What an incredible weekend!
What was it like presenting at the Jusoor Disruptor Lab Competition?
I was very nervous to present to the judges, this is by far the biggest audience I have pitched our Newcomer English as a Second Language (ESL) program. During the panel I was asked several questions about “what do newcomers get from your program which is different from other ESL?” This is a question I get asked a lot.
Our curriculum aims to equip ESL learners with everyday English skills. We follow a learning approach which focuses on drills and repetition – similarly to a fitness coach approach. We take our students onto the streets of Toronto to practice their English and to simultaneously build their confidence in their new city and interacting with their new neighbors.
How did your Newcomer Pilot Program come to be?
I attended WelcomeHomeTO Month 13 panel discussion which demonstrated opportunities and challenges in Toronto’s resettlement sector. It was WHTO co-founder, Craig Carter-Edwards, who suggested we adapt our ESL program for Syrian newcomers in Toronto. Through Craig and the CSI community we were connected to various stakeholders with interest in an innovative ESL curriculum. We piloted a curriculum with several Syrian newcomers, take a look at what our everyday lessons look like and what our participants had to say:
What moment made you realise that you had won the Jusoor Disruptor Lab for education and learning ?
During our pilot program the newcomer in the red jacket, featured in our video, had come onto the streets of Toronto with us to practice asking for directions. This was the first time we had tested our ESL program for Syrian newcomers. We taught him the sentence “Where would I find University College? Is it around here?” He used this phrase to find Rotman School of Management on the day of Jusoor’s conference, so he could attend my presentation. This is when I realised the real-life social change potential our program has. His presence reduced me to tears, this really was the highlight of winning Jusoor Disruptor Lab competition.
What did this win mean for On the Spot Language?
Jusoor Fifth Annual Global Conference was an incredible experience! We’ve been running our regular program since 2009 and our main audience has been international students. The Jusoor disruptor lab win is the first recognition we have received for our activity based learning curriculum. Languages Canada does not classify our curriculum as an approved second language course. On the spot language team has always considered themselves ESL disruptors. We’ve innovated a traditional language model to embody lessons which empower newcomers and Torontonians to integrate.
This is the first recognition On the Spot Language has received for their innovative language curriculum.
“Every person I meet is an opportunity
to practice & learn
my English language skills”
Why do you believe competitions like the disruptor labs are important for increasing inclusion
Competitions like these allows organizations stakeholders to showcase their programs demonstrate their everyday impact. It allows WelcomeHomeTO to connect its various stakeholders to showcase their programs and empower grassroots impact at the local level. Our
prize money and mentorship from the DMZ will give us the opportunity to discuss how we can make our Newcomer pilot program, a permanent program.
How did you familiarize yourself with the Arabic language and culture?
Love Arabic, the ACCT and the Newcomer Kitchen have helped us understand the needs of
newcomers and familiarize ourselves with the Arabic language and culture. When presenting to
sponsors at #Month13 info session at the ACCT this past January, they asked us
“where have you guys been since day 1?”\
stating they would’ve happily referred newcomers to our ESL program for its everyday benefits.
One of your job titles is Chief Happiness Officer. What is the job description and how does this
help your students?
My role as Chief Happiness Officer developed from making sure students have fun learning a language and meet new people along the way. Language acquisition is a long process which challenges us in many areas of our life. It requires persistence, confidence and the ability to deal with rejection.
WelcomeHomeTO and On the Spot Language share the core value of empower individuals. How does your curriculum ensure you empower your students?
From my own experience of learning Mandarin in China, I know that whilst learning a new language you simultaneously learn a new culture. An average On the Spot Language student talks to approximately 1000 people in 2 months. By using Toronto as our classroom, we want to ensure newcomers leave with a sense of familiarity with Canadian culture and interacting with Canadians. Simply by using the subway they see the diverse population which constitutes Toronto’s demographic. Newcomers interact with strangers so they can develop a human connection, accept their failures and celebrate their successes. By communicating a few sentences newcomers gain a sense of belonging and connecting with their new Torontonian neighbours.
We will be keeping you up to date with On the Spot Language journey as they develope their Newcomer Program.
Kitty Shephard is the director of communications and outreach for Welcome Home TO