What’s it like for a youth to teach English and computer skills to a senior?

Youth Empowering Parents
3 min readMay 10, 2024

As 17-year-old Jennifer started inching closer to her high school graduation, she realized she was missing 20 of the 40 volunteer hours required to receive her diploma in Ontario, Canada. Jennifer stumbled upon a new volunteer opportunity with Youth Empowering Parents (YEP) as she browsed through a local community group chat. For her final 20 hours, she would be able to do something she cared about: improving the quality of life of Chinese elders. Like many people her age, technology is something that feels second nature. She says she always grew up with the logic that you can find anything on the internet. But she admits that technology is also overwhelming. We’re constantly being introduced to new devices and tools- there is always something new to learn. For this reason, Jennifer is empathetic towards seniors who struggle with digital literacy.

With the support of YEP, she started developing lessons to help Chinese seniors learn English and digital literacy skills. Although her students all live in Canada, she says that many have spent 60–80 years of their lives in China. They never previously had to worry about technology or knowing English. They were acquainted with the people in their neighbourhoods, and they knew how to get from one point to another. Jennifer says that in China, many seniors have phones that are only equipped with essential features: texting, calling, and most importantly, a game of snake. Although it may not be the case in China, Jennifer sees smartphones as crucial for someone to navigate the Canadian environment. She says that many seniors don’t want to learn these skills, and they isolate themselves as a result. Perhaps if she could get her students acquainted with tools such as Google Translate and Google Maps, they might feel safer and more comfortable with the idea of moving beyond their immediate circles.

Jennifer tells me that the seniors she works with are usually very self-sufficient. You can still live a normal life without English or digital literacy in Canada. In 2021, it was reported that approximately 5.1% of the Canadian population is Chinese. There are plenty of Chinese-run businesses, restaurants, and grocers that people can frequent as an alternative to chain stores. Many banks and clinics will even have people on staff that speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Seniors may even form their own supportive communities with other Chinese Canadians. Jennifer also mentions that comfortability getting around is different in every person, and she gives me an example of her grandmother communicating with English speakers without actually speaking English. Where it gets tricky is emergency situations or wanting to communicate with people abroad. For this reason, learning a few basics can improve the livelihoods of Jennifer’s students.

As I’m sure is the case with many readers, I’m often required to assist my parents and grandparents with technology. Often, when we’re helping an older adult with technology, we feel the urge to just complete the task for them. This isn’t beneficial in the long run. Jennifer takes her time, going step-by-step, and has the older adult explain everything back to her until it’s clear they can do it themselves.

As with the way Jennifer teaches technology, her English lessons are focused on necessities. She prioritizes teaching what her students might need to use. For example, she says that it is at least necessary to know how to say “I don’t speak English,” to prevent confusing conversations. To teach English pronunciation, Jennifer writes a similar Chinese pronunciation. She says there is a mix of older adults she teaches; some are very confident as they learn English, and others who are more reserved. Jennifer explains the expression “mute English,” where a non-Native English speaker might have adequate knowledge of English, but is most comfortable reading and listening. Her lessons, however, might be able to give her students newfound confidence when it comes to communicating in English.

For information about Youth Empowering Parents visit: https://yepeducation.com/



Youth Empowering Parents

One of only a handful to receive the United Nations’ Innovation Award, we’re turning young people from ‘educated’ to ‘educators’. www.yepeducation.com