The Speak English Café is part social club and part orientation to northern Canada. It’s certainly more than just a chance to practice English conversation skills.
The Café is a well-attended Tuesday evening meet-up at the Public Library meeting room in Yellowknife. Community Connections coordinator, Karen Johnson, begins each session with a group activity, such as a game or video. Then participants break into smaller groups that allow for more English conversation.
“The participants were hooked the first session when we made cranberry pancakes served with butter, maple syrup and birch syrup,” says Karen.
Topics are chosen to introduce newcomers to aspects of northern life. For example, Karen used the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre Edukit, A Package of Pelts, for two sessions. Jane Dragon, a Fort Smith elder, educator, and northern trapper, shared her experiences of trapping and her knowledge of the pelts in the kit. Practical topics, like waste reduction are included. Ecology North staff brought activities and led a discussion about composting, recycling, and garbage. We even carved Halloween pumpkins.
The newcomers are from all around the world—Sudan, Japan, Yemen, Taiwan, Philippines, France, Eritrea, Syria, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The Speak English Café is a snapshot of the immigrants living in Yellowknife. Each week more than 20 participants attend, about one third are permanent residents with the rest in Canada on some kind of visa.
The program fulfills a need for newcomers because they come back week after week and often they bring a friend the next time. It is a social club to a certain extent. Karen is encouraged when she sees participants exchange contact information so they might get together outside of the Café session. Some newcomers have taken ownership of the program, bringing food from their country to share with the group. We have tried a variety of foods from soup to pumpkin jam, to Sudanese timbits!
Midori, from Japan, sums up the benefits of the Speak English Café well. She says, “I just want to say thank you. English Café makes my time in Yellowknife more fun and I could meet a lot of peoples. I'm really appreciating that…I'm still afraid to speak in English but I'm going to try my best so that when I will see you next time we can have a conversation and many stories.”
The Speak English Café is part of the NWT Literacy Council’s Community Connections program in partnership with the Yellowknife Library. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the City of Yellowknife, and The United Way fund Community Connections.
- Karen Johnson, Community Connections Coordinator