An Ear-Opening Experience

By Alysha Baratta
(Culture Cafe participants)

We Are HuH (Humans Understanding Humans) is a platform run by Options Community Services that offers activities and resources to connect people together, break down stereotypes, and create & strengthen multi-cultural communities. We design activities and resources that we hope groups all across Canada will utilize. One of our activities is called Culture Cafe which is an online community gathering for people of all ages and English language abilities. On the surface, it’s a weekly Zoom meeting that involves a presentation and then cross-cultural 1-on-1 breakout room conversations. Some humans come to practice English conversation, while others come to socialize with people from different cultures. At its heart, it’s a place where growth happens. What kind of growth? All sorts, in all different directions, for everyone involved.

-Farhan from Syria, Culture Cafe participant

“I know a little bit about so many people and countries now. Connecting with people of different cultures removes the hatred and bad feelings against each other. It’s not people’s fault what politics does and because of politics people have misunderstandings about each other.”

Grow your ears

Dr. Vijay Ramjattan researches accentism and the workplace barriers that racialized people face in Canada. While they’ve been told their accent is the barrier, it’s actually everyday racism. Perpetuating the idea that a  ‘neutral accent’ exists is thinly veiled coding that centers whiteness as the goal. Dr. Ramjattan discusses his work in this podcast, (around the 38 minute mark, but listen to the whole thing!) He makes the point that ‘accent reduction’ classes aren’t the answer to this problem. Rather, the responsibility lies on the listener to improve their listening skills. I’ve been privileged as a white teacher to never experience microaggressions questioning my expertise in English, and I’ve also gotten the chance to hone my listening ear over many years. Culture Cafe can offer this opportunity for growth. While this group can’t single-handedly undo the institutional racism that’s baked into everything we do, it can help confront the assumption that talking like a white person is the right way.

Grow your wealth

If you happen to live near a long-numbered house in Surrey, did you know your neighbour walked over 4,000 kilometers across China in the 1950s to collect soldiers’ stories? Of course you don’t – you’ve never had a chance to talk directly with her, but you’d be richer if you had. By now you’ve probably picked up that I’m not talking about monetary wealth. I’m talking about the richness of glimpsing into someone else’s life. Culture Cafe offers bilingual conversation prompts to elicit stories and other personal memories. Often I click “leave meeting” feeling humbled by these snippets of histories, and honored that someone has chosen to share them with me.

Pandemic or not, we aren’t the best at knocking on our neighbour’s doors and getting to know them. Although we’re excited to make real the post-Covid potluck plans, Culture Cafe will always have an online component. It’s a model of low-barrier community gathering to consider even after things “get back to normal”.

Grow your approach to language

I know from my own life that language learning is more effective when tied to personal experiences. When I close my eyes and think of Spanish, I feel a warmth from within. Everything is shades of burnt orange and crispy plantain yellow. I think of my Chilean host mom’s red tinted hair and bright matching lipstick. The Czech language tastes like slightly melted and refrozen snow. It’s refreshingly coarse, just like my friend Honza’s dry zingers. The language-learning app Duolingo has increased my Arabic literacy tenfold, but the lifeless, mechanical voice does little to solidify new words and meanings in my mind. But when my Syrian foodie friend tries my biscotti and, with raised eyebrows, says  a “tayib!” (delicious!) of approval – it’s stored in my visceral vocabulary forever.

So, who’s burning English into your students’ brains? Where are they finding memories and sentiments to attach to their expanding vocabularies? One Culture Cafe chatter told us that throughout 5 years in Canada, the only person they had ever spoken English with was their teacher.  It showed. Not because their speech was unintelligible – it wasn’t. They had serious doubts and low confidence. While not underestimating the importance of an engaging teacher, that’s not how this human’s journey should be. 

The human connections that Culture Cafe chatters experience make language memorable, and the friendly, listening ears breed confidence in English learners. We all know that language is more than stringing words together, but we so rarely have a place to put ourselves out there and use our words meaningfully.

Grow your practice

As you can see, I think the Culture Cafe we host at Options is pretty rad. But beyond our single gathering, we think the model and tools can be transformative for people looking to start new kinds of conversations with people they’ve never talked to before. Ready to open the ears of everyone you know? If you’d like to catalyze the storytelling, exchange, and learning in your community, check out or e-mail to learn how.

Alysha Baratta is a learner, educator, facilitator, geographer, puppy mom, and stress-baker. She currently works from home on the unceded traditional territories of the Katzie, sc̓əwaθenaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsawwassen), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Stz’uminus and Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) peoples for Options Community Services. This project is funded by IRCC’s Service Delivery Improvement fund.


