Confessions of an ESL Literacy Tutor’s Daughter

September 12, 2011

I am the daughter of a Canadian father and an immigrant mother, both of whom had a grade ten education. They divorced when I was five years old. My Welsh mother was seven months pregnant with their fourth child, when my father left the family home. My older siblings, who were in their teens, also left home. My mother knew she would be a single parent and with no family in Canada, no education and no job, my mother made a tough decision in order to get her life back on track. She decided to give up her fourth child for adoption at birth. Following his birth, she had to go to work. Like many immigrants who come to a new country, she leveraged the skills that she had in order to get her first job in Canada. She worked as a cleaner and a housekeeper.

With a desire to be a role model for me, the one child she had left in her care, she began taking part-time upgrading classes and, a few years later, she earned her General Equivalency Diploma (GED), which gave her the equivalent of a high-school education.

Despite her achievement, we lived under the poverty line. Proud and determined, once she had her GED in hand, she went from cleaning houses to working in a library, checking out books for patrons. This was a turning point in our lives because it was the first full-time position with a pension and medical that she had ever held. It also meant that I spent my summer vacations in the library because we didn’t have enough money to pay a baby sitter. I loved to read, so it worked out well on all fronts. I knew that my mother quietly prayed the authorities would not find out that the only supervision her little girl had during work hours were her co-workers in the children’s section of the library.

Once she had secured this permanent job, she started looking for a way to give back, to help other immigrants integrate and succeed in Canadian culture. She turned a somewhat perplexing passion and penchant for English grammar into an asset by becoming an English as a Second Language (ESL) literacy tutor.

She worked one-to-one with adult learners. In those days, one did not meet learners in a public place or an agency. Learning happened at the kitchen table, over a cup of tea. Lessons were intertwined with personal stories and punctuated with laughter… and sometimes tears. These informal learning sessions were the medium through which language and culture were acquired and shared.

Over the years, people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan occupied a chair in the kitchen classroom. Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners almost always included a guest from a faraway land, who knew little about Canadian holidays. We shared as much food and friendship as we did anything else. Truth be told, we learned as much from the learners as they every did from us.

When I hear literacy leaders today talking to prospective tutors and volunteers, I hear them talk about the difference they can make in the lives of the learners. I fully agree that this is true. There’s a secondary impact of the literacy volunteer’s role that I have never seen discussed though… The positive influence they have on their own children, as they become role models and advocates for literacy.

The experiences of having ESL literacy learners in our home, tutored by my Mum, became woven into the tapestry of my childhood. The experiences nestled themselves into my heart, ultimately influencing my own career choices. I inherited my mother’s slightly perturbing passion for grammar and a wonder for words. I learned  a deep appreciation of other cultures and developed my own sense of wonder about the world around me. As a result of these collective experiences, I became the first person in my immediate family to finish high school. Going on to earn higher degrees was something that no one had even dared to dream about before that.

ESL, literacy, multiculturalism and second languages infused ten years of my childhood because my mother took on the volunteer job of helping immigrants who struggled even more than she had. I have no doubt that these experiences have shaped my career, my values and my own contributions to the field.

Thanks, Mum, for the inspiration.

Happy birthday to you.

In memory of Becky Eaton

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity

July 18, 2011

Milton Bennett has a superb paper (available free in .pdf format) called “A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity“.

He talks about the various stages of intercultural sensitivity as being denial, defense against difference, minimizing difference, accepting difference, adapting to difference and finally, integrating difference. The report contains a description of each stage, as well as activity suggestions to help learners, regardless of their age, to progress from one stage to the next.

This is a brilliant piece of work, clearly explained in simple words — in 14 pages.

