This season of LETS – Learning English Through, in partnership with Newcomer Women’s Services, recently wrapped up. Although switching to online classes was challenging for many of our students who are lacking resources, technological confidence, and facing a language barrier, it is a proud success that this year’s program flourished online.
During the year, women who speak ten different languages while at home, came together weekly to sing songs to improve their pronunciation. Prior to Canada, participants hailed from countries like Morrocco, Iran, China, Kosovo, Ethiopia, India, and Myanmar, and arrived at our program through NEW, Newcomer Women's Centre.
Working on phrases in songs such as "You are my sunshine" helped all participants gain new language skills and provided meaningful and joyful connections when isolation was prevalent for many women new to Canada. When the singing led to dancing and laughter, children joined in too.
Our LETS Instructor, Natalie Fasheh, shared: “When I started facilitating the LETS program, little did I know that it would become a haven of joy and connectedness for me as a leader. I started facilitating during the pandemic, and although I only made music with the community online, I had felt often like this program lends itself to community, regardless of circumstances. It has been an utter privilege collaborating with the ESL teachers to create music sessions that energize and engage participants in their individual and collective journeys of learning English, especially during such difficult global circumstances.
Going into a musical space for women has been my favourite part of the program. Throughout our sessions, we have had several invigorating spontaneous discussions based on participant experiences as women. With us all being women, there is a sense of freedom of expression, authenticity, and support in the music-making that informed my song choices, and filled our time with moments of kindred connection and empowerment.
Leading LETS has been incredible because through it I am able to facilitate a space that embraces all cultural identities, through sharing of everyone's cultural knowledge, experiences, as well as their new journeys as newcomers here. The balance of cross-cultural connection, and introducing aspects of Canadian living through music that advances their English language knowledge, has been beautiful!
Being in Zoom was unique, as we are all in our own spaces. There were moments of sharing and learning about each other only possible through Zoom! One memorable moment was when a participant, during a time when we were singing a song, brought a fruit that she bought without knowing what it was. She showed it to the group and asked about it, and a few of the participants excitedly shared about how they eat the fruit in their cultures! She started eating it and experimenting in her kitchen, while participants gave feedback. It was a sweet moment in between our time of singing and music-English learning that really highlights the power of finding community through music during such a socially isolating and difficult time, and having those times of community connection also enrich the English learning and music-making!
I learn so much from these lovely women and am thrilled to have led them through zoom sessions! I cannot wait to meet them in person!”
LETS will resume in the fall of 2021.