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FAMILY LITERACY WEEK: Learning a new language beyond the second

Learning a new language is equal to learning a new skill
CCPL staff and English Language Learners enjoy a snack during one of their language instruction classes.

By Angelika Sellick

Think about the last time you learned a new skill. Maybe it was learning how to snowshoe, how to check the oil on your car or how to knit. Certainly, there may have been moments of frustration, but you probably also experienced a sense of accomplishment as you improved along the way.

Learning a new language is equal to learning a new skill and I often hear English language learners apologetically say “I don’t speak English” or “I speak English a little.”

Instead of dwelling on what they don’t know, I encourage learners to focus on their accomplishments: the words they’ve learned so far, their ability to string a few or many of them together into a sentence, and the confidence they’ve developed to try communicating with others in their day-to-day lives.

Knowing how to communicate in multiple languages is a highly valuable skill in Canada’s labour market. We live in a country where we need employees who can speak a language other than English because that is the reality of the people who live here. I often encourage English language learners to list on their resume the languages that they speak (including English) so as to highlight it as one of their skills.

Over the past while, I’ve steered away from using the widely-recognized term of ‘ESL’ or English as a Second Language. Instead, I’ve moved more towards ‘ELL’ or English Language Learning. The reason is that ESL suggests that a person’s skill set is limited to only two languages - their home language and English. Whereas ELL leaves the door wide open; honestly, I’ve worked with folks for whom English is their fourth or fifth language. Now that’s an incredible skill set.

By changing the words we use, we change the way we see things, the way that our children see things, and the way that others perceive themselves. We would probably never say: “I’m learning how to snowshoe as a second skill,” would we?

In the same way, we can support language learners as they develop a valuable new skill by thinking and speaking about it beyond the second.

Angelika Sellick is the coordinator of English Language Learning (ELL) programs at CCPL in Williams Lake.

Read More:FAMILY LITERACY WEEK: The great build up to Kindergarten

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