Good communication skills crucial for new immigrants, say profs

Lillie Lum and Pat Bradley

Does communication matter to immigration labour market integration? According to Professor Lillie Lum of the School of Nursing and School of Health Policy & Management and Professor Pat Bradley of the School of Nursing it matters a great deal. The professors were invited guest speakers at a forum on that topic sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration (MCI) in January.

This event followed a recent announcement by the provincial and federal ministers of citizenship and immigration to expand Ontario bridging education programs to assist skilled immigrants gain licensure or find jobs in their fields (see Nov. 22, 2013 issue of YFile).

Lillie Lum
Lillie Lum

The forum provided a unique opportunity for provincial policy makers, 11 different professional regulatory colleges, educators and researchers to explore more effective strategies to assist new immigrants in becoming licensed and employed in their chosen professions. Lum presented the preliminary research of a language research project “Enhancing Internationally Educated Language Competencies: Fair and Effective Systems Change.”  The project, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, explores the communication challenges of internationally educated nurses in the bridging education program at York University.

Bradley, coordinator of the Internationally Educated Nurses BScN Program, concluded that internationally educated nurses, need to develop intercultural competency skills to practice in Canada. But to successfully integrate into the Canadian practice setting, internationally educated nurses also need to demonstrate high levels of professional communication skills.

Lum’s research found that despite the fact that many of these students have passed English language tests, they require additional support to meet Canadian language benchmarks in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Her research shows that immigrant students who were previously educated in English in their home countries do not necessarily demonstrate language proficiency in the Canadian university or healthcare context.

Pat Bradley
Pat Bradley

“To support students’ language skill development and eventual academic success, educators and the student themselves need to actively identify and address language learning needs within the specific area of study. Without this, students who are not English language proficient may be ‘falling between the cracks’,” says Lum.

“English language admission requirements vary from program to program and these may need to be revised to address the needs of the large numbers of new international and immigrant students at York. Comprehensive English language support services need to be developed and readily available to all students experiencing language related skills challenges.”

The importance of identifying students with English language challenges and how to use appropriate teaching/learning strategies in multicultural classroom will be discussed by Lum at the second annual Teaching Learning  Conference  at York University in May.

York University has several bridging programs for internationally educated professionals with projects in the Faculty of Health, Glendon College, Lassonde School of Engineering and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. The University has received financial support from the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada.

Vice-Provost Alice Pitt also attended the event at the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration. “The session provided by Professors Bradley and Lum is an excellent demonstration of research informing policy and practice,” commented Pitt.  “Given York’s history of designing and delivering programs that meet the needs of internationally educated professionals, we have a body of knowledge that could benefit others throughout the province.”