BC TEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference Highlights


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For a BC TEAL member and supporter like me who has often benefited from the PD events organized by the association, the decision to attend this year’s BC TEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference was an easy one. The theme, “Rethinking Communication: Trends, Tools and Strategies”, also held great promise, since as language professionals we need to keep pace with the ways language itself changes and evolves and stay informed about the realities of our learners and their communicative needs. The Conference took place on Saturday, November 18th, at Columbia College. My choice of presentations to attend was clearly guided by my interest in the impact of technology on the ways we communicate and teach. It was a great learning experience, and I would like to share some of the highlights here.

My morning started on a high note, with Nathan Hall’s “Unscripted: Releasing the Potential of Authentic Listening in ELT”, delivered with his usual contagious enthusiasm. Nathan is a teacher trainer and EAP instructor for Douglas College and a Community Coordinator for Tutela, to mention just a few of the many roles he fulfills. As expected, I left with a list of technology tools and practical suggestions to put to good use in my class. The issue of using authentic listening input with language learners has always been controversial, even though both teachers and linguists will agree that comprehending “natural, real-time language use…is the target of virtually all language learners”(Michael Rost, 2011). When opting for purpose-written materials that are graded and scripted, however, teachers need to remember that these usually simplify syntactic structures and vocabulary, and sometimes use a reduced speech rate(Field, 2008). Authentic material can be used though, even with lower level learners, if the right task is used. Nathan introduced nine types of listening tasks(Vandergrift & Goh, 2012) that teachers can choose from when using authentic material: Restoration, Sorting(use information in a text to sequence, categorize, or rank items such as jumbled up texts and pictures), Comparison, Matching(listen to a number of short texts and match each one with the most appropriate theme given), Jigsaw Task, Narrative Completion, Embellishment, Evaluation, and Reconstruction. As promised, tech tools were also introduced and reviewed. VLC for example, is a free and reliable multimedia player that you might want to install on your computer. If you are tired of ads when watching videos, you have the choice of Are you a MAC user who wants to record a screencast video? All you have to do is open Quick Time. I encourage you to explore all of them here

The keynote speech, “Language and Social Media: Opportunities for the EAL Classroom” was delivered by Dr. Maite Taboada, Professor of Linguistics at Simon Fraser University. Her research areas are discourse analysis and computational linguistics. The speech started with the question, “Is the internet ruining the English language?”, followed by a resounding NO. We were reminded that language is creative and ever-evolving and, also, that understanding and being able to function in different registers is part of language learning and use. For a register approach in the classroom, which is a well established teaching approach, Dr. Taboada recommended a few resources, her favourite one being, “Discourse in English Language Education”, by John Flowerdew. It was explained that the online registers have developed to reflect the realities of a new form of communication brought about by the online medium, and they often display characteristics from both oral and written language. Interestingly enough, some of the language features they display and which people often point to as proof of “ruined language” are nothing new. Take alternative spelling, for example. To our surprise, we learned that OMG was first used by Winston Churchill, in 1917. LOL. In terms of opportunities to include social media in our EAL classrooms, Dr. Taboada believes there are quite a few: social media can be presented as a tool to communicate or can be used to introduce language activities, such as lower-stakes writing, with an emphasis on intelligibility over accuracy. Students can be asked to rewrite the same content in different media (write a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook status update), for example. They could also practice writing or speaking in different registers by writing a wiki entry or producing a podcast. Another very interesting point was made about the fact that social media users seem to interact differently across various social platforms, and people often wonder why we are “so nice on Facebook, so nasty on Twitter, and so ‘braggy’ on Instagram”. An analysis of the interactions taking place on these social media platforms using mainly the concept of register as defined by Systemic Functional Linguistics seems to provide a valid explanation. The last part of the speech was an introduction to Dr. Taboada’s research. We learned how sentiment analysis, which is automatic classification of texts based on subjective content, can help determine if online reviews and comments are positive or negative. One of the goals is to build a tool that can identify constructive comments and filter out toxic ones, especially hate speech. You can watch the recorded keynote speech here:


