Kelvin Yang (left) and Ivy Choy, with sons Anson, 5, and Michael, 3, after one-on-one tutoring sessions through Family Literacy Outreach at Mt. Pleasant Neighbourhood House on June 9, 2018.

by Susan Lazaruk, Vancouver Sun

Parents Ivy Choy and Kelvin Yang look forward to their weekly literacy classes at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House for more than just the chance to improve their English skills.

Choy, 32, who has lived in Canada since 2010, and her husband, Yang, also 32, since 2013, attend the East Vancouver community centre on Saturday mornings to each work with a tutor.

Yang had no English when they immigrated from Guang Zhou and Choy “a little.”

“Yes, very easy to learn English because it’s one-by-one (with a tutor), and the tutor is very nice,” said Yang, as Choy nodded in agreement. “And every week, teach me different things.”

The couple’s two sons — Anson, five years old, and Michael, three — join the other students’ children for daycare activities. And it’s a welcome respite for them.

“The important thing is having the child care,” said Yang. “You can pay attention and learn English and not worry about children.”

At home, “you can’t study English. I have two kids, when you’re at home, they will play around you, Daddy, Daddy, Mommy, Mommy, and you can’t pay attention, you can’t study.”

Choy said joining others where English is the main language helps, too.

“It is sometimes difficult because in my family, they speak Cantonese at home,” she said. “And I just want to sometime speak a little English.”

The young family is one of about 40 families who are improving their English literacy skills as part of the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Houses’s Family Literacy Outreach, which is funded in part by The Vancouver Sun Raise-a-Reader program, said Morie Ford, the outreach coordinator.

“All of the people who are in the program, most of them are mothers who do have issues that prevent them from learning English, like poverty or having young children,” she said.

The outreach program is designed to take the literacy classes to the families and the majority of tutors make house calls to deliver the lessons.

“The tutor goes in and works with mom,” said Ford.

The tutors are also sometimes the only contact the students have outside their own families and they will provide information to them on how to access health or immigrant services they may not know exist.

The program is also designed to have the students engage in fun and interactive activities with the tutors and help them explore their neighbourhoods.

“You can imagine just how hard it is because they don’t speak English,” she said. “They let them know about the library and the swimming pool and the parks.”

The tutors help newcomers for about six months to a year, she said.