By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
It was a humble beginning for the Language Assessment Centre.
Four people staffed the office, part of the YMCAs of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo, at its first site where Kitchener Market Square now stands. Several hundred new immigrants likely passed through the doors, all looking to assess their ability to converse in English and find the best possible avenue to improve their skills.
Twenty years later and the centre is still a part of the community, albeit a few kilometres up King Street, across from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate. With eligibility expanded through the federal government’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada program and more than double the staff (11) on hand, their third-floor office sees more than 2,700 people a year access services.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is employees at the centre — now known as the Language Assessment and Referral Services — want to make the experience as stress-free and welcoming as possible for new immigrants, who may be anxious or intimidated by having their English skills put to the test.
“We want to make this as easy as possible,” said supervisor Adriana Ionescu-Parau, who started as a language assessor with the YMCA 19 years ago. “We want to make people feel comfortable, let them know that this is not necessarily a test.
“They are not being judged or graded. There is no pass or fail. It is ‘Do what you can, and we will work with you from there.’”
Although no teaching takes place at the LARS centre, it is the one-stop shop for people looking to access the training resources available, including Conestoga College’s English language programs located in the same building and on the same floor.
“It’s a real resource for people,” former language assessor Lakhdeep Dhaliwal, a cultural diversity specialist with the YMCA in Cambridge, said. “It’s a hub for giving them a helping hand.”