Bilingual OSA Surveyor Claire C. reflects on how language is powerful, connecting us to each other.
Language barriers can impact everything in our daily lives, contributing to feelings of isolation and not being heard. This can be especially true for seniors living in long-term care whose first language is not English. Throughout our province there are communities with large numbers of seniors who prefer to speak languages other than English. This is also reflected in the communities of residents living in long term care. In some care homes, a resident may find herself the only one speaking her preferred language and simply cannot communicate with anyone around her. There are also care homes who cater to a cultural community. A guiding principle of the survey is inclusion and this means engaging, inviting and listening to the residents’ voices, one or many, who are sharing their experiences in their preferred language.
OSA Surveyor, Claire C., reflected on her experiences as an OSA Surveyor approaching residents in English and Cantonese. Engaging with residents in Cantonese she is able to instantly connect with Cantonese speaking residents in a way that help those seniors feel more comfortable and understood. She explains that in her surveys, she has noticed that sometimes, it is human nature to revert to our mother tongue when we speak about our personal experiences and struggles and joys.
“My mother tongue is Cantonese. It is after I have taken part in surveying seniors who only speak Cantonese and no English that I started to realize the power of one’s own language and culture to connect people deeply… despite how brief those encounters are.
When I go into the room of a Cantonese-speaking resident, I would immediately notice the box of traditional egg rolls (蛋卷), grandkids’ drawings with words written in Chinese or things like that. Very often, the resident and I would start our conversation from a familiar place. There are older residents who can’t speak much English and feel isolated. Simply being able to talk to someone who is willing to listen energizes them. And there are residents who have been living and working in Canada for decades and would still prefer to share their views, struggles and wisdom in a language they feel connected to. I suppose it is the sense of shared understanding and ease of expressing oneself that provide reassurance and comfort.
It matters a lot for the residents to be truly heard. I remember there are times when I have close an interview and step away, the resident would ask my name again, wonder when I will come back, or we would exchange some heart-felt wishes in our own language. It is this mutual connection that touches us both and makes the day a little brighter.”
With the OSA resident surveys well underway, we are seeking bilingual surveyors who are fluent in English and an alternate language such as Punjabi, Korean, Italian, Cantonese, Mandarin or German.
If you are interested in volunteering or know someone who would like to be a part of this meaningful important survey project, please apply here.