word or two words, it's OK, but if there is so many new words in one sentence, I don't understand."

Working on his listening skills will improve as he takes part in a program where he practises his English while speaking with seniors.

Jia was one of the newcomers who was at Chesapeake apartments in Charlottetown March 3 chatting with seniors at the facility as part of a weekly hour-long program.

Approximately 15 seniors and 25 students were taking part that day in the program organized by the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) at Holland College so newcomers have a chance to speak with people in the "real world" instead of a classroom environment.

"These real world skills are what we are teaching them in class, so any opportunity we have to actually get them out into the community, so they can apply them, it just gives them another chance to develop or perfect those skills," said Matt Thomson, a teacher with LINC.

So far, the program has created a buzz at Chesapeake and in the halls at Holland College, said Thomson.

"We are really hearing what we hoped to hear, which is that it's a symbiotic relationship — both sides are getting a lot out of the experience."

Thomson said seniors are interested in the histories, cultures and personalities of the newcomers.

"They realize that they are a vital part of our provincial community and that they are essential in the growth of our population."

The students spent the morning preparing questions to ask seniors and discussed levels of formality and appropriateness of topics.

"They are really interested in those cultural aspects," said Thomson. "Everything from , 'Are you from the Island originally?' to 'What do you do in your free time?' to 'What kind of work did you do?'. And you see that coming from both sides."

Jia was interested in knowing if there is long wait list for people to move into the Chesapeake apartments. In Beijing, his 74-year-old mother applied to live in a senior apartment seven years ago. She is still waiting.

"No one told her how long she would wait," said Jia. "Sometimes, it's 10 years to move into a senior apartment because there are so many senior people in Beijing."

Thomson said the students are enthusiastic to speak with people in the community.

"They need this experience so that when they get out there, they feel more confident and more comfortable."

Organizations: Holland College, Language Instruction for Newcomers

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, China, Charlottetown Canada Beijing

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  • Cromwell
    March 08, 2016 - 07:07

    Is there any reason why the indentured Chinese newcomers and Syrian migrants aren't educated in French? After all, as we are continuously told by 'The Guardian', French is also one of Canada's official languages, yet newcomers to Canada (other than those who end up in Quebec) are never provided with 'French as a Second Language'.