An innovative language skills course is helping newcomers to the city get back on their feet.
Breaking news graphic
The Prince Albert Multicultural Council hosts English for Employment classes a couple times a year to help immigrants and refugees in the city learn skills to help with their job skills.
“It is more of an intermediate level, so in the class we improve their language skills, we also learn a lot about labour standards, WHIMS, how to get a job and what the workplace culture is like,” instructor Chantal Chalecky explained. “There are differences, like for example in some countries it is very common to put a picture on the resume. If we received a resume with a picture, it looks a little strange.”
“Those job search skills are very important and just the understanding of culture and what is more appropriate in the workplace,” she added.
Although Prince Albert is smaller than Saskatoon and Regina, there are still a great deal of people signing up for the class, looking to improve their English skills.
Chalecky said those in the class have very different stories.
“In my class right now, I have one student who has been here for 12 years and then I also have another student who has only been here for four months,” Chalecky said. “Everyone has a very different story. No two people have the exact same background or history so it definitely varies.”
Although the class helps the students improve English skills, Chalecky said they have to have an intermediate level of English, not beginner. That means they are able to have a conversation, even though some of their phrases may not be exact.
Chalecky said she understand how the students feel, since she speaks French as a second language.
“Even if you know the bookwork, that is not how people say things so it takes a little bit of time to adapt to that for some,” Chalecky said. “Other people have been here for 10 to 12 year and have mostly worked in workplaces where it wasn't necessary to use their English as much. They would go home and speak their home language (and) they may have settled in to patterns of speaking that are incorrect.
“Language is a really difficult concept to quantify,” she added. “Everybody in the class is at basically the same level but everyone has their own challenges so we just adapt to that.”
A lot of the time, Chalecky said she just gives the students the confidence to believe in themselves.
“For second language speakers you would be surprised how many people you would ask and they would say, 'Oh no, I don't speak English.' Really you start to talk to them and they know so much,” Chalecky said. “It is just confidence.
As someone who speaks a second language, Chalecky understand their lack of confidence.
“I have totally been through it, I completely understand,” Chalecky said. “I took a government language class and ended up getting one of the highest levels in French and I still thought I sucked. It is in your head, so that is another aspect of the class is just giving them the confidence.”
The class also teaches the students what to expect in a job interview, since employers in Canada are looking for a different attitude in potential employees than other countries.
“In some other countries, to go to a job interview and brag about yourself is unheard of,” Chalecky said. “You wouldn't say things about yourself like that but in Canada we are expected to go to a job interview and be very confident and be like, 'Oh yeah I can do this, I am the best at that.' That is what we have to do.”
So far, most of the graduates in previous classes have found success after learning new English skills.
“Absolutely we have had quite a few success stories of people coming in and getting new job and getting better jobs,” Chalecky said. “There are a lot of people who are underemployed and that can be in part because of the lack of job search skills and lack of confidence and improve their English.”
She said it is a lot like the old adage “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This is the fifth intake of the class starting on Feb. 17, which runs as a full-time program Monday to Thursday.
“It is a full-time program and attendance is mandatory but there is Provincial Training Allowance available,” Chalecky said. “It is an incentive for people to go back to school to increase their skills. It is a very good opportunity for newcomers to learn those skills and improve their English.”
Those interested in the class can call the Multicultural Centre at (306) 922-0400 to register.