Language & Communication Resource Guide

In this module we speak to participants about communicating with those who share their language and those who do not, strategies for learning new languages, and the cultural differences that are expressed through both verbal and non-verbal communication styles. While the lack of a common language in which to communicate can be isolating, participants share encouraging stories about developing their language skills through immersion and how they have developed new relationships through this process.

Although most of the participants learned English in their home countries, they had to adjust to using the language every day upon arrival in Canada. Many of those who were interviewed attended English classes offered through local school boards or community organizations to develop their language skills further; these classes provided the added benefits of meeting other newcomers, gaining exposure to different teaching styles, and learning how to adapt to unfamiliar social dynamics. Only one participant had no previous understanding of English: arriving in Canada as a refugee from Hungary at the age of ten, she and her brother learned to speak English by watching television and playing with the other children in their neighbourhood in Edmonton. The ability of children to pick up new languages is highlighted by a participant from Iran, who speaks with pride of his young daughter’s ability to speak French, English and Farsi.

While developing French and English skills is important for integration into Canadian society, the continuity of using one’s native language helps newcomers maintain cultural ties. In one interview, a participant from Iran makes use of a common idiom translated from Farsi to describe her busy schedule as a graduate student. We also hear of the importance of non-verbal forms of communication in expressing cultural identity. For example, a participant who works as an artist shows how she incorporates traditional Chinese motifs into handpainted silk scarves that she creates.

Discussion Questions

  1. As a newcomer, do any of the stories featured in this module resonate with your own experience? Why or why not?
  2. Identify different modes of verbal and non-verbal communication. Which practices are common in Canada? Which are common in your country of origin? What factors may contribute to these differences (if any exist)?
  3. Identify common idioms used in English. (For example: It’s raining cats and dogs.) How might you express the same message in different words? Is there a common idiom in your native language that expresses the same idea?
  4. What are your words to live by? Write a motto that expresses the personal beliefs that guide your daily living. Write a motto that expresses the values that the members of your group hold in common.
  5. Draw pictures to represent ideas such as identity, prosperity, longevity and happiness. Compare the choices amongst the members of your group. How might you account for the similarities and differences within the group?
  6. What conventions exist in Canadian society to help overcome communication barriers? Think about how speakers of myriad spoken languages are accommodated, as well as those who may not be able to communicate verbally.

Related Resources

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