Everyone has an Accent

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By Tara Toroghi

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the term “accent” is defined as “the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words” (2022). Some examples of accents include Canadian, British, American (such as Southern or Boston accent), French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Persian, Jamaican and so much more! The latter highlights that while we may think differently, everyone who speaks English has a distinct accent, including Canadian, British, and American individuals. For example:

  • Canadians say “about”as “a-boot”.
  • British citizens say “British” as “Bri-ish”.
  • Southern Americans say “you all” as “y’all”.

While these different pronunciations show that everyone has an accent, some accents are seen as “inferior” which impacts people’s experiences when speaking English. As a result, accents bring up different emotions for different people. It can make someone feel confident in their ability to speak a language aside from their mother tongue. It can also be a reason why someone feels embarrassed because their accents are preventing others from fully understanding them.

I have experienced a few uncomfortable situations firsthand by speaking my first language – Farsi. During my early teenage years, I was teased by family members for pronouncing words in Farsi with an accent. I was mortified, uncomfortable, and from that moment, I decided to limit speaking Farsi out of fear. A few days later, I witnessed my mother experience a similar situation while speaking English in a grocery store. I noticed that the encounter did not stop my mother from speaking English despite her accent. Watching my mother remain confident made me realize that having an accent is a strength as it shows one’s ability to persevere and learn.

Today, I believe having an accent is something that one should be proud of because whether they have taken the time and effort to learn a whole new language or it’s a part of their mother tongue, their accent is a part of their identity. I had the opportunity to interview a few who use English as their Additional Language regarding their experiences associated with their accent as well as if they believed there is a correlation between accents and fluency.

Q: When was the first time someone mentioned your accent to you and how did that experience impact you?

  • “Although I am proud of myself for learning a completely new language, when my accent was pointed out, I felt self-conscious. However, I did not allow that to stop me from speaking English because practice makes perfect.”
  • “Everyone has an accent. The first time someone mentioned my accent was when I traveled to Seattle for a conference after living in BC for a couple of years. This surprised me and made me question myself during presentations and job interviews, however, I did not allow that experience to hinder my growth.”
  • “The first time someone mentioned my accent was in the fourth grade. One of my classmates made fun of me when I was presenting a skit. From that moment, I have been self-conscious of the way I speak, especially with my pronunciation. Experiencing this at such a young age has made me doubt my abilities when it comes to speaking English.”
  • “The first time my accent was mentioned, I was four and baffled. One of the parents at my school told me I had an adorable African accent, and I couldn’t help but be confused about what that meant. It would be like saying someone has a European accent. German? French? What does that even mean? But I was four, so I said thank you then learned to tie a shoelace.”
  • “My mother sounds distinctly British. Which means that sometimes… I sound distinctly British. People seem to find that incredibly distinguished, posh, intelligent even. When I get excited, however, I might find myself sliding into more AAVE, which has almost the direct opposite effect on people then when I sound British.”

Q: In your experience, are accents and fluency related or unrelated?

  • “In my opinion, there is no correlation between having an accent and fluency. One can have an accent when speaking English but they can be as fluent as an English First Language speaker.”
  • “I believe that accents are more fluency based. I focus on whether I can understand the person speaking rather than judging their accents.”
  • “Accents can affect fluency of communication; however, rather than focusing on people’s pronunciation, I believe that listening skills need to be improved if one is unable to understand someone speaking with an accent.”
  • “In my experience, fluency has nothing to do with accent. Fluency is about being able to speak on a topic while accents depend on one’s geographical location.”
  • “In my experience, accent and fluency have almost no correlation. Though, clarity is occasionally an issue (just go to Newfoundland). However, I’ve found that an accent can change people’s perceptions of fluency and ability.”
  • “I’ve found that the way we interact with people, fluency or not, has more to do with perceptions of the accent they use than with how well they speak our language. I’ve also found that it’s easy to forget, when surrounded by people who speak like us, that there is no such thing as not having an accent. Everyone’s from somewhere after all.”

As mentioned above, everyone has an accent, and based on the answers given for their personal experiences, most interviewees felt shame when their accents were mentioned. However, all of them continued pursuing the language for personal, educational, and professional goals. Regarding the correlation of fluency and accent, there were mixed views as some believed that accents affect fluency while others said that there is no correlation between the two. Something that stood out to me was how some interviewees mentioned that people should further exercise their listening skills rather than judge someone for their accent.

What is an experience that impacted your view on accents? Did this blog change your view on accents? If so, how? Feel free to share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Remember, your accent is a sign of intelligence. Speak loudly and speak proudly!

Reference

Cambridge University Press. (2022). Accent. Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/accent

Author’s Bio
Teacher, writer, and free-spirit, Tara is someone who encourages people to embrace their authentic selves and live their life’s purpose. Growing up in an immigrant household, she witnessed and experienced judgment when it came to accents when speaking English and Farsi. Writing about this topic is Tara’s way of spreading awareness and showing acceptance of accents.

