Xiong Chen and tutor Tom Bishop make conversation as part of the literacy program. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Campbell River literacy program for all learners

Program holds AGM Monday with potluck to follow

When Xiong Chen arrived in Canada a few years, she wanted to improve her English to help her adjust to life in Campbell River.

For the last few years, she has been attending an adult literacy program operated by the Campbell River Literacy Association, which runs several programs out of the Robron Centre.

“When I was first here, I only can use simple words,” she says.

Each week she has been meeting tutor Tom Bishop at the centre for two evenings for a couple of hours.

“Chen had studied English in China, and her English was pretty good,” Bishop says.

They spend the first hour or so going over assignments from a workbook, while they spend the last part of the session talking about newspaper stories or simply having everyday conversation. For example, she tells Bishop about her new experince of camping in Canada with her daughter Orenda and son Kevin. (Her husband is still working in China and in the middle of a process to get a work visa for Canada.) At one point, she has Bishop and everyone in the office in stitches with her story of discovering it was a crow rather than a naughty child that made off with some snacks from their campsite.

In China, she had mostly studied in books and wanted to learn to speak the language more fluently. She thanks Bishop for his tips on firewood and other camping essentials. In turn, she often gives him hints on Chinese cooking, such as how to make a soup using goji berries.

“That’s the beauty of this program. The tutor and learner relationships often become very friendly and everybody tries to help each other out,” says Sherry Bujold, adult literacy program coordinator. “It becomes more than just learning English or improving your English.”

As Xiong knew more of English from books, she wanted a chance to learn more through conversation.

“The problem for me is still vocabulary,” she says.

Often, when she looks for words to find the Chinese equivalent, it’s not always easy, but she is a persistent learner.

“Chen’s pretty diligent,” Bishop says.

She even has an app on her phone to help with vocabulary and another to help with reading novels such as Black Beauty and Twenty-Thousand League Under the Sea.

The literacy program, Bishops says, offers adult-level reading rather than some child’s primer.

“The complexity of the language is not simple,” he says.

Xiong even tries to build her skills at home through activities such as movie nights with her kids. As far as what the programs specifically offer, Bujold says it is really up to each person.

“It’s a learner-centred approach,” Bujold says. “Every learner’s different. They come and they tell me what they’d like to work on.”

Bishop is a retired lawyer, and many of the tutors are professionals, especially teachers, but Bujold points out people do not have to have any special designation to help. The association has five programs: the Adult Literacy Program, Youth ESL, Outreach Computer Literacy Program, Aboriginal Family Literacy, and Family Literacy. This last year, its program and 80 volunteer tutors helped approximately 150 learners.

The association is also looking for board members. On Monday, June 11, it will be holding its annual general meeting at 6 p.m. at the Robron Centre, with an “internationally flavoured” potluck to follow. The tutoring corresponds roughly to the school year, so they will finish next week, with a big beach bonfire to follow on Thursday evening.

For more information about Campbell River Literacy Association services, see www.literacyforall.ca, check out the Facebook page, drop by the office Monday at 740 Robron Rd. between 8:30 and 3:30 p.m., email info@literacyforall.ca or call 250-923-1275.

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