SFU TESL Program out in the community

March 24, 2022

Ever thought about what a degree in linguistics could enable you to do?  

SFU lecturer Claudia Wong, alongside several student volunteers from the department of Linguistics, have partnered with the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) to develop language support programs for seasonal workers and other newcomers to Canada.

Many seasonal workers come to Canada with limited English-language speaking skills, which makes working in Canada significantly more challenging.

Even a basic understanding of English can already go a long way to helping these workers develop an understanding of their rights and responsibilities in the workforce, and also to live comfortably in Canada. As Maria Raygoza (Temporary Migrant Worker Program Support Coordinator) noted, some workers are nervous about going to the doctor’s office by themselves: “Imagine trying to describe a pain in a certain part of your body when you are unsure of how to communicate that pain in English”  

These language support programs, led by Dr. Claudia Wong and several SFU linguistics students, aim to provide these seasonal workers a jumpstart to their English-speaking skills. The programs are focused on ensuring meaningful results in an efficient manner, and hence are focused on practical lesson plans alongside ample time for conversational practice.  

The program currently offers two classes each week in the evenings in an online, synchronous format, which works perfectly for the students because often times the students complete their workdays and then attend these courses in the evenings.  

Although juggling a job alongside learning a new language in the evenings is challenging, the seasonal workers remain highly motivated and enthusiastic about learning. For example, many were quite saddened to hear that one of their courses would be cancelled due to its being scheduled on Family Day.  

SFU linguistics students are also excited about the opportunity to apply their linguistics education to a practical work setting that has immediate impact on people in the BC community.  

For Linguistics student Erwin Inocalla in the CTESL stream, teaching in the program has been an excellent opportunity to apply his linguistics education to a classroom setting in a creative manner. “The applied linguistics courses I’ve taken have really helped me with lesson planning and what to expect in a classroom”. Another linguistics student Rachael Cai, noted that her experience in linguistics courses focused on English grammar helped her to break down subtle concepts to students. Rachael has also benefitted from the program in that it helped solidify her teaching-career goals: “I was unsure as to whether I should teach children or adults. I now think that teaching adults is the better choice for me”.

Along with being useful to students who are interested in teaching, the program has also brought them personal satisfaction. “I really do feel a sense of fulfillment. Many students are genuinely interested in English and learning about Canadian culture”, says Erwin. Lana Leal, another linguistics student in the CTESL stream, echoed this feeling of accomplishment. “I kind of cried at times. The students were so nice: they would stick around after classes saying thanks.”  

A big question facing many linguistics majors is what they will do with their degree after graduation. “So many students ask me what they can do with a degree in linguistics”, says Claudia, “They just have no idea that we can actually apply everything we learned in school towards such meaningful initiatives”.  

The impact that SFU linguistics students are having is already felt. In line with the general excitement coming from students enrolled in the program, PICS is already planning to extend the program in various ways. The biggest goal, though, is to establish a solid basis on which these programs can become more regularly available. As Maria Raygoza notes, “we need to make these English classes more permanent”. Doing so would be important for the myriad of interested students.  

“We already have a waitlist for the program’s next cycle”, notes Dr. Wong.  

Interested in more?