Arts and Culture Community Culture

The art of teaching yourself a new language

By creating their own strategies, these learners unlocked their skills in speaking a new language naturally.

What was the last thing you learned on your own? What motivated you to do it? Not everyone learns in the same way, and not all techniques work for everyone. However, that is the magic: creating your own learning methods and understanding why you want to learn something is a great way to get to know yourself and it  can greatly enrich your life, especially when it comes to learning a new language. 

Jessica Dewling has been into Korean music and K-pop for a few years, which inspired her to learn more about Korea, its language and its history. She is planning a trip to Korea in October and feels that learning Korean in advance would not only be helpful, but more respectful to the people she meets as she explores the country. “A lot of the culture is ingrained in the language so I felt like it was important to get at least a basic understanding of it,” she said. 

To learn Korean, Dewling decided to invest in her own methods, which are more inspiring and pleasurable to her. “I’m starting with the writing system, Hangul, which is notorious for being easy to grasp pretty fast and hopefully moving towards pronunciation and vocabulary,” she explained. “Right now, I’m using Duolingo as well as a workbook that was very popular on Amazon.” Jessica stressed that learning at her own pace using a variety of free resources is essential for her progress, once she is not being taught by an instructor.

Colt Sweetland is currently learning Brazilian Portuguese. For him, learning languages is the key to unlocking doors to cultural insights that you wouldn’t have access to if you weren’t able to hold conversations and make connections with people in their native language.

“My motivation came from a combination of friendly encouragement from friends I’ve made through both work and university and the fire inside to keep fulfilling an inner lifelong challenge of becoming more familiar with various cultures around the world,” he said. 

For Colt, total immersion has always been the best learning method. “What’s helpful for me is setting all personal and leisure electronic devices into the language you want to learn to begin being exposed to it right away,” he said. “It can be intimidating at first, but you may find that you’ll become acquainted with it sooner.”

Colt started by learning the conversational basics in Brazilian Portuguese, such as all forms of greetings, numbers and proper nouns. To progress further, he invested in learning the five most common Brazilian Portuguese verbs in the present tense and then hand-writing all the conjugations ten times each. “Repetition is a key component of memorization, and for me, writing by hand helps ensure new words sink in more permanently,” he said.

To practice listening, Colt will switch the audio on films he is watching to the language he wants to learn, but will keep the subtitles in English. Eventually, once he is familiar enough, he will change the subtitles to the new language as well. “I also personally prefer to seek out local content online such as Brazilian news and TV series if possible, along with finding some children’s books or comics that can make it more fun! I believe there’s so much that can be learned through one’s own means during spare time and for free if the willpower is there to keep going,” Colt said. 

The pursuit of language mastery is not just about acquiring linguistic skills; it’s a profound voyage of self-discovery, cultural connection, and the fulfillment of lifelong challenges. In the realm of language learning, the magic lies in the unique methods we craft for ourselves, fostering a deeper understanding of not just the language but also the rich tapestry of our own identities.


At 92 years old, Mary Xenos-Whiston is still learning

A profile of Concordia’s oldest student

Mary Xenos-Whiston has been a lot of things in her life: a teacher, a mother, and a guide at an art gallery. But the one thing she has always been is a student. At 92 years old, she is Concordia’s oldest student and is currently enrolled in Dr. Nicola Nixon’s American poetry class. 

According to Xenos-Whiston, lately she has been doing the usual: “Going crazy,” to which her daughter Barbara commented, “Being 92 is not for the faint of heart.” 

Despite going crazy, she is still enjoying her class on American Poetry . “I wouldn’t be taking them if I wasn’t really enjoying them,” she said.

“My life is too short for doing things that I don’t enjoy,  like house cleaning.”

Xenos-Whiston was born to Greek immigrants in Verdun, and she’s lived in Montreal her whole life and has watched the city and University change dramatically. Her father owned a restaurant in Verdun, where she recalls it being the first to get a soft-serve ice cream machine. In her early years, much of her life was based around the church. Her and about 50 other Greek families would gather at Holy Trinity for weddings, funerals and Saturday night dances before the church burned down in the 1980s. 

