Evaluation of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program

3. Program relevance and design

Part of CIC’s mission is to develop and implement policy and programs that facilitate the integration of newcomers to Canada. CIC provides a continuum of strategies and programs that start before newcomers enter the country and continue after arrival to help them settle, integrate and eventually attain Canadian citizenship so they can fully participate in Canadian society.

Using findings from the document review, interviews and surveys this chapter assesses LINC program relevance and design.

3.1. Program relevance

Key findings:

  • The LINC program is closely ed with CIC priorities;
  • There is a need for language acquisition for newcomers to Canada, as it is key to successful integration;
  • The federal government’s role in the delivery of language training for newcomers to Canada is appropriate.

The need for LINC

According to CIC’s Facts and Figures 2008, approximately 86% of Canada’s permanent pesidents in 2008 had a mother tongue other than English or French. However, this does not imply that 86% need training in English or French. Furthermore, in 2008, an estimated 21% of Canada’s Permanent Residents felt they could converse in neither official language (approximately 24,000 people)Footnote 13. Children under the age of 15 and provinces not offering LINC (Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia) were removed from the data for these calculations. Of course, many newcomers who can converse in English or French may need to improve their conversation skills or their reading and writing skills. The 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) found that 60% of immigrants were below Level 3 prose literacy, which is the threshold for coping with the modern knowledge economy. This compares to 37% of those born in Canada.Footnote 14

The literature review, untaken as a part of this evaluation, clearly illustrates the importance of language instruction on the economic and social integration of newcomers in Canadian society. Numerous studies have shown that knowledge of an official language has a positive effect on earnings, and that those with limited English abilities are more likely to earn less, be unemployed and/or live in poverty (Creticos et al. 2006; Martinez & Wang 2006; Ray 2004), which results in a greater reliance on social programs.

One key study, the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) found that language constituted the most serious barrier newcomers faced to furthering their education or training and among the most serious barriers to finding employment. “A lack of skills in either official language was identified by 22% of the immigrants as the greatest hurdle when seeking employment. Among immigrants who could not converse in English or French, 69% stated that this was the most serious problem.”Footnote 15 Language difficulties also had an adverse effect on getting access to health care. Asked about the difficulties encountered in Canada four years after arrival, newcomers were most likely to identify finding a job (38%) and learning a new language (18%) as the most serious.Footnote 16

An overwhelming majority of researchers agree that language instruction is generally beneficial in the acquisition of a second language (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig 2000; Flege & Liu 2001; Lightbown 1985; Long 1983; Norris & Ortega 2000). Further, “…just living in a second language environment does not guarantee the experiences and exposures required to learn a second language. Even for those who are exposed to English, mere contact is insufficient for learners to “access and internalize the second language (L2) rules, forms and features”, and outside the classroom it is difficult to identify and practice pragmatic language skills.”Footnote 17

In addition, the literature suggests that knowledge of an official language is a crucial prerequisite to social integration or acculturation (voting, volunteering, talking to neighbours, etc). Good second language skills increase non-native speakers' confidence and sense of affiliation, which results in more interaction experiences with native speakers, which in turn enhances language skills.Thus the rationale for a language acquisition for newcomers is compelling.

The need for a federal role

The obligation of the government to ensure all immigrants are able to fully participate in Canadian society was the predominant rationale for LINC cited by key informants. All but one – both federal and provincial – agreed that the federal government should be involved in official language training for newcomers. The reasoning most cited by respondents was that the federal government is facilitating the entry of newcomers into the country and is responsible to play a role in preparing them to live and work here. Also mentioned was the national perspective federal government brings to second language programming. LINC is provided in a Canadian context; learners are taught about Canadian education and health care systems, laws, community, and so on. Provincially funded English as a Second Language (ESL) programs do not necessarily use this context.Footnote 18 The government provides LINC free of charge for eligible newcomers, an important aspect of its accessibility since many newcomers might not be able to afford to pay for language training. No informant could identify a better mechanism for delivering LINC than third-party agencies with expertise in language training.

