This September, I began a volunteer tour of duty at St. James Town’s Community Corner with a plucky bunch of folks known as the Sunshine Seniors Group, signing up mainly as a way to get in more conversation in Mandarin (the group is composed of Mandarin Chinese speakers). My timing was uncanny: the Friday group is typically run by a series of speakers, and my chancing in happened exactly as one slotted in for a two-month engagement cancelled unexpectedly. Thus I found myself in the strange position of having suddenly become an English teacher – which, despite a longstanding love affair for languages and linguistics and a few gigs teaching art at international schools (here also to mainly Chinese students), I have basically zero qualification to do… And so, while the opportunity was absolutely thrilling I soon realized this was all going to take some serious thinking if I wanted to make good of it!
With my central professional focus being on developing in art therapy, naturally my first thoughts turned towards forming a group of this kind. As I came to grow more familiar with the seniors and their own set of concerns, I realized that language learning was far more of a priority than taking part in an art course would be. However curiously, the more I listened to members of the group speak about the role the language barrier plays in their lives, the less dissonant the two approaches seemed to be.
Presently I am working on the design for a pilot course, to be offered from January to April at the Corner, which will use art as the key vehicle to teach language. The methodology underlying the course will bring into focus some of the affective aspects residing behind language learning and use, with the goal of providing participants with the opportunity to express themselves on multiple levels – visual, verbal, and emotional – in the discussion of themes that highlight social life. Metaphorically relating ‘language’ with ‘boundary’, we will give special place to the immigrant experience in Canada, and share stories and strategies pertaining to identity within a cross-cultural landscape.
Tune in for updates on course development!