Start the New Year with Learnings from 2021

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Happy New Year! We asked our board and committee members to share with our readers their learnings from 2021 which they will carry forward to 2022 .

Self Care

Self care definitely stood out among all the themes occurring in what we learned: “…there is nothing wrong with making time to take care of yourself” (Jennifer Cummins), and “It’s important to take care of myself, first. It’s like the oxygen mask in the airplane: Put your own on first” (Cindi Jones) and “to encourage others to take care of themselves, too!” (Taslim Damji). 

We also learned to give ourselves permission to take a step back. For Mercedes Bueno, it’s about disconnecting from work periodically: “…the mind needs to disconnect from work regularly in order to be more productive weekly. Working online doesn’t have to equal being available 24/7.”  For someone who experienced uncertainty and significant changes, they may find Karen Aughtry’s wisdom resonates with their learning: “I have learned (am learning) to float with the ebb and flow of life. …This year I’ve been experiencing all types of conditions on ‘the sea’. I’m learning to choose what suits my capabilities (I don’t mind learning new things, though) when there are many tugs of options on my line, and I’m learning to chill when there aren’t any. I will keep doing this in the unknown of 2022!”

Through the challenging times in 2021, as devoted and caring educators we realized the importance of self care, so that we can be a strong support for our students, coworkers, family and friends. We learned to slow down, ground ourselves, take breaks, care for our own needs, prioritize our own wellbeing, and let go of the things we are unable to control.

Supporting Others

While we learned to take care of ourselves, we also learned and kept improving the ways we try to take care of others and their unique needs. “…Each person deals with adversity in a different way, and the challenge is to provide the kind of support that is unique to each individual. To demonstrate true care involves giving the ‘cared for’ what they need, not what I think they need” (Karen Densky). Shirene also shared that “…socializing in small groups or one-on-one allowed me to spend more engaged time with the ones I love”.

As we are busy preparing for learning opportunities and supporting our members, Azzam learned not to “put off things for tomorrow as there are always fires to be put out then” – It is also a snapshot to show you how hard our board, committees and volunteers are working to bring you more professional development opportunities! 

Through the Challenges of 2021

In 2021, we experienced challenging wildfires and flooding amongst the continuing pandemic; however, we did not stop learning. As Fedha Muema summarized: “…In 2021 I finally began to understand what it truly meant to be a lifelong learner. … [Learning is] not just someone who takes college credits for fun well into their twilight years; it’s not just the student in the classroom or the Dojo or the dance studio. It’s also all the little things you accumulate in the most unexpected places. … In 2021 I learned that education is a conscious choice to be open to discovering something new, and to never stop reaching for more. “

What is one thing you learned in 2021 that you will bring with you to 2022?

#CdnELTchat & #teslONchat Summary: Truth and Reconciliation in #ELT

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#CdnELTchat & #teslONchat summary for June 15 

By Bonnie Nicholas, Jennifer Chow, Vanessa Nino, and Augusta Avram

Like all Canadians, we were horrified by the confirmation of the graves of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops in May. Many of us did not learn about the tragic history of residential schools during our own school years. This part of Canadian history was not part of the curriculum.

Since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in 2015 and its 94 Calls to Action, all of us working in ELT and particularly those of us who work in settlement programs know that we have the responsibility not just to educate ourselves but also to help the students that we are privileged to teach to learn about the history of treaties and residential schools. This is articulated clearly in Articles 93 and 94 of the Calls to Action. The confirmation of the graves in Kamloops and the almost certainty of more discoveries ahead has given urgency to this responsibility. 

On June 15th, #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat held a joint Twitter chat for English language teachers and admin. Our topic was Truth and Reconciliation in #ELT. This special joint chat was to find ways that we can move forward with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and work for reconciliation. Because we are all mourning the little ones who lost their lives in Kamloops and elsewhere, and because most of us in ELT are settlers on this land, we started our chat with a reflective thread. We’ve included a slightly revised version of this thread here.

Before we begin, let’s take a moment of silence to remember the 215 children in Kamloops, the 104 children in Brandon, and the many others who were taken to school and never came home. We are greatly saddened by this confirmation and we mourn their deaths. Many of us live on Treaty territories; others live on unceded lands; all of us live on traditional territories of the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who lived here on Turtle Island in harmony with the land before the arrival of settlers. We also invite you to join us in taking a moment to reflect on the land, the place where you live, work, and play. If you have a personal land acknowledgement and if you are comfortable sharing it, we invite you to do so. 

As ELT professionals, we (the #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat teams) recognise our responsibility to work towards reconciliation in our personal and our professional lives. The Calls To Action are everyone’s responsibility. Those of us working in settlement language programs have an additional responsibility to teach newcomers to Canada information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools, as outlined in Call to Action 93 of the #TRC. Karen Joseph, CEO of @ReconciliationCanada has said,  “This is not a time for shame. It’s a time for action. Keep showing up. We have the responsibility. Everyone has a voice. Being an ally means that it’s Indigenous People’s fight, but this fight belongs to everyone who lives in Canada.” 