LINC ment with federal government and CIC priorities

LINC s well with federal government priorities. The federal government has the responsibility to assist and successfully integrate immigrants into Canadian society. LINC assists in the realization of the following objectives respecting immigration found in Section 3.(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act:

  • to permit Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration;
  • to enrich and strengthen the social and cultural fabric of Canadian society, while respecting the federal, bilingual and multicultural character of Canada;
  • to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy, in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions of Canada;
  • to promote the successful integration of permanent residents into Canada, while recognizing that integration involves mutual obligations for new immigrants and Canadian society;

LINC also accords well with CIC priorities. Strategic Outcome 3 from the 2009-2010 Report on Plans and Priorities for CIC sets the “successful integration of newcomers into society and promotion of Canadian citizenship” as a priority for the department. LINC is a key element of CIC’s integration programming, accounting for about a third of the integration budget.

3.2. Program design

LINC provides language training in English or French, intended to improve newcomers’ language skills. It is also meant to improve clients’ knowledge of Canada and of Canadian civics. All key informants interviewed considered the LINC program objectives to be clear and appropriate.

According to virtually all key informants, the double mandate of language training and settlement/integration does not dilute the language training; in fact the settlement mandate strengthens the language component. LINC policy experts interviewed held that since language is always taught in a context, that context should be something that can help newcomers settle into their new country.

Because newcomers need to learn the basics of Canadian society, it is more efficient to include this with their language training. This dual focus improves newcomers’ ability to more fully participate in Canadian society with their knowledge of English/French and of Canada.

LINC teachers surveyed were supportive of this double mandate. Many said the combination of teaching language skills in the Canadian context was what really sets LINC apart from other language training. They felt both of these central aspects were equally important: indeed the mean on the 5-point scale below was 2.99.

Table 3-1: Teacher support of LINC’s double mandate (5-point scale)

LINC should focus
exclusively on
language training
  LINC should focus
exclusively on
teaching about Canada
1 2 3 4 5
2% 11% 76% 12% 0%

The literature review offers support to LINC’s dual focus, suggesting that there is ample research that supports the use of content-based instruction (CBI). LINC’s objective of teaching cultural information is not incompatible with its primary goal of teaching a second language. According to the literature, the two objectives can potentially complement each other. Learners in immersion programs are able to master the content offered in their course, while significantly improving their language ability (Met 1991). Another rationale for CBI is that learners may develop intrinsic motivation as they are exposed to new ideas and information relevant to their immediate circumstances. Grabe and Stoller (1997) argue that the integration of language and content area objectives contributes to more learner-centred classrooms because learners can be offered some choice of the content they want to learn.Footnote 19

Quality of the LINC program

The remainder of this section examines the quality of the LINC program. On almost every dimension of quality examined LINC fares well.

Key findings:

  • LINC training is high quality and sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of students:
    • LINC instructors are experienced and use a variety of teaching tools to ensure student needs are met.
    • The assessment tools and student placement are appropriate.
  • Numerous support services are provided by a large majority of SPOs, but availability of child care assistance was cited as the main obstacle to attending LINC.
  • Over 90% of LINC classes feature continuous intake, which comes with challenges for teachers, but also has a benefit of making classes more readily accessible for students.
  • Potential participants gain access to LINC in a timely fashion most areas of the country, with only Calgary and PEI identifying waiting lists as an issue.

3.2.1. Quality of the teaching

The evaluation examined teacher qualifications and experience and student reactions.

ESL qualifications

The survey of LINC administrators and teachers showed that 95% of LINC teachers had at least one university degree. In addition, approximately 90% had formal ESL qualifications, a proportion that did not differ significantly by type of employer or age of teacher. It did differ by region, however. Almost all (98%) Ontario instructors had formal ESL qualifications, compared to about three-quarters of Alberta instructors and two-thirds of Atlantic instructors.

  • Nearly 85% of LINC teachers surveyed had a TESL diploma or certificate.
  • Two-thirds of the teachers surveyed had taken formal CLB training. There was no significant difference by type of employer or region.
  • All teachers surveyed were aware of the LINC curriculum guidelines, saying that they were available where they teach.
  • Most LINC teachers (97%) had taken at least one professional development course. On average, they had taken 3.1 courses each. Learning CLB and lesson planning were the professional development courses taken most frequently.
LINC/ESL experience

The typical teacher had 6.6 years of experience teaching LINC. Ten percent also teach ESL at present and a further 46% had taught ESL in the past. Counting all experience, the teachers surveyed had 9.0 years of experience teaching English on average.

