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English classes for immigrants aren't old school

Online program costs less to offer while letting newcomers polish their skills, continue to work.

With the click of a mouse, Lilla Gyotar can simulate buying a TTC ticket and visiting a job centre. If she stumbles on a new English word, an animated parrot will pop up on the computer screen and teach her how to pronounce it.

"The online program is helpful because you can go on it any time. You can see your mistakes and learn from them right away. Sometimes when you talk to people, they don't correct you," said Gyotar, 18, who came here from Hungary in 2008.

The Port Credit Secondary School student has joined a growing number of immigrants turning to cyberspace and home study to learn English while juggling a job, school, family and a new life in Canada.

Over the past five years, the number of immigrants to Ontario taking a government-funded English home-study program has jumped from 440 to 1,100 – including 150 in Toronto, where the program only became available in 2008.

Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes are offered to immigrants at no cost, but only 20 per cent of adult newcomers take the program annually – many drop out due to other obligations. The home study version allows students to study on their own time. It also costs much less – $1,972 per student, compared to $4,113 per seat for LINC, according to a government review.

This month, the e-learning program has been expanded, with a pilot project for young newcomers like Gyotar. Another, for immigrant seniors, will follow. Like the $2.5 million home-study program, the $300,000 pilot is administered by Mississauga-based Centre for Education and Training.

Participants in the online LINCing Youth program ( can practise reading, writing, listening to and speaking English through interactive scenarios and tools such as YouTube; their progress is monitored. Information on student loans, college applications and other settlement needs is also available. The 25 students in the pilot must attend a weekly group meeting with instructors.

Opinions vary on which is better: 41 per cent of LINC students surveyed favoured the flexibility of home study, while 28 per cent preferred the conversation opportunities of classroom instruction. The rest had no preference.

An immigration spokesperson said new technology won't replace classroom instruction because the online program is offered only to those who can't attend regular classes due to shift work, lack of transportation or child care, who have a chronic illness, or who live in places where classes are unavailable.

Illya Dudukalov, an engineer from Ukraine, spent two months in an English class in Barrie before his assembly-line job forced him to switch to home study.

"It takes a lot of motivation and determination. I like learning in a class because you can interact with others and get immediate feedback from the teacher," said the Vaughan resident. He advises others to start with a class and, after getting a job, continue through home study.

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