Kate Longpre, community integration coordinator with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, shows the decal that’s part of the We Speak Translate Project. Dawn Gibson/Victoria News

Local cultural association breaking down language barriers for newcomers

Community members urged to learn Google Translate app

Pamela Roth


While working at a community centre about a year ago, Cherie Miltimore noticed a Saudi Arabian women who was starting to panic.

She couldn’t see find daughter in the gymnasium, and due to the language barrier, Miltimore had no way of telling the woman her daughter was in fact safe and sound.

It’s scenarios like this that’s prompted the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria to launch the We Speak Translate project, which aims to get residents in the capital region using the Google Translate App to communicate with refugees and newcomers who can’t speak English.

Upon completion of the 40-minute training for the app, stakeholders, businesses, community agencies, institutions and the public sector will receive a We Speak Translate decal to post in their front window, letting newcomers know they’re welcome and will be understood.

For Miltimore, a program volunteer coordinator at the Cook Street Activity Centre, getting on board with the project was a no-brainer.

“I think it’s a smart thing to do,” said Miltimore, adding the centre will be hosting a multicultural food event on April 22, with some Syrian women selling crafts and baked goods.

“If I have a problem explaining myself or we need a word, Google Translate is a really brilliant tool.”

During the last year, approximately 415 Arabic-speaking Syrian refugees have been settled in Greater Victoria and the ICA anticipates 500 more will arrive in the region by the end of the year. Ninety-five per cent of those newly arrived refugees speak a low level of English. Every week, the ICA’s English classes support more than 450 newcomers.

Kate Longpre, community integration coordinator with the ICA, got the idea for the project and contacted Google after realizing language can be a huge barrier towards integration and inclusion of newcomers to the community.

So far more than 300 community members have received training for the app. As more people learn how to use it, Longpre believes it will become a common communication platform while newcomers develop their English skills. She also hopes the decal will become a symbol of inclusion.

“Whether they’re at a restaurant or visiting a community centre or a rec centre, newcomers will see this decal and know that there’s someone there who can assist them,” said Longpre, noting the project is a no cost initiative that can also be used in the tourism sector and for temporary foreign workers or students.

“When they see these decals, they realize there are people in the community who want to communicate with them and it gives them a sense of confidence that even if their English isn’t perfect, they can still communicate and be a part of the community.”

For more information about the project call 250-388-4728 ext. 167 or email klongpre@icavictoria.org.


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