Half had been teaching LINC for under five years, 21% for five to nine years, and 29% for 10 years or longer. School board teachers had the most experience teaching LINC – 9.6 years on average. Teachers with community agencies had an average of 5.9 years experience, those with colleges 3.0 years. There was no significant difference by region.

Student feedback on teachers

The learner survey asked for feedback on how well LINC teaches English and how well LINC has taught them about Canada. Respondents were very positive about both aspects, awarding each a B+ grade on average. The focus groups also asked about student satisfaction with LINC and the most common reaction was high praise for the teacher.

Through the case studies, it was observed that in teachers’ interaction with the students, those who were enthusiastic had students who were enthusiastic. Teachers who were organized and well prepared had students who were motivated and felt challenged. Teachers who placed work-like expectations on their students tended to have students more committed to attending and being on time. Teachers who established an “English only” rule in the classroom seemed to have students who made a greater effort to speak English away from the classroom. Conversely, teachers who had lax standards, particularly relating to showing up on time and taking breaks, had students who were more likely to show up late and take long breaks.

While there are multiple factors that can affect language acquisition, such as educational background, age, gender, and aptitude and intelligence, it is difficult to conclude their impact. However, what becomes evident is that the quality of the language instructor plays a significant role in the process. As evidenced in the literature, teachers who match learners to instruction by playing to their strengths can lead to greater success (Skehan, 2002). Moreover, teachers can help motivate learners by creating a positive and enjoyable learning environment. Guilloteaux and Dörnyei (2008) found a strong correlation between teachers’ use of motivational strategies in the classroom and learners’ higher levels of motivation.Footnote 20

3.2.2. Quality of administration

The administrator survey explored several policies relating to quality. The findings indicate that SPO policies promote high quality LINC programs.

Certified teachers

One critical factor to ensure a quality program is hiring certified teachers. As reported above, the great majority of instructors had formal ESL training. A primary reason for this is that 92% of the agencies that hire them require newly hired instructors to have formal ESL training.Footnote 21 About five in six of these SPOs specified that a TESL certificate was required.

Use of LINC curriculum guidelines

LINC Curriculum Guidelines were created to ensure quality of teaching and to enhance consistency in LINC curriculum across the country. The SPO survey asked administrators whether they were aware of the LINC Curriculum Guidelines, whether they were available, and how they were used. All but one LINC SPO in Canada (that answered the survey) are aware of the Guidelines and have them available. All but one LINC SPO use LINC Curriculum Guidelines.

Canadian language benchmarks

Use of the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) is often cited as an important issue in the field of ESL by language experts. Using LINC teacher survey data, the next graph shows the great majority of LINC providers use the CLB for each of five different purposes.

Figure 3-1: Uses of Canadian language benchmarks

Bar graph: Intake assessment, 67%; Ongoing assessment, 97%; Exit assessment, 84%; Developing curricula, 79%; Developing learning materials, 81%

Source: Administrators survery

Ongoing assessment

Administrator survey results show that almost all SPOs (94%) require their instructors to conduct some form of on-going assessment. The CIF results confirmed that ongoing monitoring is a feature of every LINC class. Verbal proficiency is assessed as a matter of course. Proficiency checklists are used by virtually all teachers. Written assessments using non-standardized methods are also common. Outcome assessments are common as well. Proficiency checklists and verbal proficiency assessments took place in almost every classroom. Most other methods of conducting outcome assessmentsFootnote 22 were used by half to three-quarters of the teachers.

Student supports

Without support services such as child care assistance and transportation assistance, many LINC learners may not have had the opportunity to take the class. Other support services such as provision of counselling and help with finding a job can assist the learner during and after the class.