We accept this responsibility and we recognise the privilege of our position in #ELT. We are grateful for the land that we live, work, & play on. We know that we still have much to learn about what truth & reconciliation mean for us in our daily lives. We know that we need to do this work ourselves and that we cannot ask Indigenous educators to bear yet another burden. We need to be not just allies, but co-conspirators. 

During this chat, we asked participants to share & amplify Indigenous voices, through links to social media, the arts (including videos, books, & music), websites, and other resources. These have all been added to our Padlet, https://padlet.com/CdnELTchat/TruthandReconciliationinCdnELT.  

We know that we must be mindful of our privilege as we do this necessary work. We are grateful to have had guidance & wise counsel from Sharon Jarvis (@romans1v17). Any mistakes we make will be our own, but we know that inaction is not a choice. 

During the hour-long chat, we posed a series of questions for discussion and further reflection.

Q1: What does reconciliation mean to you as an educator? How do you see your role in the process of truth and reconciliation? 

Q2: How “comfortable” or “ready” do you feel to embed the Calls to Action into your teaching? What do you need in order to be more prepared to do this? 

Q3: Can you share & amplify Indigenous voices, through links to social media, the arts (including videos, books, & music), websites, and other resources?

Q4: Take a moment to think about the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Which one resonates with you?  

Q5: Many of the Calls to Action are for governments and the legal system but also for everyone in Canada. The final two Calls to Action were written specifically for newcomers to Canada, so these are the two that impact our approach to indigenisation and classroom teaching. Neither Discover Canada nor the citizenship oath have changed. It’s our responsibility to honour the spirit of the calls to action as best we can with the tools and resources that we have. How can we honour these in our teaching?  

Q6: Call to Action #57: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.” This will require skill based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. What can we do within our organizations to advocate for mandated training in truth and reconciliation? 

And perhaps the most important question of all: We invite you to join us in reflecting on what actions we can and will take in our personal and professional lives to honour the Calls To Action of the TRC and work for truth and reconciliation.

We’ve collected the relevant tweets from the chat using Wakelet, Truth and Reconciliation in ELT. You can also search for the relevant tweets on Twitter using the hashtags #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat.

Jennifer Chow, @JenniferMChow, Augusta Avram, @ELTAugusta, and Bonnie Nicholas, @BonnieJNicholas on the #CdnELTchat team hosted the chat along with Vanessa Nino, @Vnino23, from #teslONchat. Thank-you to everyone who participated. We are especially grateful to the Indigenous educators and knowledge keepers that we have learned from and will continue to learn from. We encourage everyone working in #CdnELT to continue to listen & learn from Indigenous people. 

Thank you to all those who contributed resources to the Padlet, which we hope will continue to be a useful resource: June 15 #CdnELTchat & #teslONchat 

Even if you’ve missed the synchronous part of this #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat, it’s never too late to join the conversation. Please tweet your comments, replies, & resources at any time. This was the last #CdnELTchat before we take a break for the summer. We will revisit this important topic of truth & reconciliation again. 

 

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.

 

#CdnELTchat summary for June 1, 2021 (Self-Directed Professional Development with Anna Bartosik)

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#CdnELTchat summary for June 1, 2021
Self-Directed Professional Development with Anna Bartosik

I’ve been using Twitter for self-directed professional development (SDPD) for about 8 years now. I started out just following educators and lurking on Twitter chats; that led to the discovery of blogs, journals and teaching resources. At first, I didn’t know if what I was doing on Twitter counted as PD, but over time, I realized that the learning I was doing on Twitter allowed me to be more responsive to the challenges I faced in my own teaching practice than organized PD did. 

#CdnELTchat was happy to have Anna Bartosik (@ambartosik) share her expertise on Self-Directed Professional Development (SDPD) on June 1. Anna is an English language teacher at George Brown College, instructional designer, and PhD Candidate at OISE. Her research is in self-directed professional development in digital networks. Learn more by reading her blog: https://annabartosik.wordpress.com/

Before we started our discussion, we had a moment of silence to mourn and remember the #215children in Kamloops. #CdnELTchat is also taking the time to reflect and plan a future chat with #teslONchat later this month to talk about what we need to do in order to move forward with the 94 Calls To Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and work for #Reconciliation.

Here are the questions that guided our chat: 

Q1: How do you define self-directed PD?

Q2: What do you do for PD? How would you describe your own PD? #CdnELTchat 

Q3: Why do you do self-directed PD? Is there something missing from organized PD that you get out of self-directed PD? 

Q4: What have you done for self-directed PD over the past year of #COVIDteaching? Are you planning to continue with self-directed PD, post-COVID?

Q5: What about some of the newer platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Do you have recommendations on who to follow or suggestions on how to use these (or other) platforms? 

Q6: What kind of barriers might educators face from administrators when they engage in self-directed PD? What strategies can we use to mitigate these barriers? 

