My Language Exchange Member's Presentation to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada
On June 21 2013, representatives of My Language Exchange and Friednship Force International
presented to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada the benefits
of using language exchange practice to promote bilingualism in Canada.
The following is the transcript of the presentation of Belkacem Kesraoui, a member My Language Exchange and language partner
of Eileen Howell for 6 years.
Thank you, Eileen. Thank you. M. Giguere, ladies and gentlemen.
I am going to tell you, in English, my small experience on learning English and how far this experience led me.
As a newcomer to Quebec, the first thing you do is find a shelter, an apartment or a house for rent. The second thing
you have to worry about is having your children registered at a schoolboard, so that they can attend school. Then you
are a little relaxed and have more time to focus on the third but not the least important part of the process: get a job to
make a living.
That was the path I followed.
But when I went job hunting, I soon knew that, even being in a French speaking place, having good credentials was not
enough: most of companies expect applicants to have some knowledge of English in order to be hired. That is what
made me start learning English.
I took evening English lessons for two years in Montreal, at a school run by the English Montreal School Board, which
allows very low tuition fees for immigrants.
Then, in 2006, I got a job with the provincial government of Quebec, in Quebec-City. Learning English there was a lot
more difficult than in Montreal : very few colleges were offering lessons, these colleges were far from where I lived, the
schedules did not fit the time I could allocate and the fees were high. But I had already understood that I was in that
great part of the world called North America, and I had to gain some level in English if I wished to live a full life.
I turned my quest to internet, where I found websites dedicated to learning languages and using Skype system
as a means of communication. I worked with 2 people and then I made acquaintance with Eileen through
MyLanguageExchange.com . She was the partner I was looking for. We have been working together for 6 years now
and I can say that they were 6 years of steady, continuous improvement in listening, understanding and speaking
English. It was done from home, at hours that were convenient for me and for no cost.
The improvement came through totally free talks. Depending on the circumstances, we discussed questions of the
moment, risen by the media, or other issues that one or the other of the 2 partners was interested in. Sometimes the
talk was about an important event unfolding somewhere in the world, could it be in the US, France or Middle East. Other
times, it was on subjects related to religion, economy, science or any other matter. Thus, I learned to better understand
how Canadians think, live and do things.
Later, the relationship deepened into friendship. In 2011, my wife and I got to spend Christmas time as Eileen and
Andrew’s guests in Ottawa. They served as guides to us through the celebrations and they took us to the Christmas mass
at an Anglican church. They introduced us to English speaking Canadians we would otherwise never have met. I hope
that, in the other hand, Eileen and Andrew enjoyed being with us in Montreal and that they learned a bit about how
North Africans like us think and live.
And all that was possible thanks to MyLanguageExchange.com website and to Skype system.