Emma Sheppard is a columnist for Jornal de Toronto
When I first started writing this column last summer, I was coming at it with 10 years of experience as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. My entire career, and much of my life had focused on what it meant to move to a new country and try to rebuild a life and language skills from scratch. Since September, I have had a new experience in my career – working at Seneca and George Brown Colleges teaching introductory English courses that every student must take – Canadians, immigrants, and international students.
It is in these last few months that I have learned more about learning and language than I have ever known before. I have seen Canadians make mistakes that I spent years correcting language learners about, telling them that this error was what would hold them back, and struggling over texts that I thought they would breeze through. And I have seen English language learners, fresh from semesters of English classes dominate conversations and correct their classmates.
The process, the way that my students have been challenged has forced me to look at each person as an individual even more than I did before, and to help them separate their challenges out from their strengths. It has also taught me something that I thought I already knew – how many versions of English there are, how long that someone can live in their own language and still have new parts of it to discover.
And it has taught me to keep learning, just like I’ve always told my students to do. Throughout this new facet of my career, I have been reminded of many of the things that are most important to me in teaching and learning – that every individual comes with their own story, that language is complex and can always be better understood, and that we are always learning, no matter where we come from or what new challenges we face.