You can read the collection of tweets from our chat using Wakelet. Thank-you to Anna Bartosik and the enthusiastic participants who generously shared their thoughts during and after the chat. 

Here are some highlights from the discussion:  

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to continue to reflect on what we’re learning, what we’re finding challenging and what solutions we’ve tried, especially during this time. Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments.

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow

 

#CdnELTchat Summary: Decentring Whiteness in ELT with JPB Gerald

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#CdnELTchat summary for May 11, 2021 with Guest moderator JPB Gerald

By Tanya Cowie, Jennifer Chow and Bonnie Nicholas

On May 11, the #CdnELTchat team along with #teslONchat welcomed JPB Gerald (@JPBGerald) as our special guest moderator for a live chat on the topic of Decentring Whiteness in #ELT. JPB Gerald is a doctoral candidate in Instructional Leadership. His scholarship focuses on language teaching, racism, and whiteness. Learn more at jpbgerald.com or by listening to the podcast, UnstandardizedE. We can also recommend his article in the BC Teal Journal, Worth the Risk: Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching, as well as his most recent co-authored piece (with @ScottStillar and @Vijay_Ramjattan) in Language Magazine, After Whiteness

Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow) and Tanya Cowie (@tanyacowiecowie) co-moderated the chat on this challenging and important topic. 

We’ve collected the relevant tweets in a new #CdnELTchat Collection, Decentring Whiteness. You can also follow the conversation (although in reverse chronological order) on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas either synchronously or asynchronously post-chat as we explored what decentring whiteness might mean for all of us working in ELT. These are the questions that guided our discussion, along with some of the responses that were shared. 

Q1: What should we do when colleagues push back against confronting issues of #racism in language teaching?

  • Gerald suggests we start by asking questions about their resistance; build and strategize with colleagues; be willing to take risks in solidarity with others.
  • Ideas from participants: keep going; exemplify; keep learning and educating ourselves; keep the conversations open; talk to ally leaders;talk about why this is important; be aware of the space we occupy; make anti-racist work impossible to ignore.

Q2: What needs to be done in teacher education to prevent future educators from reinforcing #whiteness in #ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests looking for new voices and scholars in ELT, and challenging the assumptions that there is one standardized English. 
  • Ideas from participants: White teacher-educators need to acknowledge whiteness and what it means in ELT; hire more diverse teacher-educators; get rid of training materials that reinforce the white-dominant and white-default narrative; normalize examination of power structures in teacher education; revise the curriculum to include critical anti-racist approaches; go beyond the minimum requirements for certification; de-colonize the curriculum from within; educate ourselves by diversifying what we read and who we follow on social media; question everything; intercultural and anti-racism training.

Q3: What is the role of #ELT professional associations in decentering whiteness in this industry? 

  • Gerald says to start by diversifying conferences and publications (including social media); use “white” and “racism” where needed; bring in PD from racialized members.
  • Ideas from participants: have more racialized folks on boards (and examine why Black folds are not already there), have racialized folks speaking at every conference; ensure that our associations represent all sectors; recognize self-directed PD (including informal PD like #CdnELTchat).

Q4: Should (white) #ELT teachers try to convince their students that native-speaker Englishes are not a good goal to aim for? If yes, how can we facilitate that without marginalizing students’ perspectives?  

  • Gerald suggests framing their language as perfectly valid, deemphasizing required testing practices, and (long-term) eliminating the native speaker construct.
  • Ideas from participants: teach students that communication is the goal; show that we value who they are; include a variety of authentic voices in our classroom materials; eliminate discussion of native-speakerism from our classrooms; share statistics that show language diversity among Canadians.

Q5: How can racialized educators who work with mainly white colleagues and supervisors advocate for change in their organization and ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests finding people around the world who will support you, and then find white people who will actively support you by taking risks. 
  • Ideas from participants: Have a support group that can listen and heal together; white colleagues need to not take up the space for racialized colleagues; not expect those same racialized colleagues to do all the heavy lifting; organizational commitment to anti-racism work is essential.

Q6: Teaching ‘academic language’ is central to ELT, but some scholars have argued that the idea of academic language is racist. What are your thoughts about the role of academic language in ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests that yes, its role is to “pathologize the racialized and their language practices”.
  • Ideas from participants: ask whose language? and whose rules?; question the staticicity of academic language; redefine what academic language means today; introduce critical applied linguistics and critical EAP approaches in the curriculum.  

This was a challenging topic, and one that we need to reflect on and then revisit, more than once. #CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to connections, learning, and a more reflective practice for all of us involved in #ELT. Questions are collected in advance of each chat on Padlet, and then 5 or 6 are chosen for the hour-long chat. Our Padlet, Questions and Topics for #CdnELTchat, is always open for comments. If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #CdnELTchat, please send @StanzaSL, @BonnieJNicholas, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Please connect with the team if you are are interested in guest moderating a future #CdnELTchat. 

