Wider Horizons

As a student of Slavic languages, Philip Harttrup had a desire, while at the University of Toronto,ELC window to read Russian literature in its original tongue. He managed it, but admits he found more war than peace in the effort.

Today, Harttrup, director of Lethbridge College’s English Language Centre, is marshaling forces to take on the world. His goal: raise Lethbridge to a global player in English language training.

He brings a doctorate in linguistics and literature to a department tasked with attracting the world to Lethbridge for a taste of English amid southern Alberta’s charms. The larger intent is to showcase Lethbridge College’s academic programs to ESL students to keep them on campus and in the community once they’ve learned the language.

Fortuitously, the demand for English training is a bull market; the Canadian version, highlighted by its flat, mildly accented delivery, is a prized commodity.

“English is the international language of business, travel, pop culture,” says Harttrup, former director of The Language Exchange, a private Toronto institute specializing in ESL training. “It’s a growing industry and the demand to learn is high. Our version is so standardized. If you want to be involved in international business, it’s the one to learn.”

There are other factors, too, that position Canada – and Lethbridge College – as choice locations for global students. The city’s lifestyle is attractive, as is its proximity to world-class scenery. Then, too, is Canada’s ease of access.

“Coming to Canada saves students the visa hassles they face in the United States,” says Harttrup. “Britain is expensive and Australia and New Zealand are so far away, so Canada wins by default. Plus, they get better value for their dollar here.”

Lethbridge College has students from as many as 30 countries on campus in any given semester. While Asia has been a traditionally rich lode for ESL students, Harttrup is looking to mine other areas such as South America. It’s a tougher sell, right now, thanks to the economy.

“We want to hit the Brazilian market,” he says. “Canada is the first choice for Brazilian students, but most are attracted to larger centres. We think we can serve them well here.”

Many students – the Brazilians included – aren’t necessarily looking to become full-fledged English scholars. Instead, says Harttrup, they’re keen to add an English language component to their resumes. The goal is to keep them at Lethbridge College after their programs end.

“We want to give them a taste of the campus to convince them to take a diploma program once their ESL studies are done,” says Harttrup. “Once they graduate from a diploma program, they have an option of working in Canada for three years. That can be attractive.”

Lethbridge also offers international students a true immersion experience where they are not immediately surrounded by their fellow citizens.

“If they’re serious about learning English, they won’t want to live in an area riddled with their own nationality,” says Harttrup, competent himself in Russian, French, and German. “Lethbridge offers them a slower pace and is aesthetically pleasing to live in.”

Student Tales- land of spoken dreams

Gonzalo Cornejo and Gasim Yousif Abdulla come from different continents and backgrounds as diverse as the southern Alberta weather they now both enjoy. Yet here they are, in a Lethbridge College classroom, learning English for vastly different reasons.

They typify the two streams of students who enter the college’s English as a Second Language program.

Cornejo, a civil engineer from La Paz, Bolivia, was sent by his employer to handle a subcontracting position for Elk Valley Coal in Sparwood, B.C. The Bolivian firm chose Canada as a destination for its young employee because he can learn English during the year he’s here. Cornejo will follow Canada with another year elsewhere to complete his training.

Abdulla is an immigrant from the Republic of the Sudan, who came to Canada with banking skills and a desire for a shot at a better life. While he intends to return home one day, Abdulla, who has lived in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, knows that a strong ability in English will make life that much easier.

The language of Shakespeare is trading high on world markets these days, estimated as the second-most spoken language on Earth after Mandarin and before Hindi.

Cornejo, with a shock of curls and a T-shirt proclaiming his nationality, knew hardly an English word when he left Bolivia.

His employer sent him to school in Spain in return for his future services, hence the year as an explosives expert in the coalfields of southeastern British Columbia where he’ll learn another aspect of the firm’s business along with English verbs. While he knows far more of the language than he did upon arrival, he’s still learning.

“Young people in Bolivia have to be flexible and willing to work around the world,” he says, with an interpreter to polish his answers. “I was excited to come here; it’s a good experience for my future career. There are many young people in Bolivia who want to learn English.”

It is, Cornejo rightfully states, the language of international business and information; the desire to learn it has reached manic proportions in his home country and throughout the world. Along with his Lethbridge College classes, he’s using the Lethbridge Public Library, music and movies to augment his learning. Sometimes, he has to give his head a shake when he realizes where he is.

“It’s interesting to learn in a cultural group and learn about their countries: Sudan, China, Japan, Afghanistan, Mexico, Colombia. I didn’t expect to be doing this.”

For Abdulla, the road to Lethbridge was more circuitous. He worked in banking in Khartoum, Sudan for five years before deciding a university education in Australia would afford him a brighter future.

To attend university in Sydney, he had to apply through an Australian embassy, which Sudan does not have. He moved to Cairo, sent in his application along with a fee in excess of $1,000.

The Australian school said he’d missed its deadline but, g’day,mate, they’d keep his money.

After a stint in the tourism industry in the Sinai (“after the explosions in 2004, the Israelis stopped coming”), he found another banking position in Dubai, U.A.E. His future wife, Nagwa Bakheit, had moved to Alberta in 2002 to work at Lakeside Packers in Brooks. She returned to Sudan to marry Abdulla, and the couple headed back to the Canadian Prairies. An instructor at Medicine Hat College recommended the ESL program at Lethbridge College,

Abdulla was keen.

“I enjoy Lethbridge,” says Abdulla, now fluent in English. “It’s tranquil; people are helpful. English is important because it can open doors around the world.”

Sadly, that concept is lost on the Sudanese government. Colonized by the British, Sudan adopted English as its official language. But the new regime, caught up with the fervor of nationalism, banned its use in universities.

“It was very narrow thinking,” says Abdulla. “All the best teachers left.”

Like Cornejo, Abdulla enjoys the multi-national atmosphere at Lethbridge College.

“The whole world is here,” he says. “I had little English when I came, but I’ve made significant improvement. Learning a language in real life is much better than learning it from books.”

The two found a few surprises in their first views of Canada. “We get sleet in Sudan that destroys the crops, maybe once every five years,” says Abdulla. “Here, everything is white with snow and people enjoy it.”

“Big cars,” says Cornejo. “People drive around here in big cars they don’t need.”

They’re both learning quickly.

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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