UVic Torch -- Spring 2006
Spring 2006,
Volume 27, Number 1

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 Lending an Ear
Carmen Smith and Hitomi Hama: pronounced bonding through informal language tutorials.
Photography by JO-ANN RICHARDS

How good grammar leads to good friendships.

THE AGE DIFFERENCE DISAPPEARS THE MOMENT young Tony (Donghee) Lee of Korea sits down to chat with Carmen Smith, a volunteer at the UVic English Language Centre’s informal tutorial sessions.

There’s a rising hubbub of larynxes struggling with English syntaxes in the crowded room, but Lee only has ears for Smith. She’s helping him to master homework questions and Lee, anxiously leaning forward, his eyes glued to Smith’s kindly face, doesn’t want to miss a single syllable.

“These questions are hard—I need her help. It’s good for me to study here,” says a worried looking Lee, who has a degree in economics but has come to Canada to improve his English for work in international commerce.

These gatherings offer a welcoming place for ELC students to get practical one-on-one help with their studies, to work on pronunciation and English skills, or simply to meet and talk to Canadians with willing ears. About half of the more than 2,000 students taking ELC classes each year make a point of going to the sessions.

Watching Smith and some of the other 60 volunteer tutors, it’s evident that it’s about more than just learning English. Together, Lee and Smith wrestle some of life’s intriguing enigmas: scientific research on animals, mixed marriages, why it’s socially acceptable to eat insects in some cultures but not others and, for good measure, the global issues that need to be addressed to achieve world peace. Lee gets good dollops of Smith’s life experience and philosophy along with her language lessons.

“Fascinating topics, but rather tough for international students,” says Smith, who used to teach history in Manitoba. Although she says she has been retired “forever,” she clearly relishes the challenge of language tutoring. “I like doing this, it’s very rewarding. Frankly at my age, many of my friends are gone. I really enjoy the personal connections with the individual students.” Like many of her fellow tutors, Smith has developed lasting friendships. Former students visit her at home, or phone her from overseas to chat.

“I wanted the atmosphere to feel more like a club than a study room but sometimes it does get a bit chaotic,” says coordinator Veronica Armstrong, BA ’93, who is sorry to be coming to the end of her two-year term. “This has to be a dream teaching job, the students choose to be here so they’re all really motivated.”

Peter McGill, just back from Brazil for the wedding of a former student, finds himself amused by an ironic twist his life has taken. “When I was at UVic studying for a degree in education, I couldn’t wait to get out and find a teaching job in the real world. Now,” says the retired elementary school teacher, “I’m back here making an impact internationally and loving every minute of it. Who’d have thought?” 

Language by Numbers: UVic’s English Language Centre was established in 1970. • 2,100 students from 35 countries now enroll annually. • 34 instructors teach short term (4 to 6 weeks) or intensive (12-week) programs. • 1,200 students (ELC and regular students) live with 700 Victoria “host” families. • 200 students take ELC programs via Englishworld.ca. • The ELC has an estimated annual economic impact of $14.5 million. • For more, see: continuingstudies.uvic.ca.



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