As the data from the administrators survey below reveals, 88% of SPOs offer information about the community and around 80% offer child care and transportation assistance. Career counselling, personal counselling and job search help are less common, but are still provided by more than half the trainers. Assistance for the disabled is offered by 38% of SPOs. Note that these figures do not imply that a provider offers these services in every class it delivers. The case studies found that many providers offer services such as child care in some locations but not in others.

Figure 3-2: Percent of SPOs providing various services to LINC students

Bar Chart: Information about the community, 88%; Child care assistance, 79%; Transportation assistance, 78%; Settlement services, 66%; Personal counselling, 60%; Career counselling, 59%; Help with finding a job, 58%; Assistance for the disabled, 39%; Other, 37%

Source: Administrators survey

Dynamics of enrolment

In spring, 2009, the typical LINC class in Canada had approximately 18 students enrolled

Footnote 23

, but that mean masks a great deal of activity. The classes began with 17 students on average; but because over 90% of classes feature continuous enrolment, the typical class surveyed had 9 more students join during the term. Between the start of the term and the time of the survey, 6 students had dropped out and 2 had graduated or transferred to another class.

Table 3-2: Enrolment dynamics

N=63. *Excludes Home Study cases because they are not “classes” as such but are classified by city.

  Mean number of students*
At the start of the term 16.7
Enrolled after the start of the term 9.1
Dropped out before completion 5.8
Transferred to other levels 1.8
Current students (June, 2009) 18.2

Calculating a dropout rate is not straightforward because it is not known when each student joined, transferred or quit. A rough approximation is the number of students quitting divided by the number enrolled at any time, which equals 22%. This will be an underestimate of the final dropout rate, since the term was only part way through in most programs at the time of the survey. Continuous enrolment appears to be more frequent in the east than elsewhere, which is not surprising given that a vast majority of LINC clients are in Ontario.

Table 3-3: Enrolment dynamics by region

N = 63. *Ontario data for this table excludes the two Home Study classes in the sample because they are not “classes” as such but are classified by city.  ** ANOVA F-test with df = 2/60.

  Total Students Statistical Significance**
Atlantic Ontario* Prairies
At the start of the term 10.6 17.9 15.3 p < .05
Enrolled after the start of the term 15.8 10.1 3.3 p < .01
Dropped out before completion 5.8 6.9 2.2 p < .01
Transferred to other levels 4.8 1.7 1.1 p < .02
Current students 15.8 19.4 15.4 p > .05

The “approximate” dropout rate is similar in the Atlantic and Ontario regions; the dropout rate in the Prairies is much lower.

Figure 3-3: Dropout rate by region

Bar chart: Atlantic, 22%; Ontario, 25%; Prairies, 12%


Source: Class Information Form

Prairie classes experienced much less entry and exit after the start of the term than other regions. Alberta has a unique way of limiting the impact of continuous intake according to a key informant. For part-time (evening/Saturday) learners, they have “Managed Continuous Intake.” New students can only start on the first Monday of each month, which makes it easier for teachers and learners already in the class. For full-time learners they have “Lock-step Method” or blocked semesters: these last 12 weeks (16 weeks at colleges). New students can only enter during the first two weeks.

Approximately 52% of the teachers of classes with continuous intake surveyed said it had an effect on the progress of other students. Chief reasons cited were that it slows down the class/students due to the need to cover previously-taught materials, and it can disrupt the group dynamic. Teachers with literacy learners in the class were much more likely to believe continuous intake affects progress (80%) than teachers with basic level learners (55%) or teachers with intermediate level learners (47%).

Most focus group participants felt that continuous intake did not negatively affect the classes. Students who started LINC well after their classmates said that the other students had been understanding and helpful. One of the reasons students accept the concept of continuous intake is because they recognize that without this option they may have had to wait a considerable period of time to enter LINC. If intake occurred only on set dates at the beginning of the term students would be forced to wait; continuous intake allowed them much more immediate access to the program.

