This is the third year of Language Partners BC, a volunteer run language organization in Vancouver. The project started with an the influx of Syrian refugees in the winter of 2015-2016 and the idea that a partner-based language program might offer connections and solidarity between people in our city. Now, as we go into our third year of operation, it feels like time for a reflection on what’s going well, what ongoing challenges we face, and where the work may lead.
What’s going well
- It’s attracting people! Ever since our first program in spring 2016, with Arabic and English speaking women who met at an Islamic centre downtown, people have shown up to participate and to help facilitate. This indicates a match between the idea and an appetite for it.
- We have sustainably grown with each season, allowing us this season to offer five programs across the city.
- We have found a sweet spot in terms of size with two facilitators and maximum 10 additional participants in each program.
- The facilitators, often past participants, reflect the linguistic and background diversity of Vancouver.
- We have developed partnerships with the Vancouver Public Library, neighbourhood houses, and a mosque.
- I’m not burnt out. Language Partners BC is organized in a way so that the work is distributed and the core volunteers (including me), the facilitators, and the participants can stick around.
- Attrition does happen, likely due to a mix of busyness, changing schedules and commitments, and unmet expectations.
- We continue to tinker with how much structure and curriculum to provide participants, given the challenges of different languages and different levels, and the fact that people come with different focuses. The past two seasons, we have integrated Where Are Your Keys techniques, which support immersion-based conversational learning, with some success.
- We can’t help everyone. Our dates, times, and locations are limited. We can’t match all the people who apply. Not everyone who gets matched shows up.
- We could develop our website to connect with more language exchange initiatives around the world and to offer more resources to learners.
- We could develop resources for people who want to start their own language exchange programs in other parts of Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, and the world.
- We could become a proper registered non-profit organization, get funding, and get paid staff, if we wanted to expand or change our operations.
- We could join Metro Vancouver Alliance, to work with other institutions to achieve meaningful changes in our area and developing our leaders.
Thanks for reflecting with me. My advice for anyone who has an idea: start now and start small, because the initial work will grow, and you need something concrete to reflect on, build on, and point to when you are describing your vision.