P3 - The People

Don’t let English get in the way

English Language Foundations student Joseph Jali studies at a desk.Language is a very powerful tool and SAIT student Joseph Pitia Jali knows that better than anyone.

After arriving in Canada in 2006, the Sudanese refugee knew that it would take more than simply learning basic English to launch him into a successful career, but understanding how to effectively communicate in Canadian culture. That sentiment led him to SAIT Polytechnic's English Language Foundations (ELF) program.

"I chose SAIT because I felt it could really help me build upon who I am," says Jali. "The ELF program is helpful to get a clear picture of your educational decisions, of who you are, and what you want at this stage in your life.

"Learning the English language can help you integrate into Canadian society and feel more like you belong, which can also help with healing the trauma of the past."

The ELF program offers the language skill training needed to live, work and study in Canada. Pamela Heath, Manager for ELF in the Centre of Academic Learner Services, says SAIT's language instruction goes beyond learning to read, write and speak.

Surveys show most ELF students have the technical skills required to attend school or apply for a job, however struggle with inter-cultural competencies — something as simple as saying good morning to co-workers.  “In ELF we talk about how you perceive yourself and how you want others to perceive you. Some of the norms we have here in Canada may be very different that in their home countries,” says Heath.  Learn more about the ELF program.

From the beginning of their studies, ELF students know they're getting ready for a post-secondary program or the workplace by learning how to handle real-life situations including conflicts, meetings and job interviews.

"Our instructors often encounter former ELF students who have moved into full-time SAIT programs who say ‘now I know why I had to learn how to do things like presentations, surveys and merit reports. I'm doing these things in class all the time!' " says Heath.

"They understand why good, solid communication relies on both technical knowledge of the language as well as non-verbal and cultural norms."

A fresh start in Canada

Thirty-three year old Jali hasn't always been able to focus on his career. Growing-up in Southern Sudan during a period of civil war he spent much of his life in a refugee camp where he saw dozens die each day due to cultural differences.

"Many people died in the camp due to infectious diseases because we lived in poorly equipped camps that were submerged in waters from torrential rain, creating contaminated drinking water," says Jali. "Sometimes the Islamic government of Sudan would send Anatov planes across to the south to bomb the refugees. The planes would drop five bombs a day."

Sadly, Jali lost his mother while in the camp. He eventually fled to Egypt where he met his wife and had his first daughter. The family then came and Joseph was determined to see their lives flourish. 

He says that while learning English will help him launch a successful career, it also helps him focus on what's ahead of him.

Working towards a career

When students register for the ELF program, Heath says they are asked to start planning for their future immediately, whether that includes further education or launching immediately into a career.

"Most of our students are coming to ELF because they want to apply for a full-time SAIT program. English is just the hurdle they need to get over to do that. We really stress the importance of a plan so we can help them get what they need to get there," says Heath.

When Jali completes his ELF program, he hopes to continue his studies in SAIT's Diesel Equipment Technician or Architectural Technologies diploma programs.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of having career goals in life. There are so many career opportunities in the trades," says the now father of three who is working at the Bethany Chapel in southwest Calgary while completing the ELF program part-time.

For more information on the ELF program, available funding options, or to register, visit our English Language Foundations page. Information sessions are also held on-campus once a month. Check the Events Calendar for the next scheduled session.