Oakridge: Langara ESL students form public speaking group

Toastmasters too advanced so group started its own association

English as a second language students at Langara College discovered Toastmasters moves too fast for them, so they started an ESL Public Speaking Association at Langara last year.

“If they go to Toastmasters, most of them feel embarrassed or they don’t really have the courage to stand on a stage,” said association president Elizabeth Jia, who says the club has 60 members, most of whom are Asian international students.

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“English programs, they just mainly focus on writing and reading or listening but they don’t really give students chances to talk,” said Jia, who has moved from English language to university transfer courses.

Jia notes students from Indonesia and Malaysia who speak English well also attend the association’s weekly meetings. They come to make friends and share their stories and advice. One student from India wasn’t sure what to study next, according to Jia. He knew others who were being forced by their parents to study business but he didn’t want to go that way and a student from Iran encouraged him to take his time to explore his options.

The Langara English for Academic Purposes program, which falls under Continuing Education, started in 1997 to serve international students and the growing demographic of “domestic” students or young people who completed Grade 12 overseas and moved with their families to Vancouver to pursue their post-secondary education, says Vicki Vogel, manager of the English proficiency program. The daytime program has expanded since 1997 to offer more basic levels of English to meet a growing demand.

The program enrolled close to 40 students in 1997 and serves between 550 and 600 students now. Seventy per cent of those enrolled are international students, mainly from China, and 30 per cent are domestic students. They receive 20 hours of instruction per week and are told to expect another 20 hours of homework.

LEAP aims to provide its learners with a full “toolkit” to succeed in post-secondary classrooms in Canada.

Vogel wishes students would complete the entire LEAP program, which costs $2,888 for international students for seven weeks, but students can write English proficiency exams and move on to university transfer classes.

“Although not many [high school] students take that [LEAP] option, it would be a great opportunity for them,” she said. “It will just give them that much more language and confidence and skills going on to post-secondary education. It’s a tall task, especially for a student who’s coming in and joining the public system in Grade 10, 11, 12… without sufficient English language ability.”

Vogel has promoted the ESL Public Speaking Association to LEAP students.  “The more support that can be provided within the college as a student initiative is fabulous,” she said.  

Daniel Thorpe, dean of Continuing Studies, said Langara has expanded its services for international students and helps them secure volunteer opportunities in the community.

Jia notes Langara is a good stepping stone to university because learners can receive more attention in classes of up to 40 students. She hopes to study psychology at the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University or in Toronto.

Jia is a the secretary for a Toastmasters group that meets at Granville Street and 43rd avenue now and says she’s helping the two clubs improve each other.



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