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

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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