Multilevel classes

In about three-quarters of the classes surveyed all students were at the same LINC level; a quarter had students at two LINC levels, virtually all one level apart. This figure may be underestimate the situation, however, because there will be many students with different CLB levels for the four skill areas. The literature suggests that multilevel classes can be problematic for instructors in terms of meeting the disparate needs of learners (Beder & Medina 2001; Bell 1991; Comings, Soricone, & Santos 2006).Footnote 24

Students in the focus group knew there was some variance in level of language proficiency among the students, particularly when the specific components of language training (listening, speaking, reading and writing) were taken into consideration. Most felt, however, that the students in the class were at a similar level overall. Hence, variation in skill level across class members was not typically a concern for the students involved in the case study visits.

Culturally diverse / Mixed ethnicity classes

Survey data (Figure A-7) shows that LINC students originate from all parts of the world, 81 different countries in all (in the figure nations accounting for less than one percent of students were combined into the “other” category). China was the nation of origin of the largest number of LINC learners (22%). Second was India, the birthplace of 8% of the students.

Figure 3-4: Country of birth of LINC students

Bar Chart: China, 22.1%; India, 7.7%; Columbia, 7.2%; Iraq, 5.7%; Sri Lanka, 4.7%; Afghanistan, 4.4%; Pakistan, 4.4%; Iran, 3.5%; Russia, 3.1%; Ethiopia, 2.5%; Ukraine, 2.4%; Vietnam, 2.0%; Korea	, 2.0%; Albania, 1.3%; Congo, 1.1%; Eritrea, 1.1%; Somalia, 1.1%; Syria, 1.1%; Other, 22.6%


Source: Learners survey

LINC is helping students to settle in Canada and develop skills for interaction in a culturally diverse environment. The typical LINC class had 5.8 countries and 5.2 languages represented out of every 10 students.Footnote 25 That is good evidence of a cultural mix. Focus group participants seemed comfortable in their mixed classes.

Examining the source countries of LINC clients using iCAMSFootnote 26 data shows similarities to the sample in the evaluation (table above):

  • China is the top country of birth for LINC clients in all provinces. Depending on the year, clients who were born in China account for 25-30 percent of clients in Ontario, 20-30 percent of those in Alberta, 20 percent in Saskatchewan, and 10-15 percent in the Atlantic region.
  • In Ontario, clients who were born in India account for, on average, another 7 percent of those who have completed LINC courses. Additionally, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka each account for approximately 5 percent of the clients each year.
  • In the other provinces, the breakdown by country of birth of LINC clients is a bit different. Columbia accounts for roughly 9 percent of the clients outside of Ontario. Sudan and Afghanistan account for approximately 10 percent each in 2003 but decline over the period to near 5 percent in 2008.

The literature review examined how learners’ backgrounds affect the second language classroom. Research shows that, for learners with different backgrounds, cultural differences are not a barrier to a successful learning environment. Furthermore, while prejudice among learners can be an issue, according to a 2005 study interviewing Canadian ESL instructors, the ESL classroom is a good context to deal with such issues (Stuart 2005). Because a mixed ethnicity class is also very likely to be a multilingual class, it is reasonable to think that grouping learners in a monolingual class would allow teachers to focus on specific problems. However, the literature review suggests that the benefits of a multilingual class may outweigh the benefits of specialized instruction in a monolingual class; learners in a multilingual class benefit from the communication and friendships they create with people from different backgrounds.

3.2.3 Quality of assessments

The quality of the LINC assessment process was assessed by looking for evidence that the assessments placed LINC students appropriately. This subsection finds that the assessment tools available to LINC are appropriate and effective.

The teacher survey asked what percentage of LINC students are moved to a different level in their first week or two in class, which would be an indication of ineffective assessments. The mean response was 5%; the mode was 0% and the median was 4%. This is a good indication that from the teachers’ perspective most assessments are accurateFootnote 27.

Ninety-four percent (94%) of surveyed students felt they were placed at the correct level. About 86% were comfortable with the pace of the class, which again suggests they were placed at the correct level (Figure 3-5).

Figure 3-5 : Perceived pace of LINC class

Pie Chart: Too fast, 8.1%; About right, 85.6%; Too slow, 6.3%


Source: Teachers survey

According to the literature, some aspects of second language acquisition develop in predictable stages. The greatest gains are made when a learner is exposed to language suitable for his/her stage (Lightbown, 2000; Pienemann, 1989). This suggests that language placement is important for a learner to fully benefit from the learning environment. The aforementioned evidence suggests that the LINC assessment process is effective, with students likely to be placed at the right level.

