Why Halifax is a terrible (and perfect) place to learn English

On language schools, community and conversations.

Aissata Diallo has something to talk about. - ADAM FISKE
Adam Fiske
Aissata Diallo has something to talk about.

The new school year is just beginning, but some are already graduating. In August, international students at the Canadian Language Learning Centre College's Citadel campus graduated with a certificate in English as a second language.

Aissata Diallo was one of those students accepting her diploma amid a flurry of applause and tears. "I'm going to miss, really, CLLC. It was a great experience," she said.

Her feelings are shared by many that come through the language school's doors. The local institution started teaching students English in Dartmouth in 2003, and now has locations across Ontario and Nova Scotia. The schools each take in approximately 300 students of 15 or more nationalities every year and 80 percent of those continue on to university, says Citadel campus director Derrick Tobin.

Students speaking English as a second language add a valued diversity to Halifax, but there are burdens that come with immigrating to this seaside city. "It's very hard to integrate," says Diallo.

Yousef Alsharari is another current CLLC student who shares a similar view.

"Some of my friends stuck with their group. They might not have any problem with writing but when they speak they say 'Why have I forgotten this word?' because they don't practice."

Despite the difficulty in integration, for many it's easier to learn English here. Halifax is a great ESL city not only because the locals are so friendly, but because of the city's smaller size. It's a place where the majority of people speak English, and it isn't large enough for foreign language speakers to easily retreat to groups that use their mother tongue. Alsharari opts to take advantage of these perks in his social life.

"For me I try to go with my friends who are not from Saudi Arabia," he says. "People here have the best behaviour...I love the activities and festivals."

Immersion is key for ESL students, in Halifax and elsewhere. Practice makes perfect.

"Anything you don't use, you lose," says Alsharari.

When asked about what he sees as the greatest difficulties for ESL students upon immigrating to Halifax, Tobin says it's "culture shock and homesickness." Many new students often choose to spend time with those who speak their first language rather than mingling, and a few even grapple with depression upon arrival. That's in addition to the $2,000 to $3,000 a month some students are paying just to live and learn here.

To help ease the transition, programs like those at the CLLC try to offer an engaging place where students can improve their English skills, but also find a welcoming, focused version of Halifax's motivating melting pot.

"It encourages people to be proud of where they're from and learn about other cultures," says Tobin, "the best part is the connection."

According to Alsharari, the CLLC offers a comforting welcome to new students learning to live and speak in Canada. Sometimes, that's all the difference to feeling at home.

"They are my family here," he says. "Sometimes I have a bad time, and when I needed their help...I found it."

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