As a girl Xenos-Whiston had a love for learning; she frequently found herself in the top math and science classes while attending Verdun high school and she always had a book with her. 

This love for learning has kept Xenos-Whiston in school for most of her life. She’s taken courses for fun at Concordia since the ’90s. After originally enrolling in English courses, it wasn’t long until she discovered other interests. “I discovered the FFAR [interdisciplinary fine arts] courses, wow,” she exclaimed. “I took a course in Jazz, I took a course in this, I took a course in that, I was just interested in learning.” 

During this time she earned another bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Concordia and has taken many courses in women’s studies. But her history with Concordia goes back to before the school even went by that name.

Mary Xenos-Whiston’s graduate portrait, Sir.George Williams University 1954/ BARBARA WHISTON

Xenos-Whiston began attending Sir George Williams University in 1950, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history as one of the few women attending the school. “Girls did not go to university,” Xenos-Whiston said. She recalled a former teacher questioning her about her enrollment on campus one day. 

“What are you doing, going to Sir.George? You’re only going to get married and have children,” she recalled the teacher saying. “And I thought that’s what you think.” 

She did eventually marry and give birth to her daughter Barbara, but she found time for a great deal of academic success along the way. Xenos-Whiston completed a master’s degree in education at McGill in 1978, and a PhD from the University of Montreal in 1990.

After World War II she saw the city transform spectacularly. “The government allowed educated European immigrants to come here in the late ’40s and early ’50s and Montreal changed.” Xenos-Whinston watched as the city’s identity changed around her: what used to be diners became German, Italian and Chinese restaurants.

“Before you knew it, Montreal was a new place. It was great.” 

Concorida’s Iconic Hall building under construction in Crica 1965, 12 years after Xenos-Whiston had graduated from Sir. George Williams University. JACK BORDAN/Concordia Records Management and Archives

After finishing her first degree Xenos-Whiston began teaching in elementary school and spent her days going to the theater. In 1991 she retired. After a life served in education, some people may never want to look at a classroom again. But this was not the case for Xenos-Whiston who continued her education at Concordia.

“Look, some people go to movies. Some people play hockey. Some people spend hours training for things and then going and doing them. I love taking courses,” she said. 

Today, her family sees school as a part of her. 

“I can’t imagine her not being in school,” said her daughter. The only time Whiston could remember her mother not being in school was after she was born, when her mother left teaching for a few years. 

“After that, she’s constantly been a student; it’s part of her identity. I just can’t imagine her not doing it. It’s always been a surprise to hear about what courses she is taking and what papers she is writing, what ideas she is interested in and what she is discovering. It’s kind of fun.” 

Going to school has not always been easy for Xenos-Whiston, who is now legally blind and uses hearing aids. She has note-takers in class and through the Centre for Equitable Library Assistance (CELA) can get accessible copies of texts used in her class. It’s no easy feat, but she is still determined to be in class.

During the pandemic, her courses at Concordia were what kept her going. When her daughter asked if she could have made it through COVID without Concordia, her reply was simple. “No, I would have died.” 

Concordia does offer a senior non-credit program, which allows older people to audit classes. When auditing courses, students don’t have to write papers or exams like they would for credit. But Xenos-Whiston doesn’t have as much interest in this. 

“I did try it out,” she said, “But, to me, a course is not a course until I write the paper. So I decided that I wanted to write the papers.” 

92-year-old Concordia student Mary Xenos-Whinston has been taking courses for fun since the 1990s. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

It’s professors like Dr. Nicola Nixon who’ve inspired her to keep coming back. Nixon is an associate professor in Concordia’s English department and Xenos-Whiston’s professor this semester. 

“It’s not so unusual to have certain older post-retirement people in your courses, auditing,” said Nixon.

“Of course, they don’t want to write essays or write exams or any of those things and her willingness to do so, I find it quite admirable, But for her, it’s part of, you know, kind of immersing herself in the course, as opposed to just having a passive relationship to it.”