And in these challenging times, remember to practice self-care. Feel free to reach out and check in anytime with your colleagues in #CdnELTchat.

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.

 

#CdnELTchat Summary: Building Community in Online Classes

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#CdnELTchat summary for April 27, 2021
By Bonnie Nicholas

As we continue with online  teaching and learning, I think all of us have discovered the importance of building community in the online spaces that we spend so much time in. I suspect that we have all also discovered that it’s more challenging to build a community in an online environment than in a face-to-face class. #CdnELTchat hosted a Twitter chat to talk about this ongoing challenge.

During the one-hour conversation, we discussed the following questions. We hope that the questions and tweets will provide material for reflection, even for those who didn’t participate in the live chat or the asynchronous post-chat tweets. Our hope is always that #CdnELTchat will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. This is why we collect the tweets and share the summaries afterwards.

Q1: What does community-building mean?

Q2: What should we be mindful of when we design community-building activities for synchronous classes?

Q3: What considerations are important when we design community-building activities for asynchronous classes? 

Q4: What F2F community-building activities have you adapted for an online environment? Have they worked well in the online space?

Q5: How is building community online different (or the same) from the physical classroom? 

And a question for further reflection, that we didn’t have time to discuss: What advice might you give to your pre-pandemic self about building community? 

We talked about the importance of building trust, knowing our students, humanising our classes, and creating safe spaces for everyone. Here are some suggested readings and resources from the chat: 

This is the seventh year for #CdnELTchat. During that time, we’ve hosted almost 100 chats on a wide range of topics in ELT, as well as a number of informal check-ins since the start of the pandemic. We are always open to having guest moderators join a chat and share your passion for a particular topic in ELT. Fill in this Google Form, post on our Padlet, or contact us through Twitter: Jen Chow (@Jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas). 

Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. The best thing about using social media like Twitter for self-directed PD is that you can choose to actively participate or just lurk. Both are equally valid choices.

#CdnELTchats chats are held about every second week, usually on a Tuesday evening. Please let us know if you have an idea for a topic, a suggestion for a guest moderator, or if you’re interested in moderating a chat on a topic in ELT that you’re passionate about. Reach out to a member of the #CdnELTchat team: Jennifer Chow (@Jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas). We hope that growing your #PLN and connecting through social media will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. 

Please join us for our next chat on May 11 with special guest moderator, @JPBGerald, to discuss Decentring Whiteness in #ELT. For links to his podcast, @UnstandardizedE and more of his scholarship on Whiteness, Racism & Language teaching, got to https://jpbgerald.com/. Please add your questions to our padlet.  

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.

 

Stories from Newcomers to Canada: A Life-Writing Project Started by EAL and Adult Educators in BC!

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By Zahida Rahemtulla and Amea Wilbur

Using Life-Writing with Newcomers in the Classroom

Life-writing and narrative pedagogies are sites EAL instructors can explore with newcomers to Canada in the classroom, allowing for students to examine their backgrounds and find commonalities and community through shared life experiences. For many newcomers who were former writers, the opportunity of embarking on a narrative project offers a chance to explore the English language through the medium of creative nonfiction. 

The Stories from Newcomers to Canada Project

Stories from Newcomers to Canada is one such BC-based creative non-fiction initiative. Started by Adult Educators and EAL instructors, the program helps newcomers author their own stories of migration in a forthcoming book, Geographies of the Heart: Life writing from Newcomers to Canada

The project began in February 2020. The group had two meetings before Covid-19 hit in March, and then moved online. As a result, most of the writing process has taken place remotely via zoom, and the community has met regularly over this platform throughout the year. 

The stories from this community of newcomers represent the multiplicity and complexity of experiences that are often ignored in narratives of immigration and forced migration to Canada. Understanding a range of experiences is especially important in a media landscape which continues to struggle against presenting one single narrative as “the” story of immigration.

The Podcast: Hosted by UBC Centre for Migration Studies

Six of the authors from the forthcoming book are featured on the Global Migration Podcast, which is hosted by the UBC Centre for Migration Studies and was recently released online:

https://migration.ubc.ca/global-migration-podcast/season-2/episode-1

You can get a sense of the project and authors by listening to these short ~30 minute episodes featuring different themes on the topic of settlement and migration. 

Take a Listen!

Episodes 1-6 are currently on the website, with more episodes on the way! 

Episode 1: Stories about Gathering Stories is about how the project was started by Raymonde Tickner, Amea Wilbur, Zahida Rahemtulla and Kerry Johnson. Episode 2: Stories about Mentorship focuses on the experiences of two Kurdish newcomer writers, Ava Homa and Shanga Karim and the experiences of minority writers, and  Episode 3: In Stories about Exile and Displacement we hear from Albino Nyuol and Muhialdin Nyera Bakini about their exile from South Sudan. Episode 4: Stories of Risk looks at the experience of exiled journalists Akberet Beyene and Diary Xalid Marif from Eritrea and Iraq. Episode 5: Stories of Disruption focuses on the post-settlement experience of Malena Mokhovikova, and Episode 6: Stories of Belonging and Exclusion takes a closer look at ongoing experiences of discrimination faced by racialized newcomers with Camille McMillan-Rambharat. 