3.2.4 Other aspects of quality

Other indicators of quality included in LINC evaluation frameworks include pupil-teacher ratio, relevance of teaching tools used and percentage of learners moving, accessibility, and average time to move from one LINC level to the next. The evidence suggests that mean LINC class size is reasonable; SPOs have adequate tools/information to support and improve the service delivery; and most potential participants are able to gain access to LINC in a timely fashion.

Class size

No research could be found that pinpoints the ideal number of students per teacher in language instruction classes. Therefore the teacher survey asked LINC teachers for their view on the matter. According to these teachers, the ideal pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) rises as student level rises from literacy to basic level, but beyond these the ideal PTR is fairly stable (Figure 3-6). There was no significant difference between regions or type of SPO on this variable, however, there was a range of opinion on ideal numbers across teachers. For example, the ideal number of literacy students per teacher ranged from 4 to 20.

The mean class size for all LINC classes was approximately 14, but for surveyed classes this rose to approximately 17. The latter figure is a more realistic reflection of the typical LINC class because it excludes tutoring and literacy classes. Still, a class size of 17 compares favourably to the ideal class size of 14 to 16 for levels above literacy.Footnote 28

Figure 3-6: LINC instructor’s perceived ideal number of students per class, by level

Graph: Literacy, 8.51%; Basic, 14.20%; Intermediate, 15.61%; Advanced, 15.53%

N=51 to 66

Source: Teachers survey

Teaching tools

Instructors have the flexibility to tailor LINC course content to the needs of their students. All use theme-based materials and almost all use their own materials to help ensure the class meets the particular goals and circumstances of their students. The typical class used 8.0 of the materials listed in Figure 3-7, and 9 different types of tools were used in at least 70% of classes.

Figure 3-7 : Teaching materials used in class

Bar Chart: Theme-based materials, 100%; Your own material, 97%; Text book(s), 95%; Newspapers/magazines, 92%; Video/films, 88%; Field trips, 81%; The internet, 77%; Commercial cassettes/cds, 77%; Computer programs, 75%; Radio programs, 42%; Other, 9%


Source: Class Information Form


It is evident that LINC has the properties of an accessible program:

  • It is free for eligible newcomers;
  • It offers classes at proficiency levels from literacy through LINC level 7Footnote 29;
  • It offers classes full and part-time, morning, afternoon and evening and on weekends;
  • It offers courses in classrooms, on-line, via mail, and through one-on-one tutoring;
  • It offers funding to overcome transportation and disability barriers;
  • It offers free childcare;
  • It has continuous intake so few newcomers need to wait long for placement in a class; and
  • It funds a range of service providers (colleges, school boards, community organizations, privatelanguage schools, etc) that offer classes in various locations in most cities.

Among focus group participants the consensus was that LINC was easily accessible. They felt that LINC is well known amongst newcomers and that those who want to get into the program are able to do so readily. Students were asked if they knew of anyone who would like to be taking LINC, but was unable to get into the program. Not one of the students included in focus group discussions answered this question affirmatively.

As of October 2009, in Calgary there were approximately 1380 newcomers waiting for assessment and 790 awaiting LINC spaces in class, some because of insufficient child care spaces. Waiting lists were generally not an issue in most other areas of the country, with only PEI experiencing a waiting list for LINC spaces.

Lack of childcare was cited as the main obstacle preventing individuals from attending LINC classes. A few of the LINC providers involved in the case study did not offer childcare services.

Those that did, offered varying degrees of service: some accepted infants while others did not accept children until they were over 2 ½ years of age. Several students indicated that they had to either deal with a wait because there were no spaces available in the child care program or they had to wait until their child was old enough to participate in the program. Also, in most facilities school age children are not allowed to attend the daycare in the summer, so parents of school age children do not have the opportunity to attend summer classes. Transportation, which is advertised as a benefit of LINC, was also an issue for some. Some providers have established stringent rules for eligibility for transportation subsidy while others seem to be more lax - a disparity that raised questions with some students.

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