Xenos-Whiston and Professor Nixon have known each other for about five years now. “At first it was basically a professor-student relationship,” said Nixon. “I did go to her birthday party this year […] I suppose we’re more friends now than the first few years she was taking courses.”

Nixon says Xenos-Whiston is a good student, she engages with the class and brings in a lot of her own lived experience. Even considering her age, getting good grades has never been something she has struggled with. 

“If I go home, I could write a paper, get it in tomorrow and get an A,” she said. “My transcript is all As.” This is all but one failure from the year when she took philosophy.

However, school has not been her only hobby over the past 92 years. Exercise has been important to her for much of her life and she was an avid swimmer and walker for some time. A love for contemporary art led her to guide tours at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts between 1995 and 2005. 

Also a passionate music fan, she would go to concerts every other week, frequently attending the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the opera occasionally. Her love for music led her to spend years attempting to learn to play piano, but she never quite got the hang of it. “My family struggled, suffered and listened to me for about ten years try to learn the piano,” she said.

“When I die and go to heaven, I’m going to tell her, she was unfair to give me such a love of music but not the skill to do it.”

Despite not being able to play piano, Mary Xenos-Whiston has accomplished much in her life. At 92 years old she holds four degrees, “Most of it out of sheer curiosity and for pleasure’s sake rather than anything else,” said her daughter. 

But Xenos-Whiston still plans on taking courses. Her only dilemma is deciding if she will leave English for a while and take some more FFAR courses. When asked if she had ever considered taking Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life, a popular FFAR course at Concordia, she said she hadn’t, but did add “maybe in another 10 years.”


Open-source learning: a glance into a new form of education

Since 2019, Concordia’s Open Educational Resources project has provided grants for professors interested in creating their proper learning materials. This new way of learning could benefit future Concordia students for years to come.

Concordia’s Library Services Fund Committee (LSFC) has supported many projects that have benefited students, from allowing 24-hour library access to a laptop rental program. A newly supported grant could not only help and improve the way professors teach, but also reduce the cost of textbooks and resources for students.

Starting in 2019, the Open Educational Resources project (OER) is a program that many universities feel is a step in the right direction. Relatively still in its infancy, the eventual goal for all universities is to nationally network intellectual property from an open-source collection of information that would provide professors with the liberty to alter content for their respective courses. If professors adopt this model, over time, it could drastically slash textbook prices for students.

Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications Geoffrey Little is responsible for the OER project. According to a study from the University of Guelph, just over 60 per cent of students surveyed would spend roughly $250–$750 dollars on textbooks in one semester. Little agrees that prices for textbooks are rising, and a new alternative must be created to combat this problem.

“Number one top of the heap benefit is cost-saving for students,” Little said. “Textbook prices have gone up exponentially in the last several decades and is a big budget for students every year.”

The program was put forth to encourage the creation and adoption of open-source textbooks for students who want to avoid breaking the bank every semester for new books.

The OER program offers three tiers of grants to alter or create textbooks for their respective courses. Starting up to $1,000, the Adopt grants allow professors to adopt a book from the open-source collection, allowing minor changes if need be. The Customize grants, up to $5,000, permit professors to alter textbooks by adding or retrieving content in order to tailor the material for their course. The last option, which goes for up to $10,000, are the Create grants — though it may seem like a hefty price, this grant would allow professors full liberty in creating their own textbook from scratch.

These altered or created textbooks would return to the open-source ecosystem, where other professors would have the liberty of modifying or altering the material. Concordia professors who have used the OER program favoured the Adopt and Customize grants.

Concordia University Assistant Marketing Professor Pierre-Yann Dolbec has utilized the Customize grant. After teaching digital marketing for three years, Dolbec needed to find a book that was tailored more for his course. Unsuccessful, he turned to the OER program.

“I couldn’t really find a textbook that was both proper at a strategic level, but also affordable for students, so I applied for a grant with OER,” Dolbec said. Though the textbook Dolbec modified is now free, the textbooks he used to assign to students averaged around $120–$150. The modifications have allowed Dolbec to teach the course differently.

