British Columbia

Students teach students at volunteer-run language program

Language Partners B.C. aims to build relationships and community by letting students learn from each other.

'When you talk about something, about culture, about language.... It made us friends,' says participant

Language Partners B.C. students participate in the mixed Turkish-English program. (Language Partners BC/Facebook)

Moving to a new city and making friends can feel like an insurmountable task — especially when you're also trying to get the hang of a new language.

That's why longtime language student Mary Leighton decided to found Language Partners B.C. — a learning space where students can do both at the same time.

"There aren't many programs that recognize that all adults carry this treasure trove of knowledge, which is the languages they already speak," she told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's On the Coast.

The program aims to pair up students, many of whom are new immigrants or refugees. Each person exchanges their language with their partner through a series of one-on-one lessons and conversations in addition to larger group-learning sessions.

The program was piloted in spring 2016 after receiving a grant from the University of British Columbia. The first course focused on women teaching each other English and Arabic.

Leighton says the program is just as much about building relationships and community as it is about learning a new language, especially in cities like Vancouver that have a reputation for being "lonely".

"Being in a space where you're building trust with one other person who's showing up for you for twelve weeks, and being in a group of people who are all making mistakes, all on their own learning curves, and then all sharing their incremental progress, being in a small community ... those things together really do make a difference."

Language Partners B.C. founder Mary Leighton and volunteer Mamo Altindemir joined CBC's On the Coast on Jan. 4, 2017. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Mamo Altindemir is one of the organization's volunteer facilitators. He came to Canada as a refugee from Turkey, and says he can relate to the feelings of isolation.

"As a newcomer to Canada, I can say that I felt alone and I needed to find friends," he said.

Altendimir, who also spends his time volunteering to teach Syrian refugees English, says learning a language can help offset those feelings.

When he began working with Language Partners B.C. to improve his language skills, he started making friends along the way.

"We experienced something very beautiful when we were a part of that program. There were western people, Kurdish people, Turkish people, an Armenian lady ... it makes our group bond somehow.

"When you share something, when you talk about something, about culture, about language.... It made us friends."

With files from CBC's On the Coast

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Classroom learning takes backseat at new language school