As the demand for people to speak and write English continues to increase worldwide, so does the demand for English as a second language (ESL) instructors.

Parkdale resident Mazalari Alfazema said demand is especially acute with Syrian refugees. Although Alfazema was born in Canada, she grew up immersed in two languages other than English or French: Chisena (a local dialect from the Zambezi Valley of Mozambique) and Swahili. Both of her parents emigrated from Mozambique to escape civil war that began in the 1970s.

As a second-generation Canadian, Alfazema said she felt compelled to teach ESL with Edmonton’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program. She now works with Catholic Social Services doing English language level assessments to place students in classes. “I could appreciate the experience of having to learn a language, so I wanted to give back and be [as] great teacher as the ones my parents and I had experienced,” she said.

Another ESL instructor with the LINC program, Pauline Ismael, grew up in Ontario. Ismael’s mother immigrated to Canada from Thailand and her father sought refuge in Canada during the 80s from Cambodia.

“Growing up as a second-generation immigrant had some challenges but it also taught me a lot. I learned to never assume about people’s situations and it sparked my interest in teaching,” she said.

Ismael said she wanted to teach because she could help people who were in similar situations as her parents had once been. “The school that I volunteered at was actually the school my father took ESL from.”

From personal experience and as instructors, Alfazema and Ismael both agree that learning English is difficult. Unexpected challenges can arise, such as finding childcare while trying to take full-time ESL classes. Local ESL teacher Sarah DeLano-Barrera runs a class that endeavours to fill this gap in programming.

“There are so many women who have young children that are not really accessing the typical ESL programs. So we offer a space for women to come together and network. It’s a really comfortable space and they can have their kids right in the classroom with them,” she said.

DeLano-Barrera’s program at Parkdale Cromdale Community League (PCCL) went from one class to four this year because of increased demand. “Things really changed when we started using the community league space. It is such a great fit in terms of encouraging integration into community spaces.” She found that her students feel comfortable accessing other programming they would not normally access due to their familiarity with the community space.

Increased interest in volunteering with the community league was an unexpected but welcome effect of creating a friendly place for ESL students. “As a league, we are really excited about the possibilities of this new strategy because it’s really opening up the league as a space for social and community growth and networking.”

ESL students, new and old, have much to offer their communities; it simply comes down to giving them the tools.

PCCL Language Programs

Multicultural Rhymes That Bind

Mondays 9:30 am-11:30 am


ECALA English

Mondays and Thursdays

11:15 am-1:15 pm


Book Club for Literacy

Fridays 10 am-noon


More info:

Featured Image: DeLano-Barrera and her ESL class on a recent trip to Jasper. | Supplied