The Language Learners group met at Trinity Lutheran Church for three weeks in group classes like this, before splitting off into for one-on-one lessons for another three weeks. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Delta’s Trinity Lutheran Church looking for more language learners

Program pairs English speakers looking to learn new languages with individuals learning English

English speakers looking to broaden their linguistic horizons are wanted for the next round of Trinity Lutheran Church’s Language Learners program.

“The intent of this whole language partner idea is that we connect neighbours with each other,” said pastor Jennifer Wilson. “Neighbours in North Delta who speak fluent English, and neighbours who are learning English.”

Throughout the six- to eight-week program, the fluent English speakers help people to learn or improve their English, and in return, the non-native English speakers share lessons on their mother tongue.

“I really liked the format, because it’s not like someone is more than the other person,” said Rosa Funderburk, an ESL teacher who started the program with Wilson. “It’s this thing about being equal.”

The first round of language learning started in October, after many months of organization by Wilson and Funderburk. It currently has eight members: four Mandarin speakers and four English speakers.

In the first three weeks of the program, everyone met in a large group. In the following three weeks, everyone paired off to learn their languages one-on-one. At the beginning of December, the group reunited to discuss their experiences.

Rita Hagman (English) had been paired with Selena Li (Mandarin). They decided to do their lessons at Tim Hortons coffee shops halfway between each of their homes, and would figure out what each person wanted to learn.

Hagman, who works as a nurse in Richmond, wanted to learn basic, conversational Mandarin to use with her patients.

“I don’t really want to go to a Mandarin lecture, because maybe I could study it and get an A, but I don’t want to learn that way,” she told the Reporter at the December meeting. “I want to learn in phrases.”

Li, who wanted to improve her vocabulary and English fluency, agreed.

“I really like this kind of study group. Because … we study one to one, and then I can focus on what I want to improve,” she said.

“We learn English since we were in high school. But most of time, we just learned vocabulary and grammar, but we are not very often to use whole sentence, especially the whole language,” she continued. “So listening and speaking is pretty weak — can I say that?” she asked in an aside to Hangman.

“Yes.”

The room laughed, and Li responded with a smile. “You are my teacher.”

In the larger group settings — at least, during the spontaneous lesson that arose during the review meeting — it’s clear the program doesn’t conform to a typical classroom style.

A white board stood in the corner of the basement room in Trinity Lutheran Church. A phrase Li had been trying to master was written on it: The poor man will pour his tea over the pure pearl that sits on top of the juicy pear. She had been having troubles distinguishing between the p-words.

Li went first, reading the sentence out loud. Then, the other English-learners gave it a try.

A discussion of the words soon led to the discovery of a similar sounding word: peer. From peer came the Mandarin word for friend, and from there, an explanation on how to say “I am your friend” in Mandarin, and how to change it into a negative.

“It gets very animated, because little groups are off over here talking about something that just happened,” Wilson said.

“Just the energy was surprisingly fun.”

For the next round of the language program, Wilson and Funderburk are hoping to gain more English speakers. There are currently at least six people on the wait list, speaking either Mandarin, Cantonese, Pubjabi or Hindi.

“Sometimes I think maybe people are afraid, because when you’re learning a language, you’re vulnerable,” Funderburk said.

“So I think vulnerability here is on both sides. It’s not only people who want to improve their English, but also the other people who are willing to want to learn another language.”

Interested volunteers are encouraged to sign up as a volunteer on volinspire.com/opportunity/language-learner-10466-755163. The next Language Learners program will be starting sometime in January.



grace.kennedy@northdeltareporter.com

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Helen Liant demonstrates the position of her tongue to fellow Mandarin speaker Selena Li during a Language Learners class. (Grace Kennedy)

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