by Shaobin, NYCH participant

After I finished my LINC class (Language Instruction for Newcomers), I still felt barely confident in English, even though I received a CLB 8 certificate. I knew I needed more training to improve my English, especially in verbal communication. So, English Conversation Circles (ECCs) really attracted my interest. I started to join various ECCs run by different organizations. Most of these ECCs are run by one or two instructors who lead a big group of more than 10 or even 20 participants. In this situation, participants do not have many chances to speak. 

I also attended a conversation group that was conducted like a formal classroom, with a teacher in front and students sitting at desks. Even with a good instructor who tries to look after all participants and encourages everyone to speak, it still seems more like a question/answer model than a conversation. Participants listen to the instructor more than they speak amongst themselves in these groups. 

Then, around two and half years ago, I participated in an ECC at NYCH. 

From the first day I joined the ECC, I found it was very different from the others. Along with a Program Coordinator, there are many volunteers involved. All participants are separated into smaller groups of 3-5 that are led by a volunteer. In these small groups, all participants get more chances to speak and real conversations happen. It is really a great method for newcomers to improve their English. I continued to join various ECCs at NYCH, and in those programs, I met a lot of wonderful volunteers. 

Volunteers at the ECCs come from various professional backgrounds. Hardly any of them have teaching experience, however, we learn a lot of English from them; more than if we studied English with a teacher :). In the small groups, they never teach. They converse as equals. They only give opinions and never give a correct answer. They are more like friends. Participants in these groups feel more relaxed and it is easier to become confident and comfortable. Most of the time, the participants speak much more than the volunteers leading the group. Newcomers do get a lot practice in conversation! 

English Conversation Circles at NYCH

But, volunteers help us not just in English. In addition to English, all newcomers have to face the challenges of a culture gap, living and working in Canada. Volunteers are real individuals that live in Canada, and being close to them is like being close to the life of Canada. All the experiences they share come from their lives. All the answers they give are not from any standard answers in text books; they come from their own opinions. Many of them were immigrants themselves. Their experiences of overcoming obstacles when they first arrived in Canada are so precious for us. 

Through our discussions, we often find that we actually share many opinions or ideas, even though we come from different backgrounds. We talk about the differences among various cultures, helping us to understand each other better.  They share their experiences of how they changed their view to adapt to their new life in Canada, and that gives us a great example to build our confidence. They help us to realize that the gap between cultures is not that big, and their success really encourages us to embrace our settlement.

All volunteers are ordinary people - they might work at a bank or be a hilarious IT guy. They are kind to everyone - from a retired couple to a breezy college student. All of them make me understand deeply what they mean by, “Canadians are so nice.” No matter day or night, in cozy or harsh weather, they travel through the city to stay with us, suffer our lousy broken English, answer our strange questions. They keep coming and dedicate their time. They help us to make a better life and become better Canadians. They help Canada to be a better place.

I would like to express my great appreciation to all volunteers - thanks so much for your great contribution. Your voluntary spirit also encourages many newcomers to start volunteering in the community themselves – as we believe the best way to give back to volunteers is to become a volunteer too.

A group of NYCH volunteers.

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