Learning from each other

Confidence, community and the conversation club

Jun Fujita (left) and Mei Miyanishi (right) both worked alongside Kelly Giddings (centre) in the English Language Program. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

When Jun Fujita and Mei Miyanishi first enrolled in the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) English Language Program (ELP), it met exclusively online. As of last week, however, the conversation club transitioned to in-person learning.

The ELP helps both domestic and international students improve their English skills. Both Fujita and Miyanishi joined the program in part because of its weekly activity nights and language-partner approach.

Miyanishi says the ability to converse with native English speakers is another benefit of the program. She says meeting on campus has impacted her confidence, and she’s now much more “comfortable speak(ing) in person.”

Both Miyanishi and Fujita say the program’s previous Zoom format could be intimidating, especially since English-speaking participants or other Japanese students could have judged their English.

Fujita also says the program has helped her confidence, and she previously wouldn’t have felt comfortable speaking in English for an interview. However, Fujita says she’s progressed to a point where she is able to express herself in English.

Kelly Giddings, student-life coordinator at the U of W, works alongside students enrolled in the ELP. Giddings says both Fujita and Miyanishi have progressed from speaking very little English in May of last year to now having daily conversations in the language.

“It’s really amazing to see the progress of the students and (their) confidence and just everything,” Giddings says.

Fujita says her time in the program encourages her to keep studying. At first, she felt that her English hadn’t improved, but her focus and mindset have changed.

“I feel I’m getting used to it,” she says, “and (I’ve come) to not be afraid of speaking.”

Giddings says the program also helps students gain Canadian cultural experience. While there isn’t a precise cultural curriculum, she says this part of the program comes about organically.

“We’re Canadian. We’re going to share our experiences, our culture, things that we enjoy,” she says. “Our family history and all that kind of stuff flows into the language lessons.”

Giddings also facilitates weekly activities for the students that include visits to local attractions like skating at The Forks and trips to the Royal Canadian Mint or the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

While the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted many of the program’s typical activities, Giddings says the ELP has seen a gradual rise in enrollment since its return to campus. She encourages U of W students to join the ELP conversation club to “practise English speaking and listening skills while meeting new people and making friends.”

“It’s not really one-sided. It’s not just for the ELP students,” she says. “It’s really just an opportunity for everyone to get together, to learn from each other, and then it happens to be in English.”

The conversation club meets every Tuesday from 3 to 4 p.m. For information about the club, contact Kelly at elpstudentlife@uwinnipeg.ca.

Published in Volume 77, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 9, 2023)

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