Usually requiring specific material from other textbooks that he would assign to his students in class, the freedom of having tailored material provided more class interactivity. “We have a Q&A of the chapter we’re reading, and then we have exercises in class to bring that content to life,” Dolbec said. “It allowed me to move to a more interactive way of learning rather than lectures and slides.”

Many students are finding new alternatives to reduce their textbook costs. Biology student Norreen Quansah found ways to do exactly that. Quansah realized that book prices aren’t cheap, prompting her to search for cheaper online editions. “Certain textbooks we don’t use often but it is required that we have to buy them. Textbooks tend to be expensive for no reason, so I try my best to find other options.”

Quansah says that if her professors would ever decide to create textbooks with OER grants, she would be fully on board.

“Oh 100 per cent,” Quansah said. “We’re only going through certain sections of the textbook that we do go over. Having a textbook that a professor would create would be really beneficial.”

The only drawback according to Dolbec is that altering and adding material to textbooks is time-consuming. “I had greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take, it was a substantial weight on my schedule,” Dolbec said. However, Dolbec can’t stress enough how this program can help students and encourages all professors to apply for an OER grant. Dolbec said that the team at the library that assisted him while altering his textbook was a great help. “All of this was phenomenal, from that angle I would totally recommend any professor who might want to delve into textbook writing to reach out to OER.”

Graphic courtesy of James Fay


Writing about sports in a year without them

I wasn’t expecting my first year as Sports Editor to look like this

My experience with The Concordian these last two and a half years has probably been the best thing that has happened to me since starting university.

As a huge sports fan, I‘m always looking to share my passion with people, and quickly got the chance to do so when I was offered the Assistant Sports Editor position in my first year on campus. I started covering Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) games, interviewing athletes and coaches, and had to look for a story to write about each week.

After two years in that position, I applied for the Sports Editor role. I was lucky enough to get it, and embrace this new challenge in front of me. I would be lying if I told you that my goal, when starting out with The Concordian, wasn’t to end up leading the sports section one day.

I was looking forward to learning all the duties of the Sports Editor position, and getting experience in that position for later. I was excited about the fact I would be the one deciding which Concordia Stingers games we would be covering each week as well.

However, this challenge came with a second one: I was going to write about sports in a year where there practically wasn’t any. COVID-19 forced most sports leagues to cancel or postpone their seasons and playoffs, and I was therefore stuck with an interesting problem at hand.

What was I going to write about? For me, there was no way I was only going to give COVID-19 updates for the different sports leagues and events. I was also wondering about my weekly Colour Commentary piece, where I would usually give thoughts on relevant or important things that happened recently in the world of sports.

Despite all that — and, of course, a bit of sadness at first — this has been one of the most enriching experiences of my time at Concordia. From ways to stay active from home to online competition stories, I quickly learned that you can find sports stories everywhere. The Concordian’s staff, especially our Creative Director Chloë Lalonde, have been doing a great job to help me find ideas. The challenge of writing for sports during the pandemic made me realize I sometimes had to get out of my comfort zone, which is actually what you need to do if you want to succeed.

My Assistant Sports Editor Liam Sharp has literally exceeded every expectation I had. In his first year with The Concordian, he’s brought some of the most original stories I’ve seen for our sports section since I joined the staff. That shows how much you can find stories even without the Stingers or major sports leagues filling out your section. Having learned all of this, if I ever had to restart my year as Sports Editor, but without the pandemic, I’d definitely  make sure to write more often articles that differ from what we’re used to reading. Try new things, and be open to ideas —  that’s probably what I’ll retain the most from these past months, and that’s something I’d suggest everyone to do.