Anything that has to do with collocations is of great interest to me, so, attending “Using Online Tools to Improve EAL Students’ Written Communication”, delivered by Deogratias Nizonkiza, instructor at Douglas College, was a must. How many times have we heard our students say, “do a mistake” instead of “make a mistake”? Teaching collocations explicitly could be the answer to this type of problem. If I were to choose just one of the definitions shared by Deo, I would probably go with the one from the Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English, “the way words combine in a language to produce natural-sounding speech and writing”. Their importance is widely accepted in EAL contexts, and students trained to focus on collocations instead of individual words have a higher chance to fluently produce native-like utterances that are grammatically correct (Nation & Chung 2009). A number of typical language exercises can be used to raise awareness and help students practice collocation use, such as matching(verbs & nouns), underlining the verb(do/give/make me a favour), or inserting the collocation to complete the sentence. It is also useful to teach students the most common collocation types, such as adjective+noun, verb+noun, verb+adverb, etc. However, if we want the students to develop routines in their work with collocations, especially in the case of students with intermediate or advanced knowledge of English, we should probably teach them how to use corpora and online tools. Here are the tools Deo recommended: COCA; Word and phrase; Ozdic; Lextutor. Some of these tools, but not all, are rather sophisticated and can only be used by students with advanced knowledge of English. Ozdic, however, was rather enjoyed by my LINC 6 students. In the second part of the presentation, Deo shared the research he conducted at McGill University to investigate to what extent ESL students perceived corpora and online tools as useful for improving their academic vocabulary and for editing texts. The results were positive, which will hopefully encourage more teachers to give the deserved attention to collocations.

The decision to attend the conference came with the full reward of learning new things, having a chance to reflect on my own practices, and, not in the least, connecting with other passionate professionals and being energized by it. I am sure others felt the same; one lucky teacher even went home with the big prize, an iPad!


wbBjVGk1Augusta Avram

EAL Educator

November 14 #LINCchat Summary: Building an Inclusive Community with Language Learners



In her TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, expresses her thoughts on “The Danger of a Single Story”: 

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. 

During the November 14 #LINCchat, Augusta Avram (@LINCInstructor) and Bonnie Jean Nicholas (@EALstories) facilitated an important discussion about including multiple voices and stories to develop inclusive communities.  

Thank-you to the educators who shared their perspectives on inclusive education in ELT: @PSCCESOL, @thespreadingoak, @vislief, @StanzaSL, @gabyG_jolie, @jennifermchow, @seburnt, @JoyOFESL, @ambartosik, @ESLlibrary 

Please find a summary of this chat below. To read it, hover over the Twitter bird next to the subtopics in the image below. The interactive image was made with Canva and ThingLink 

To read all the tweets on this topic, follow the complete discussion HERE.      

New to #LINCchat?   

If you have never participated in #LINCchat before, go to for more information. #LINCchats occur every other Tuesday, with the occasional Friday.  If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #LINCchat, please send @StanzaSL or @EALstories a tweet or post a message on Tutela. Our next #LINCchat will be on Tuesday, November 28th at 6-7 p.m. PST or 9-10 p.m. EST. Please let others know about #LINCchat. Feel free to use the #LINCchat hashtag between chats to share thoughts and links with others.   

Jen Bio PicJennifer has been teaching in the LINC Program for more than 10 years. She loves using Twitter to stay connected as a mother, an educator and an active citizen. 

Twitter: @jennifermchow

September 12th #LINCchat summary: Building Community in the Classroom


Sep 12 LINCchat

The first #LINCchat of the new school year was a fantastic way to get ideas to build community as we start our new classes.  Thank-you to moderators, Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), and Bonnie Jean Nicholas (@EALstories filling in for @nathanghall) for facilitating the conversation.  

It was so much fun chatting with new and old #LINCchatters: @AidaAganagic, @michellekkotko, @LearnanaBodnar, @a1zzhang, @seburnt, @JenArtan, @shafaqmkhan, @danalbergman, @LINCInstructor, @thespreadingoak, @DawnTorvik, @gabyG_jolie, @Agnes_Kucharska, @ambartosik, and @CameronJMoser.  We were so happy that @nathanghall dropped in to say “hello” near the end of the chat after his class ended.  

To read the summary, hover over the Twitter bird next to the subtopics (Important Values in your Classroom Community, Goals for Creating Community in your Classroom, Strategies to Building Community in your Classroom, and Students who Struggle with Community in the Classroom) in the image below. The interactive image was made with Canva and ThingLink.

To read all the tweets on this topic, follow the complete discussion here.     

New to #LINCchat?  

If you have never participated in #LINCchat before, go to for more information. #LINCchats occur every other Tuesday, with the occasional Friday.  If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #LINCchat, please send @StanzaSL or @EALstories a tweet or post a message on Tutela. Our next #LINCchat will be on Tuesday, September 26th at 6-7 p.m. PST or 9-10 p.m. EST. Please let others know about #LINCchat. Feel free to use the #LINCchat hashtag between chats to share thoughts and links with others.  

Jen Bio PicJennifer has been teaching in the LINC Program for more than 10 years. She loves using Twitter to stay connected as a mother, an educator and an active citizen. 
Twitter: @jennifermchow