Chris Gunn, instructor for the IWC’s LINC program, works with a group of new Canadians on emergency protocols and how to react should an earthquake occur – one of many real-life lessons he uses to help them improve their language skills so they can become valuable contributors to society. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Language barriers a huge hurdle for new Canadians

Campbell River Immigrant Welcome Centre takes over LINC program, but needs your help to keep it here

As of this past April, the Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC) is in charge of getting new Canadians up to speed with their language needs after their arrival in the community, but they need your help in order to continue to do so.

The Language Instruction for Newcomer Canadians (LINC) program used to be offered by North Island College, but according to executive director of the IWC, Jim Brennan, it makes much more sense for IWC to oversee it, and they are happy to have been awarded the program by the federal government after making their case to keep this valuable community service running in the Mid-North Island.

“If we didn’t take this on, it probably wouldn’t have continued at all,” Brennan says.

And he’s equally happy to have found the right person to facilitate the program in teacher Chris Gunn.

Gunn has been teaching language skills all over the world for over 20 years and has recently returned from a position doing so with a university in South Korea. “He’s been a wonderful addition to the team here,” Brennan says. “You can tell by his enthusiasm and energy that he’s the right guy for this and he’s got a real knack for getting the students to work together and engage.”

That’s the key, Gunn says. It’s really about giving them a space and having them teach each other – with some formal, practical instruction along the way.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty strenuous course and it’s pretty rigid,” Gunn says. “It’s not just another conversational program. There are assessments every week that students have to pass, but our model for this program is community engagement, just like it is with everything IWC does. We want to give people the skills to interract with the community at large.”

For example, there was one month of learning English through reading job ads and using job boards, Gunn says, “and this month they’ve been talking about interractions with pharmasists and other health professionals, making appointments and how to talk with your child’s teachers at school, that kind of thing. It’s very practical English. It’s task-based and skills oriented and designed to give the students the ability to really go out and lead good lives within the community. We spend a lot of time teaching about things like tennancy rights, worker rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of being Canadian.”

But besides simply being able to better communicate with those around them – which in and of itself is pretty important in this world – the course is also a formal requirement for some aspects of being able to be part of Canadian culture and society.

In fact, graduating from the course would mean attaining Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) Level 4.

“CLB4 is the benchmark at which you can attain citizenship,” Gunn says. It’s also the level at which someone is considered “job ready.”

“This program was originally funded because language barriers were seen as the main barrier to peaceful settlement within Canada for people who are new here,” Gunn says. “Language barriers lead to a lack of healthcare service, they make immigrants vulnerable to exploitation, it’s one of the biggest barriers to employment, so the government felt we needed these language programs so that they can thrive within our communities.”

But in order for it to continue to be funded, Brennan says, they need more students. Right now they have seven students, but they can take up to 15. That’s where the community can help.

“For government-funded community programs like this to succeed, the government needs to see a return on their investment and needs to see that it’s going to be sustainable,” Brennan says. “It’s not an IWC program. We run it, but it’s a community program and I think that’s important for people to understand. If this pilot isn’t successful, we’re going to lose it from the community. If the government sees that it’s having an impact – and that’s through the numbers – then we’ll be able to keep it here.”

So if you know someone who needs language help or is new to the country, Brennan asks that you send them the IWC’s way.

“We get most of our referrals internally, but we need to start getting some externally,” he says. “We need to encourage people to get in touch so we can see if LINC is what they need or if we can help them in some other way. This isn’t about us, it’s about what’s best for the community. We’ve got an amazing network of partners we work with to make sure people get what they need in order to be successful, but we’re finding too many people just don’t know where to look.”

Anyone with questions about the program or who wishes to refer someone can contact Gunn at Chris.Gunn@ImmigrantWelcome.ca, go see the staff at the IWC at Robron Centre (turn right as soon as you walk in the front door and go to the end of the hall) or call them at 250-830-0171 or toll-free at 1-855-805-0171.

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