Graphic by Lily Cowper

Student Life

Exploring the “Computer Riots” 50 years later

Exploring the Computer Riots 50 years later

Fifty years ago today, on Jan. 29 1969, the Sir George Williams Affair began—also known as the Concordia Computer Riots. According to CBC, about 200 students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in the Hall building and engaged in a peaceful sit-in protest for 14 days. The occupation was organized following the administration’s mishandling of racism complaints lodged by a group of six students against their biology professor, Perry Anderson, who they accused of unjust grading. Negotiations between the administration and the students fell through on Feb. 11. The peaceful protest turned violent after the administration handed the case over to the police, which resulted in 97 arrests, a mysterious fire and $2 million worth of property damage.

Blackout: the Concordia Computer Riots, organized by production company Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, is a play that explores the events that led to the student occupation and questions how race relations have changed in Quebec over the last 50 years. Blackout will essentially explore and interrogate the historical events of the Sir George Williams Affair through fictional characters.

About a year ago, Mathieu Murphy-Perron, the creative director and owner of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, gathered a team of uniquely talented artists, poets and writers to start researching the history of the protests for Blackout. “We were trying to identify with these students who experienced injustice and, when they spoke out against it, realized the root of the problem was much bigger,” said Tamara Brown, a Concordia graduate as well as assistant director and part of the writing unit for Blackout. “We realized that the moments we read about were all too painfully familiar.”

Brown said that while they were exploring archived media coverage of the peaceful protests-turned-riots, the team also tried to look at what wasn’t covered. “When you do research on the event, you find images of the destruction and the $2 million of damage,” said Lydia Dubuisson, part of the writing unit for Blackout. “You don’t read about the events that led up to the riot.” Students were blamed for the mysterious fire that started after police got involved. However, according to the CBC, some believe police set the fire as a means to sidebar the protest.

Blackout invites viewers to question how different the events that unfolded in 1969 are in comparison to current events. “[The students] didn’t have support from the population, or from the media, or from society,” said Dubuisson. “Today, when people of colour express their same frustration, the response is the same.” The intersection of theatre, politics and education is unique to this performance in relation to its context and relevance within our current political state of polarization. “There is a terrifying racist rhetoric circulating now that makes people afraid,” said Brown. “We’re so polarized and it makes people afraid to stand up against injustice.”

In 2014, former Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) Executive Mei Ling, a pseudonym, filed a complaint against the administration after experiencing sexual and racial discrimination from two ASFA executives. Despite Mei Ling winning the case in 2015 and ASFA supposedly reforming its harassment policies to be more survivor-centric, the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) filed a sexual harassment complaint in 2018 against then ASFA president, on behalf of Harris Turpin.

“I observe how much things have changed, but also how they have not changed,” said Dubuisson. “I hope students take pride in knowing that it’s part of your job to fight your administration.” Brown, Dubuisson and Kym Dominique-Ferguson, part of the writing unit and one of the lead performers, all touched on the importance of re-examining history in order to fully understand where we are currently. “It’s time to start looking at the folks that have experienced oppression and look at the groups—white people—who benefitted from this,” said Dominique-Ferguson. “We need to look at that, acknowledge that, respect it and respect the individuals that are still affected by this.”

“I find what these students did to be so remarkable,” said Brown. “Everything we do matters, and the administration tried to tell [the students] otherwise, but they knew better.” Despite the 97 arrests and property damage, the protests led Concordia to revise its policies and procedures, which resulted in the creation of the Ombuds Office, according to CBC. According to Concordia University’s website, “the Ombuds Office’s role is to assist in the informal resolution of concerns and complaints related to the application of university policies, rules and procedures.” It is allegedly independent of all the administrative structures of the university, and impartial.

“We’re trying to frame extremely difficult events with a lens of hope, and I think that will inspire people to not be afraid,” said Brown. “They weren’t afraid, and we can learn from what they did.”

Blackout will show every evening from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10 in the DB Clarke Theatre from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.     

Feature photo courtesy of Concordia University Archives

Student Life

Relearning what it means to be Cree

Cree storyteller discusses his return to Indigenous culture and ways of learning

Cree storyteller, actor, musician and residential school survivor Joseph Naytowhow discussed his approach to “Cree ways of knowing” during a lecture held at Concordia on Nov. 2.

