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Learning a language

Gathered in a room, Feb. 8, at Habitat for the Arts sat four people who have led very different lives.

From left to right: Rola Aldakhil, Wayne Bontan, Omayea El Marawi, Hassan El Azem, instructor Angela Lemire and Sonali Kiran Vanjare. Lemire has spent the past 10 years working as an ESL instructor in Jasper for NorQuest College’s LINC program. K. Byrne photo

From left to right: Rola Aldakhil, Wayne Bontan, Omayea El Marawi, Hassan El Azem, instructor Angela Lemire and Sonali Kiran Vanjare. Lemire has spent the past 10 years working as an ESL instructor in Jasper for NorQuest College’s LINC program. K. Byrne photo

Rola Aldakhil and Omayea El Marawi are originally from Syria while Sonali Kiran Vanjare is from India and Wayne Bontan is from Jamaica. However, they all have at least one thing in common—they’re all hoping to improve their English.

That’s where Angela Lemire and Edmonton’s NorQuest College’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program come in.

For about a decade Lemire has served as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher in Jasper’s satellite classroom, helping about 150 students from across the globe in that time. Over the years there have been classes with as many as 18 students. Lemire is currently working with a small class of six, which includes Aldakhil, El Marawi, Kiran Vanjare and Bontan.

They meet every Wednesday and Friday.

Recently the Fitzhugh had a chance to sit in on one of their classes and asked the four students how the class has helped them.

Rola Aldakhil
Home country: Syria

Rola Aldakhil-02-K.ByrneWhen Aldakhil arrived in Jasper about seven months ago, she didn’t know a word of English.

“In Syria I only learned English in elementary school and then never again. Even when we moved to Egypt I didn’t need another language so I never learned,” she said. “When I first moved here I would just smile and nod because I didn’t understand.

“I met many nice Canadians, but I couldn’t enjoy them because I couldn’t understand.”

After about a week Aldakhil knew something had to change. Through the Jasper Adult Learning Centre (JALC) she was connected with some ESL programs and eventually to LINC, but things in Lemire’s class didn’t start off easy.

“The first day I will never forget because after class I came back to my bedroom, closed the door and cried. It was a very different experience for me,” she said. “My previous teacher spoke very slowly with simple words, but here everything was fast with different levels and different accents.”

Since then she’s improved a lot and started teaching a weekly art class at Habitat for the Arts, but Aldakhil said she still has a long way to go.

“It takes me a long time to make sentences because I mix up where to put words,” Aldakhil said.

In Arabic words are written and read from right to left unlike left to right in English.

“I want to keep improving,” Aldakhil said. “I have many Canadian friends now and I speak with them all the time. Sometimes I forget a word, but then I just repeat it over and over and then I remember.”

Sonali Kiran Vanjare
Home country: India

Sonali Kiran Vanjare -03-K.Byrne

Kiran Vanjare and her husband moved to Canada about two years ago, originally choosing Edmonton as their new home. However, after a month, the couple moved to Jasper, looking for a small-town feel.

“I knew English and had lived in a big city in Mumbai, but in Edmonton I wasn’t confident. I had never been out of my home country before and it was such a different culture and different people,” she said. “Every time we went out I had to take my husband’s hand. I didn’t even know how to cross the road because that was different too.

“My husband thought Jasper would be easier for me.”

After moving, Kiran Vanjare accepted a laundry attendant position at one of Jasper’s hotels—a completely different experience from her previous job as a teacher in India.

“In the laundry room we didn’t speak very much. I didn’t get to talk a lot of English,” Kiran Vanjare said. “And it was too physical for me. My job in India was all mental work so this was so different.”

Hoping to apply for new jobs, but nervous about her English capability Kiran Vanjare went to JALC for help. Staff there put her in touch with Lemire and LINC.

In a short time Kiran Vanjare’s English jumped by two levels. Now she holds two front desk positions in town.

“I talk to people all the time now and I’m super happy,” she said. “I want to continue improving and hopefully move back to my teaching.”

Omayea El Marawi
Home country: Syria

Omayea El Marawi-05-K.Byrne (1)

Similar to Aldakhil, El Marawi grew up in Syria and had never learned English.

That changed about a year ago when she and her family moved to Jasper.

About a week after arriving she was quickly thrown into the English world as she started working at a gift shop in town. Lucky for El Marawi, one of the staff members was originally from Egypt and could speak Arabic.

“Her English was very good and she helped me a lot. She helped me understand and translate,” El Marawi said.

Slowly, El Marawi started picking up the language, but she wanted more, which is how she ended up with Lemire and the rest of the class.

“I had (ESL instructors) come to my house as volunteers. They helped me, but I was still not good at sentences or reading,” El Marawi said. “Here with Angela I have become much better because sometimes I read and learn grammar and the speaking is okay.

“Slowly I am getting better.”

Growing more confident in her English abilities, El Marawi started working at a daycare in town and the daycare at Marmot Basin.

Wayne Bontan
Home country: Jamaica

Wayne Bontan-04-K.Byrne

For Bontan, who has a Canadian wife, understanding English has never been a problem—afterall, it is Jamaica’s official language.

“When I first got here I couldn’t speak English very well. When I talked no one understood what I said, but I could understand everything that everyone was saying,” Bontan said. “The difference is in Canada people pronounce their words very soft and slow, but in Jamaica we talk fast so here I have to copy the way people talk and take the time to talk.”

Bontan moved to Jasper about four years ago and said while he still struggles with some parts of the Canadian version of the language, he has improved a lot and enjoys coming to the class.

“Angela is a great teacher and I really respect her,” he said. “I like that we all get to talk to each other and I start to realize that none of us talk the same. We all have different accents or read differently or we all mix things up.

“It’s comfortable to learn.”

Kayla Byrne
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

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