Opening Up New Worlds Through Language at Selkirk

Opening Up New Worlds Through Language

Looking to share ideas and create dialogue, the BC Teachers of an Additional Language will hold its 2014 Interior Regional Conference in October at the Tenth Street Campus in Nelson where more than 100 educators and professionals in related fields are expected.

It’s one of the most important foundations of a shrinking world. Teaching English as an additional language is vital to commerce, community and creating conversations between cultures.

This October, BC Teachers of an Additional Language (BC TEAL) will hold its 2014 Interior Regional Conference at the Selkirk College Tenth Street Campus. More than 100 teachers, administrators and community leaders will take in the one-day event at Mary Hall.

“People are always going to want to learn English, that’s the bottom line,” says Tyler Ballam, the Selkirk College instructor who is heading up the organization of the conference. “How that’s delivered is where there is the dialogue.”

Tyler Ballam teaches in both in both the English Language Program (ELP) and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program (TESOL) at Selkirk College. He is one of the organizers of the upcoming BC TEAL conference which will take place at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus.

The theme for the conference is “Interior Designs: Building Teaching and Learning Communities.” The idea of building connections throughout communities is central to the conference concept considering most in attendance work in areas far removed from the Lower Mainland.

Though immigration is more pronounced in the larger urban centres, Ballam says his colleagues face similar challenges and put forward similar goals.

“You are not just a teacher,” he says. “For many of these students you are their first point of contact when they come to Canada. You are representing Canada and the place you live because they are dealing with culture shock. That adds to the stress because you are not just teaching a language, you are important to their lives, their success and their happiness.”

An Unforgettable Experience

Ballam knows what it feels like to experience culture shock. When he graduated from the University of Victoria, he headed to Asia where he took a job teaching English to elementary school students near Seoul, South Korea.

“It’s a culture shock going from Victoria to Seoul in a matter of weeks,” he says. “There is no intermediary period where you are eased into it, it’s night and day.”

Armed with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree and no specialized training in how to actually teach English as a second language, Ballam says it was a struggle.

“I walked into class and there are 12 little Korean kids looking at me,” he says. “I thought: what I am going to do? In retrospect, I didn’t really know what I was doing… I was pretending to be a teacher. But I survived and learned.”

Ballam adapted and ended up spending 10 years in South Korea, eventually taking a job teaching at a university and in his spare time earning a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.

Looking to return to Canada, four years ago Ballam accepted a job at Okanagan College teaching English to a cohort of Saudi Arabian students. He started in the Selkirk College International Department almost three years ago and currently teaches in both the English Language Program (ELP) and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program (TESOL).

Selkirk’s ELP provides students the opportunity to build their English language skills and earn credits that can be transferred in a Selkirk College diploma or university transfer programs. It brings students from many different corners of the world to the Castlegar Campus.

The TESOL Program offers both Canadian and international students an opportunity to gain professional qualifications to teach English as a foreign language. The intensive four-month program provides a gateway to a field with growing global demand.

“There were points when I was in South Korea where it was just too much, it was overwhelming at times,” says Ballam. “That’s why I like being part of the TESOL Program so I can advise these future instructors on what they are getting themselves into. Every situation is different, but you have to be prepared.”

Important Networking Opportunity

Dr. Scott Douglas—a University of British Columbia instructor and author—will be the plenary speaker at the BC TEAL conference in Nelson. There will also be a number of other presentations and group discussions involved during the day-long event.

Ballam says it’s important to bring together a group of people who are working towards the same goal of helping improve communication across borders and cultures.

“Teachers talk about different perspectives on how to teach different cultures,” he says. “It’s not just ESL, it’s really just working with international students in variety of contexts.”

The conference takes place on October 4 at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. Registration is now open at

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