All episodes are hosted by Mohammed Alsaleh, acclaimed international speaker and advocate. 

These episodes will be an interesting listen for anyone interested in bringing narrative pedagogies and life-writing into their classrooms, migration, and the fantastic stories from newcomers all around us.

More Information on Stories from Newcomers to Canada

If you are interested in the broader life-writing project, you can learn more at our website: https://sntc.squarespace.com/

Biographies

Zahida Rahemtulla is an emerging writer and graduate student in Postcolonial Literature and Translation.  She has worked in Vancouver’s immigrant and refugee non-profit sector for several years in the area of housing, employment, and literacy. From 2017-2020, served as coordinator of The Shoe Project—a storytelling program for newcomer women coached by established Canadian authors. 

Amea Wilburis an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). She developed a trauma-informed English as an Additional Language (EAL) program at Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) that received national recognition. Amea speaks and writes on the topics of literacy and trauma, and co-authoredThe 6 Principles For Exemplary Teaching of English Learners.

THE NEW NORMAL – LEARNING TO TEACH ONLINE

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By Sarah Barr

In the spring of 2020, as Covid took hold, I watched my class get smaller and smaller. By the middle of March there were only about 3 people who came to my lessons. They all sat apart trying to follow this new “social distancing”. I remember standing in front of the classroom and saying, “Well, looks like we are some of the bravest people still willing to come to class.” Then one student quite astutely said, “Or we are the stupidest.” That was the last day I taught inside a classroom.

Figuring Out Zoom

As we all hunkered down in our houses, my work offered online learning. I enlisted some friends and family to be my practice online class. All was going well until we entered the breakout rooms. My 11 year old son thought he had to “break out” of this room so spent his entire time trying to escape. A few days later with my real beginner ESL class, things were going well until I created the breakout rooms. I joined virtual room #1 and no one was there. Until I figured out how to automatically send my beginner ESL students to the breakout rooms, I kept turning up in virtual rooms all by myself.

Confined to a Zoom Box

Next on my list of things to solve was how to teach while stuck in a Zoom box. Since people could only see my head and not much more, my usual technique of walking around a room trying to act out explanations was out the window. My miming and hand gestures were now confined to a small box only showing the top third of my body. Once a student asked what “crossed legs” meant? I demonstrated by crossing my fingers, pretending they were legs. This is the new normal – teaching in a square box.

Crossed-legged.

Screenshots Galore

Miscommunications happen to the best of us but throw in beginner ESL students with sometimes limited computer skills and it’s certainly no picnic trying to get everyone to follow instructions. I found the best way to combat this problem was to take screenshots or photos to demonstrate what needed to be done. For example, I showed everyone that you need to click on the white dots/View in the upper right corner to select Gallery View, if you want to see everyone’s faces. In the old days I could have pointed at my smartboard and showed everyone what to do. Now I’m stuck on the other side of the computer screen unable to help like I used to. 

Screenshots

So my usual bag of goodies with hands on materials: flash cards, games and anything involving dice is a distant memory. However, although online learning has been forced upon us, it’s not all bad. I no longer have to battle with my nemesis: the photocopier which always seemed to run out of paper whenever it was my turn to use it.

Question:

How has your teaching changed since teaching online?

Bio: Sarah Barr immigrated to Canada in 2015 from Christchurch, New Zealand. She started teaching ESL over 20 years ago and has worked in England, New Zealand and Canada. Currently Sarah works at the North Shore Multicultural Society and volunteers at North Shore Emergency Management giving presentations on how to be prepared for emergencies.

Pushing Boundaries: From Chile to Canada

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By Claudia Marroquin Pinto

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]

As teachers, we try to push boundaries every day in our classrooms by taking a step out of our comfort zones, questioning the way we have been working for years, or travelling out of our home countries to look for answers and ways to improve our practice. It seems like a kind of “revolutionary concept” these days when there is a framework to follow and a protocol for almost everything teachers have to do. Sometimes, when the system pushes back, it is necessary to find a way to push forward.

I have been working as a teacher in Chile for 15 years, and I came to Canada last year to take a closer look at its educational system in regards to teaching English as an additional language (EAL) to students in primary and middle schools. I came up with this idea four years ago after I read in the newspaper about the growing number of immigrants that had entered Chile from non-Spanish speaking countries. I immediately thought of the children who would be enrolled in our classrooms with no idea of what their teachers and their classmates were talking about. I wondered about those parents trying to understand our educational system and struggling to support their children with all that it means to move from one country to another and adapt to new customs without knowing the language of the new land. Many questions came to my mind but only one answer was absolutely true at that point: we were not prepared to teach those children.