Check out Bennett’s paper here: http://www.library.wisc.edu/EDVRC/docs/public/pdfs/SEEDReadings/intCulSens.pdf

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Panel Speaker at Metropolis 2011 – Vancouver, British Columbia

March 14, 2011

If you’re in Vancouver, BC, come and join us at the Metropolis 2011: Bringing the World to Canada, March 23-26 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

This National Metropolis Conference focuses on “the role of immigration in connecting Canada with the rest of the world.” Organizers are expecting over 1000 participants from Canada and abroad. The main conference website says:

A recent report by Statistics Canada projects that, by 2031, at least one in four Canadians will have been born in another country. With this remarkable feature of our society as a backdrop, the conference will discuss the scale and nature of Canada’s immigration system and the policies and practices that have emerged to foster the socio-economic inclusion of new Canadians. Immigration and emigration are transforming the populations of most countries, and in this conference we will consider the place of Canada in this global process by asking speakers from elsewhere in the world to explain the migration and integration dynamics of their regions, thereby allowing us to understand better the effects of these trends on Canada.

I’m delighted to be speaking on a panel on Saturday, March 26. Here are the details:

E4 WORKSHOP | ATELIER (English | Anglais) Junior Ballroom D – Level 3 – North Tower | Niveau 3 – Tour Nord

Family Literacy and the New Canadian

This Workshop will bring together a panel of language experts from across Canada that will outline the importance and value of heritage / international languages and illustrate how schools, academics, community organizations and government policies can assist in maintaining and developing the multiple literacies of all Canadians.

Organizer | Organisateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association
Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine

Participants

Sarah Eaton, University of Calgary
Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Language Learning in Canada

Maria Makrakis, TESOL International and International Languages Educators’ Association (ILEA), Ontario
Language and Literacy for New Canadian Families

Constantine Ioannou, Government of Ontario
Ontario Schools and Communities Can Reflect the Languages of our Families

Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine
Literacy and Heritage/international Languages in Quebec: An Overview

Michael Embaie, Southern Alberta Heritage Languages Association (SAHLA)
Successful Implementation of Heritage / International Language Programs in Canada: Selected Strategies and Case-Studies

Chair | Modérateur
Marisa Romilly, Society For The Advancement of International Languages (SAIL British Columbia)

Discussant | Commentateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association

If you’re planning to attend the conference, please come and join us at the session!

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


10 Tips for Talking with Colleagues Whose First Language is Not English (poster)

February 2, 2011

The Prairie Metropolis Centre offers a free, downloadable poster called “10 Tips for Talking with Colleagues Whose First Language is Not English”.

The PMC, established in 1996, is one of five Canadian research centres involved in immigration and integration research.

This poster is an excellent resource to promote diversity, multiculturalism and understanding.

The poster is available in full color or in black-and-white.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


EU Competition: How Has Learning a Language Changed Your Life?

October 1, 2010

I’m just thrilled to hear about this new competition organized by the European Union. Tongue Stories invites submission from participants in 31 European countries to share stories of how learning a language has changed their life:

Share your story with Europe

How languages changed your life, or just one day.
How knowing a foreign language made you happy,
How languages surprised you; made you laugh,
moved you, made you feel proud, or simply useful.

Send your contribution, tell us a nice story and inspire people to use different languages!

This competition echoes in spirit my free ebook “Want to Change the World? Learn Another Language” and accompanying video.

While I confess that I’m a bit sad that this competition is only in Europe, on the other hand I am absolutely thrilled to see that the EU is taking on the languages and leadership movement so proactively! Learning languages changes us and in so doing, we change the world!

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Interview with Brent Novodvorski: Leading by Example Series

June 28, 2010

Monday Inspiration Series: Literacy and Language Professionals who Lead by Example

Brent David Novodvorski, a Deaf teacher of ASL and ESL to local immigrants.

This new series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. The series features interviews with each of our leaders, sharing their inspirations, stories and tips. Today, I’m pleased to share an interview with Brent David Novodvorski.

I worked with Brent in 2009. Together we worked on “Literacy for Deaf Immigrant Adults: A Symposium for Collaboration and Learning”, the first event of its kind in Western Canada. The symposium brought together members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, as well as those from immigrant-service agencies in Calgary to talk about the needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing immigrants in our city. The final report for the symposium was published by the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). You can find it here.

From working side-by-side with Brent at that amazing event, I can say that he is truly a leader in his field. He is Deaf and works with local immigrants, teaching them American Sign Language (ASL) and English as a Second Language (ESL).

