May 26th, 2017

Toastmasters, Read On team up to help immigrants

By Mabell, Dave on January 11, 2017.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

It’s a real challenge for many people. Stepping up to address a crowd can create anxiety if not sheer panic.

But what if you’re asked to speak, and you’re still learning English as a second language?

That’s a challenge that’s been accepted by a growing number of immigrants and refugees who’ve come to make their home in Lethbridge. With coaching through two of the city’s long-running educational programs, they’ve developed the confidence and social skills they needed to build on the training and experience they brought to Canada.

“The people have come from almost everywhere,” says volunteer Teena Cormack, a member of a local Toastmasters club that’s collaborated with the Read On program at the public library.

After gaining a working knowledge of English, the newcomers have moved on to more advanced, one-on-one tutoring by Read On volunteers. Then they’ve taken the next step, signing up for an eight-week “Speechcraft” program offered by Toastmasters International affiliates round the world.

“It’s very intensive,” Cormack says, so participants are coached by their Read On tutor as well as a mentor from one of the city’s six Toastmasters groups.

Registration for this year’s program, starting at the end of the month, is open. Full details are available by visiting or calling – 403-380-7323 – the Read On office at the downtown library.

It’s the seventh year for the special Speechcraft project, and Cormack says it’s proven to be the key to advancement for many participants.

“We have some who have stayed in Toastmasters,” she says, while others have successfully used their new speaking skills to win job offers from employers in Calgary, Edmonton or beyond.

Once they’ve gained confidence in speaking English, she adds, the program’s “graduates” have been able to outline their previous qualifications and achievements.

“We feel so proud of them,” says Cormack, a member of the Coulee Commentators – the city’s longest-running Toastmasters club. It’s co-sponsored the program from the start, assisted by experienced Toastmasters from other clubs across the city.

“It’s a great partnership we have,” says Lil Radley, the library’s literacy services co-ordinator.

The year-round Read On program and its 100-plus volunteers assisted nearly 280 Lethbridge-area residents last year, Radley says. The impact of the volunteers’ time – combined with the efforts shown by newcomers – is easy to see, she adds.

The special Speechcraft project has helped many development leadership skills as well as proficiency in public speaking, Radley points out.

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