10 Great (and Free) Resources to Improve Your Canadian English Language Skills

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Totem, Ottawa, Octo­ber 2012

For the past ten years, my life has been revolv­ing around language—three lan­guages, actu­ally: Man­darin, French and English.

I grad­u­ated from high school with a minor in Man­darin and stud­ied Chi­nese lan­guage and civ­i­liza­tion at uni­ver­sity, get­ting my degree from Langues’O in 2005. A few months after being granted per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Canada, I started work­ing as a French as a sec­ond lan­guage instruc­tor in Ottawa.

Mean­while, I was also strug­gling to improve my English—I had spent most of my high school years work­ing on my Man­darin and I didn’t speak Eng­lish when I first came to Canada. I only knew the basics and I wasn’t used to North Amer­i­can Eng­lish. The accent, the slang and the cul­tural ref­er­ences were impos­si­ble to grasp when con­ver­sa­tions strayed from pre­dictable and safe top­ics, such as the weather.

I have never attended a for­mal Eng­lish course in Canada but I did make sure I prac­tice my lan­guage skills a lot, includ­ing writ­ing and read­ing in English.

I now work as a free­lance trans­la­tor and bilin­gual copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. Work­ing on my Eng­lish paid off and I’m glad I’m per­fectly flu­ent in both offi­cial languages—it makes my life in Canada much easier.

After 10 Great Resources to Improve Your Que­bec French Lan­guage Skills, here are 10 other great resources to focus on your English.

Good luck!

The Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (CBC)The core busi­ness of Canada’s national broad­caster is radio and tele­vi­sion ser­vices, with a heavy empha­sis on Cana­dian con­tent. You can read the news online, lis­ten to a vari­ety of pro­grams and watch stream­ing TV. This is a great way to famil­iar­ize your­self with the country’s cul­ture and to improve your English!

The Globe and MailCanada’s largest-circulation national news­pa­per and second-largest daily news­pa­per after the Toronto Star has infor­ma­tive con­tent avail­able online, includ­ing national news, busi­ness reports, cul­tural fea­tures, etc.

MacLean’s Canada’s national weekly cur­rent affairs mag­a­zine offers infor­ma­tive fea­tures on national and inter­na­tional top­ics. It reports on Cana­dian issues, includ­ing pol­i­tics and busi­ness, and pro­vides an inter­est­ing glimpse into the country’s mindset.

Howjsay This free online talk­ing dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish pro­nun­ci­a­tion is very easy to use. Sim­ply enter the word you are look­ing for and mouse over to hear it pronounced.

British, Cana­dian and Amer­i­can Spelling It may seems like a triv­ial issue, but there are dif­fer­ences in British, Cana­dian and Amer­ica spelling, and mas­ter­ing them is part of improv­ing your lan­guage skills. This table show you the var­i­ous spellings used and can be eas­ily searched by using “Ctrl + F”. You will notice Cana­dian Eng­lish gen­er­ally fol­lows British spelling, but often the Amer­i­can alter­na­tive is pos­si­ble too. 

Lan­guage Por­tal of Canada — This government-owned web­site focuses on Canada’s both offi­cial lan­guages, Eng­lish and French, and sup­ports the pro­mo­tion of bilin­gual­ism. It offers arti­cles deal­ing with Eng­lish gram­mar and style, lan­guage quizzes (includ­ing a tricky one on Cana­di­anisms!) and free writ­ing tools.

Resumes and Cover Let­ters ressources — Cre­at­ing your first Cana­dian resume can be a daunt­ing task if you aren’t con­fi­dent with your lan­guage skills and if you aren’t famil­iar with Canadian-style resumes. Ser­vice Canada has an infor­ma­tive sec­tion on cov­ers let­ters, includ­ing  tips and sam­ples. It also offerstips on resume writ­ing, includ­ing the dif­fer­ent sec­tions you should include. Your resume must be perfect—do have it proofread!

Assess Your Cana­dian Eng­lish Online — The CLB-OSA is an online self-assessment tool for peo­ple who are inter­ested in assess­ing their Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage (ESL). These tests are based on the Cana­dian Lan­guage Bench­marks (CLB) and will assess your lan­guage pro­fi­ciency in read­ing and lis­ten­ing. You will need to reg­is­ter but it’s free and the web­site is reliable—it is sup­ported by Cit­i­zen­ship & Immi­gra­tion Canada.

Online dic­tio­nary and lan­guage forums — Wor­dRef­er­ence is the best online trans­la­tion dic­tio­nary that I know. It sup­ports many lan­guages, includ­ing French, Por­tuguese, Man­darin, Span­ish, Japan­ese, Ara­bic, etc., it’s fast and it’s free. The lan­guage forums are a great tool to dis­cuss vocab­u­lary and gram­mar issues.

Writer’s Block — This web­site is intended for com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als, and offers use­ful writ­ing tips as well as 10 years’ worth of past issues of the for­mer Writer’s Block magazine—the award-winning web mag­a­zine for the writ­ing trade.

I hope you will find these web­sites useful!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. I learned Japan­ese until inter­me­di­ate level and gave up because I got con­fused with their gram­mars, I should have stud­ied harder :( Needs a alot of flair for lan­guage and I think you did great for Man­darin and English.

    Hmm.….I should pick up French soon ehhheheh :D

  2. It’s a great list. I have tried CLB-OSA and found out that it can­not assess the lan­guage skill level greater than 6.

    Tak­ing the Cana­dian Lan­guage Bench­mark exam is the best thing to do although you have to pay. You might con­sid­er­ing spend­ing if you are plan­ning to go to a uni­ver­sity or apply­ing for a job.

    The resume and cover let­ter tips are help­ful. It’s quite timely since I’m con­vert­ing my old-generic resume into the Cana­dian resume.

    I want to add the Free Dic­tio­nary to the list. It is my favorite lan­guage tool. It has a mobile app for iOS and android. You can lis­ten to Amer­i­can and British pronunciation.

    In my opin­ion it is wor­thy of your time and stor­age of your mobile phone.

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