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

My name is Brent David Novodvorski.  I work in a community college in Western Canada with an excellent reputation for innovative work and sustainability in literacy and languages.  I also work as an independent scholar.  I offer an array of connections to language learning: research, curriculum development, building instructional strategies and methods to reflect teachings.  The outcome of my work advances language learning on three levels: teacher, student and environment.  My specialities are: sign language, English, English as a second language and bilingualism.

2.  What are your thoughts about leadership and language learning?

Leadership is a delicate term, especially in communities not valued for their uniqueness and indigenous and linguistic knowledge.  Leaders have a presence. I have taught sign language poetry and the students shared poems about their experience.  These students are from other countries where sign language is considered primitive and subordinate to vocal languages.  The teacher as leader was present when I taught poetry but when I brought the students to the community to share their work – my leadership was taken to a new level – students formed new connections with other members of the community and created new poems!

3.  In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language teacher’s job?

Language teachers need to recognize and appreciate what knowledge and skills are valued, celebrated and carried in communities – workplace, ethnic cultures, and linguistic.  Although, it is varied; the curriculum has the unique position to be evolutionary and reflective of the changing world.  The curriculum is the site, or a workbench, for language teachers to weld the values of membership in communities.  I do not visualize this work in isolation; teachers share their craft in a community of practice.  Therefore, I am an advocate of literacy and languages as an accessible medium for social, democratic and economic participation.

4.  What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?

There are several projects I have been involved with:

  1. “Effective teaching approaches and materials for Deaf and hard of hearing immigrant adults in bilingual education.”
  2. “Bridging classroom experience to community: a literature review of sign language in learning contexts.”
  3. “Small Gestures: Improving access to education for Deaf and hard of hearing adult immigrants during the settlement process.”

5.  What do you see as three new directions in language learning?

1.     What Mother Tongue?

With the rapid development of technology and communication connections, the world is becoming, metaphorically, flat.  This means there are more linguistic contacts with different parts of the world. People learn languages other than your mother tongue! I see many language teachers with knowledge of more than two or three languages.

2.     Deaf Professionals

Leaders are increasingly focused on assets of the people they work with.  This is good news for Deaf workers who often struggle to move beyond tokenship towards equal opportunities that capitalizes on assets. I see Deaf professionals as an extraordinary asset to the fabric of leadership.

3.     Framework based on Knowledge of the Community

Research framework has evolved from a researcher-centered way of thinking to include the learner’s knowledge and ‘life’ of the community.  This has an impact on the ways of doing research, as well as how research results are shared and disseminated.  Hands-on workshops are slowly replacing the traditional ‘stand and talk’. I see a framework based on individuals and meaningful connections in communities.

As a side note from me, I wanted to add that Brent is also the brains behind Calgary’s first International Sign Language Celebration Day (ISLCD), which will be held in on September 24. This day is chock-a-block with performances and opportunities for everyone in the community to experience the richness of international sign language and Deaf culture.

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Update – June 2018 – This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Language Café project exemplifies leadership, wins award

June 16, 2010

In a post I did last month called Trends in Language Learning: What’s hot, what’s not, one of the emerging directions in the field that I found is to link language learning to leadership and changing the world in positive ways.  I was thrilled to see this trend in action through a recent news post by European Association of Education for Adults (EAEA). The Language Café project demonstrates the link between language learning, leadership and empowerment.

In an article entitled, “Closing the Gap with Languages: European award for projects in support of social inclusion” , the EAEA announced  that the University of Southampton (England) won the European award for the best 2010 language project aimed at fighting poverty and supporting social inclusion for their project “The Language Café”. The EAEA reports that Southampton won the award for its innovative approach to language learning in a relaxed environment for people of all ages and backgrounds”, noting that there are 29 language cafes in Europe. Many of them have “broadened their scope to offer specialised help for immigrants and people who use sign-language”.

Check out the Language Cafe website. After entering the site in the language of your choice, you’ll be able to see the premise behind the cafes and how they are impacting the lives of language learners all over Europe. It is an inspiring demonstration of informal language learning that empowers others.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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