The following year, I received in my class a student from the United States of America who spoke little Spanish. When I interviewed his parents, they told me that he had failed the previous year in another school. They told me that the teachers were not supportive, did not like him to take notes in English, and did not take into account the differences in cultural aspects so sometimes the teachers thought their son was being rude just because in their culture they were used to being more straight-forward when speaking than Chilean culture. Even though he struggled with reading in Spanish, teachers used the same instruments to teach and assess him in Science, History, and Spanish Language Arts. He was not allowed extra time to answer tests or read books in his mother tongue. In other words, the school did not make any provisions to help him; he was asked to adapt to the school rules, and his struggles were considered a lack of commitment, interest, and skills.

It made me sad to think about him failing Grade 5 just because our school system did not allow teachers to make adaptations that took his linguistic and cultural differences into consideration, and I promised his parents to do my best to provide him with a different experience in this new school. Without having any training in multicultural education, I followed my gut to implement a support plan. It was hard at the beginning since other teachers saw these actions as “privileges” that the rest of students did not have. I did not have the theoretical knowledge to debate them, but in the end I convince them that we needed to support him. The plan included small things such as labelling the classroom with English and Spanish words, stating clear rules for behaviour with teachers and classmates, explaining the differences between the two cultures; allowing him to use his cell phone in class to look up for words and translate texts, and providing extra time on tests. He was also sitting close to the teachers and to the board, and was assigned a buddy who supported him in Science and History. Even though these actions worked, I had the feeling that there must have been infinitely more things I could have done if the school had allowed me. At that point, I felt frustrated with the school system, and I was absolutely sure that we were not prepared to teach these children. It was urgent to change our views of newcomers and our teaching strategies if we really wanted to help these students thrive in the Chilean school system. We were not prepared to teach “non-Chilean students,” and in order to change that we needed to look outside our borders, travel abroad if possible, and bring new ideas to modify and improve our practices.

I investigated the possibilities and found out that Canada was known as a multicultural country that had managed to take an ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse population into consideration as a natural process of globalization. Canadian educators had worked for many years to incorporate multicultural education and English language learning as part of the curriculum and provincial governments had provided schools with official guidelines, instructional plans, and language standards for English language learners. Canada appeared to be a country that had already experienced an increase in students from linguistically diverse backgrounds, and as far as I could learn, had succeeded in supporting them in schools. I managed to convince my husband and came with our daughter to experience first-hand what it meant to be a newcomer and to peek into their schools to witness the teaching strategies teachers use with these students.

What I have learned about teaching English language learners is a topic for a whole new article. I can only say that it has been worth the trip, and it has been a great experience so far. Now I have the theoretical knowledge I lacked a few years ago, and I can share this knowledge with other teachers when I go back to my country. I would like to make educators in Chile realize that part of being a teacher includes questioning our practices and reflecting on them; that part of being a teacher is to be curious and to look for new ways to improve; that part of being a teacher is to search for better ways to support our students, in spite of what school protocols say; and that part of being a teacher is to not stop pushing boundaries.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Marroquin Pinto, C. (2019, Winter). Pushing Boundaries: From Chile to Canada. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf

Edu(va)cation: Hunting for Boundaries at the Birthplace of English language Education

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By Karin Wiebe

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]

Please don’t use the blue sticky gum to stick anything to the walls. Do you know why? Because Exeter College is 700 years old, and when you pull the gum off, the building will collapse.—Adrian Underhill, Principal Tutor

I attended the Oxford University English Language Teachers’ Summer Seminar (ELTSS) in August 2019. For two weeks students live the Oxford University experience, navigate new geographies and friendships and study the practice of teaching English as an additional language (EAL). There were 69 students in this year’s cohort, coming from countries as diverse as the UAE, India, Bangladesh, Russia, China, Macau, Japan, Inner Mongolia, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Peru, Chile and Mexico. My studies in sociolinguistics did nothing to prepare me for so many kinds of English. It was exciting and fascinating! Cultural barriers you would expect from so many strangers could be overcome almost at once. We had the same passion for teaching and enthusiasm for learning. It was 68 instant friends with no Facebook required.

Living in residence at Exeter College is a uniquely amazing experience. The buildings and grounds are well maintained and I’m guessing unchanged for…centuries. The surrounding stone walls remind you that bloody intersections of knowledge, religion, and politics were once very real boundaries. I watched the moon passing between battlements every night until I fell asleep. Art and displays in each space evidenced untold generations of scholars, philosophers, theologians, scientists, writers and artists. Fast company for an EAL teacher from British Columbia, but it fully inspired me to study and learn as much as possible.

Classes are held in intimate, apartment-like spaces that hold approximately 12 people. On Monday morning, Jon Hird explained at the opening of Words, Clauses, Sentences, and Beyond that the English language only became a serious topic of orthographic study when Exeter College (along with the colleges of Cambridge University) was commissioned to write the King James Bible. It was here, in these walls, that scholars first studied the English language.  