The lecture was organized by the university’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, and was moderated by David Howes, a professor of anthropology and co-director of Concordia’s Centre for Sensory Studies.

In a packed conference room on the Hall building’s seventh floor, Howes introduced Naytowhow to the sea of attendees with warmth and pride. “One of our purposes this afternoon is to explore what it might mean to indigenize a university education,” said Howes.  “It’s precisely that idea of bridging the distance between the academy, Concordia University, and Cree ways of knowing that we are here to explore this afternoon.”

Naytowhow, who was born in Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, discussed his past and personal experiences of embracing and relearning his Cree culture. When Naytowhow got out of the residential school system after 13 years, he felt he had to relearn how to be Cree. “I was empty. There was nothing… I was basically Canadian,” said Naytowhow.

Residential schools were introduced in Canada as a means of assimilation.  The school system was put in place by the Canadian government in 1880, and the last residential school closed in 1986. The Catholic Church ran these schools, which aimed to assimilate aboriginal children into mainstream Canadian society, into the English language and into the Christian faith.

Naytowhow attended All Saints residential school in Saskatchewan. There, Naytowhow said he faced different forms of abuse, which made him feel detached from his culture and language.  The experience also affected his confidence and sense of self-worth.

“I’m still working on forgiving the Anglicans,” he said. “They really did a number on me and my people, my relatives, my family.”

Naytowhow said it was an elder he met at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was pursuing an undergraduate degree in education, who reintroduced him to what he lost during his time at All Saints. The elder, Solomon Mosquito, inspired him to re-embrace  his culture and language and to begin a healing process using the Cree way of seeing life.

Photo by Danielle Gasher

“Something tweaked inside of me that I had to go and spend time with him. So I missed classes,” he said. Naytowhow described the Cree way of learning as experiencing things with all senses, with open-mindedness, with forgiveness and with an appreciation for the elements, living beings and nature.

Naytowhow recalled a comparison Mosquito made that helped him understand how expansive the Cree way of thinking, learning and being is. He said Mosquito compared the Cree way of knowing to the pharmaceutical aisles in a drugstore, because of how vast and diverse it is.  “It just totally placed that image right in my mind…What a great way to explain it,” said Naytowhow, laughing.

While Naytowhow didn’t directly address what universities can do to bring Indigenous knowledge to school curriculums, he said that “learning is about observation, insight,” and that schools could benefit from using that approach in classrooms across Canada.

Universities across Canada are starting to introduce ways to further bridge the gap between Indigenous ways of learning and universities.  According to a University Affairs 2016 article, “Indigenizing the academy,” the University of Regina, Brock University, Lakehead University and the University of Winnipeg, among others, have introduced measures to better include and represent Indigenous culture in their teaching.

Naytowhow said that relearning his Cree culture has helped and still helps him heal from his past in the residential school system. “I can’t hang on to this grudge forever—it’s going to kill me. I’m working on that.”

Indeed, Naytowhow still heavily works on healing and put a lot of importance on forgiveness once he started getting back in touch with his “Cree side.” “There’s still some debris,” he said. “I call them my little demons.”

Photo by Danielle Gasher

“I had to go to high mountains; I had to go to the valley; I had to go to sweats; I had to go to ceremonies. I went into Buddhist communities. I went through therapy, life skills; I went to the University of Regina. I got married, [at a] pretty young age—20 years old. I didn’t have a clue of what marriage was about,” he said, laughing again.

Above all, Naytowhow said he couldn’t have gotten through his healing journey without music.  “It’s hard to stop, I just want to keep on going,” said Naytowhow with a laugh as he ended a song he performed during the lecture. “Drumming saved my life,” said Naytowhow, with his drum still in hand. “It’s like a primal scream.”

While Naytowhow still has his demons, he will never forget the day a nun apologized to him for all the harm the Catholic Church caused Indigenous peoples in Canada. “At the time, I was still angry. I didn’t really respond in a compassionate way,” he said. Today, Naytowhow said he would have.

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