Sam Mousavi initially felt reluctant to accept the free newspapers handed out at the Burrard SkyTrain Station.
“The first month, I had some fear of the newspapers because… I can’t read them,” said the Iranian immigrant who has lived in Vancouver for a year and a half. “I just see the pictures and read something about the famous people, about some singers, but now we [are] used to read[ing] Westcoast Reader, I don’t have that feeling, and I take Metro, Vancouver Sun. It’s very, very good for me and, especially, my daughter.”
Mousavi, a driver for an organics company, his wife and his 11-year-old daughter have read the Westcoast Reader in conversation classes since they arrived in the city.
The monthly publication adapts local, provincial, national and international news, arts and general interest stories from the Courier, the Province and the Vancouver Sun into simple language, typically summarizing them in 100 words. It presents easy to read stories in a four-page newspaper that features sizeable colour photos and large print. Editor Nila Gopaul adds articles on subjects that include bullying in schools, cellphone etiquette and summer safety, and includes a calendar of special events celebrated by different cultures.
“You don’t feel that you are reading some newspaper that the news is just for Canada or Vancouver,” Mousavi said. “It’s [a] multicultural newspaper that’s really good for starters.”
Gopaul said English language instructors planted the seeds for the Westcoast Reader at a B.C. Teachers of an Additional Language conference in 1981. They noted a dearth of reading materials for low-level readers, and the newspaper was born. English as a second language teacher Joan Acosta edited the paper for 27 years.
“A number of other provinces did the same thing, but this is the only one left,” said Gopaul.
An ESL newspaper called The Northwest News that’s written mostly by students at Bellevue College near Seattle is going fully online after 20 years, she added, because it’s too expensive to mail.
The Ministry of Advanced Education funds most of the production costs for the paper, which is published at Capilano University. Westcoast Reader is free to most users but it recently started charging school districts, which aren’t covered by Advanced Education, because Gopaul said she can’t afford the postage costs.
Westcoast Reader launched a new website last month and intensified its social media presence on Facebook and Twitter in response to readers from around the province who wanted more access to its offerings. It includes articles in addition to those in the print version and links for English language teachers.
The “newspaper for adult learners,” as it’s subtitled, serves more than 300 communities throughout B.C. and has a growing readership of 125,000.
Surveys have revealed English as a second language, literacy and multicultural seniors groups, aboriginal learners, elementary and secondary school students, prison inmates and people who have had strokes and brain injuries read the paper.
Westcoast Reader recently received money from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. The recommendation for that money came from Advanced Education, according to Gopaul, who said the ministry noted nearly a million readers could take advantage of such a resource.
Mousavi likes the paper’s use of personal tales that are easy to relate to.
“We can connect with them,” Mousavi said.