Hird’s lectures explored grammar at the word, clause, sentence, and text level. He offered a different perspective on grammar education that encouraged learners to find, manipulate, and practice patterns in engaging ways. His class was discussion-based with ample opportunity to practice adapting and exploiting texts, ask questions, and make connections to our unique classroom situations.

“Oh for the love of God, they’re waving”. Adrian Underhill halts his lecture and our small cohort of 12 students turn to find the ground-floor window is filled with tourist faces, all smiling, pointing, and waving. As if a maestro has cued, cameras appear, and we are all immortalized with disbelief on our faces.  

Underhill drew on humanist philosophy and expert language teaching practices to argue in favour of connected, personal educator/student relationships that foster deeper learning. In his week-long series of classes, Affect and the Whole Person in ELT, he explained that the work of educators begins with self improvement in three qualities—empathy, unconditional positive regard, and the abandonment of role playing as the “perfect teacher.” He drew from the work of Carl Rogers, explaining that “an awareness that we are unfinished allows us to fall into situations of education,” and Underhill wanted us to continue being students as well as educators.

Underhill connected an educator’s emotional literacy with a student’s ability to learn deeply and retain meaningful skills. He introduced Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s work on emotion, self-awareness, and education and explained that “you can’t remember something you have no emotion about.” His lectures introduced us to language education theorists, philosophers, and authors like Earl Stevick, Jim Scrivener, and Paulo Friere. Each day, Underhill encouraged us to situate ourselves as teachers in new ways and to determine new paths of connection with our learners.

Tuesday’s keynote address is underground, in the Saskatchewan Lecture theatre. I’m puzzling through how that name could possibly have become attached to this space when Anatoly sits next to me. He is wearing a thick wool sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat. He speaks with a Russian accent and asks if I’m cold in front of the air conditioner vent. I realize we are sitting alone in the front row, everyone else is at least two rows back. I tell him “Canadians love the cold,” which he accepts. Each morning a different member of the Russian cohort keeps me company at the front row.

John Hughes explained that “our goal is to get students where they don’t need us anymore.” His keynote lecture asked us to consider that language learners can use the creative tools we give them to actively learn a language beyond the classroom. Hughes underscored the 2019 Seminar theme which placed learners at the centre of decision making in adult language education, explaining “we need to encourage them to approach new texts by asking questions and analyzing their personal perspectives.” He asked us to “develop learner autonomy. Let students discover the rules, don’t just give it to them.”

Hughes argued for classroom practices that activate a higher order language acquisition. For example, “we usually just check for comprehension, removing the answer and asking a question which leads to ‘I don’t know!’” Hughes explained that a higher order comprehension comes when students are asked to underline words which show the writer’s opinion and ask questions like “Do I agree with the conclusion of the text (and) what evidence does the author use to support the text?”

This morning’s fire drill was announced twice yesterday, but there is still chaos and resistance to resident participation. Only half the students come to the chapel for roll call at 7:00 am and one woman from Chile has fallen in the pews and fractured her ankle. Everyone appears in the Great Hall for breakfast an hour later which makes me think if the fire drill had advertised croissants, coffee, and fresh berries it would have been better attended. 

The first day in Imaginative Teaching in the Creative Classroom, Hanna Kryszewska was interested in classroom psychology, specifically group formation. She explained that it’s the educator’s responsibility to ensure students feel connected and co-operative with each other. Through the week she introduced an array of controlled and improvisational activities designed to engage the theory of multiple intelligences. Kryszewska’s lectures addressed the theory and experiences behind each activity she presented. Her buffet of visuals, objects, ideas, and potential resources were a treasure chest I couldn’t wait to bring home to Canada. Interestingly, this was not a uniform opinion of all students. Some class members appeared confused and even aghast at the presence of poetry, music, and improvisational theatre in language learning.

“Are you teaching listening, or are you using listening to teach language?”—Sinead Laffan

Sinead Laffan showed a 2016 video clip of brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan who had just won an Olympic gold medal. Not a single person in the class understood the men’s interview except Laffan, who hails from the same part of Ireland. She used the clip to remind us what our learners are actually hearing in class, and in the coming days, explored the skill of listening using terminology and ideas uniquely “Laffan” like “match the mush” for decoding word boundaries and “the greenhouse, the garden and the jungle” as a visual concept for separating speech into teachable categories. Her lectures and perspectives were anchored with a week-long progression of listening skills development that focused on real texts.

I sat at a long wood table surrounded by fellow students and faculty in the Dining Hall and waited for Professor Dumbledore to appear. He didn’t show, but another delicious meal was served, and we all chatted and laughed. I felt safe and welcome at Exeter College, inspired by its considerable past and informed by the people who were present. No sorting hat, but you know that was just a fantasy. Instead, I snapped a picture of JRR Tolkien’s head where it sits behind the chapel door. Bronze, of course. A hobbit told me where to look.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Weibe, K. (2019, Winter). Edu(va)cation: Hunting for boundaries at the birthplace of English language education. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf