ESL/Computer Courses Do Double Duty

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Before she took her first ESL/Computer Skills course, the only thing Mila Miguel knew about the machines was how to switch one on. Today, her skills are so advanced that she’s training others.

Miguel is a Teaching Assistant at the Toronto District School Board’s Bickford Centre, one of the largest English-as-a-Second-Language schools in North America. This former nanny was surprised when she discovered that computers could be fun. “I learned that I liked computers. I just clicked,” she says, laughing. Over the years, she attended more courses, mastering MS Word, Access and Excel. She found that she enjoyed coaching other students in her class too (students often work in pairs and help each other out). Eventually she accepted a part-time position teaching the introductory computer course under the guidance of Pam Mangat, whom she praises as a great instructor. “My passion is teaching,” Miguel says. Her enthusiasm for her new career comes through in her voice.

If you want to gain computer skills for today’s competitive job market but are nervous about taking a regular course because of a potential language barrier, then you might want to consider an ESL/Computer course. This is one example of an “English linked skills program.” These programs, according to, “help learners develop English language skills while learning other business or technical skills such as typing or computer skills.”

Miguel took a regular (non-ESL) computer course once. It can be difficult for someone still perfecting their English to keep up in class like that. “Our courses, on the other hand, are geared to our students’ level of English,” she says. “We’re flexible. Depending on their needs, we spend more time on computers or more on language issues.”

What computer skills will you learn?

Different schools offer different courses and packages. Some examples include Windows, Internet Skills, MS Office, Corel Suite, Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, Accpac Accounting, Web Multimedia, and Dreamweaver.

How is this different from a regular ESL course?

Elena Louch, who has been teaching at Toronto District Catholic School Board’s COSTI-Corvetti Education Centre for eight years, explains that unlike a regular ESL course, the ESL/Computer program is “job and career related. It’s designed to prepare the students for the work force and further studies in specialized programs like accounting.” She shows students how to prepare business correspondence, résumés and cover letters and how to conduct internet research, among other topics.

How many students are in a class?

Depending on the school, the equipment available, the type of course and the time of year, classes include from 15 to 30 students. Since they fill up quickly, you may have to go on a waiting list and take the course later.

How do students fare during and after the course?

According to Louch, “Many students start out by learning how to click a mouse, and by the end of the course they’re able to design a database. No joke! Of course they feel good because they’re progressing so fast.” She also notes that her students are very motivated. “If a student finds a course too difficult but he needs it, he normally repeats it. I have a couple of repeats every session.”

Many students use the skills they’ve learned in the courses to get better jobs with their current employer, or to find new jobs in a different field. Abai Coker at the Ottawa Catholic School Board estimates that thousands of students have found success after completing the courses. “Initial reactions are always nervousness and not being sure as to whether they will be successful,” he says, but in time students overcome those feelings.

Anna Bassovets from Toronto’s Skills for Change program notices that progress as well. “All students feel more confident at the end of the course and admit that it significantly improved not only their language but also accounting and the job search skills.”

Yumin Zhang, who finished her course at Toronto’s Skills for Change in April, is now working as a bookkeeper and office clerk at a company specializing in video and computer products. “What I liked most about the class is I had a very intelligent and motivational teacher who not only taught me accounting knowledge but also encouraged me to pursue my career goal step by step. Another thing is through this class I made many friends. We communicate with each other and help each other. This makes my life here more comfortable.” For some students, these social connections may even lead to career opportunities someday.


Depending on the school, some of the courses require a registration fee, such as $30 or $40. Ask when you call to inquire about classes.


Most ESL/computer courses require no computer skills, but you will need good listening comprehension and the ability to read in English. Some schools specify Level 5 English on the Canadian Language Benchmark scale. Some require basic keyboarding skills at 25 words per minute. Again, check with the individual schools when you call. You’ll be asked to take an assessment before you can register.

Where do I start?

Not every city or town offers the courses, unfortunately. Call your local settlement centre or school board and ask them if your area has an ESL/Computer course.


Schools may change their schedules and offerings, so telephone them for up-to-date information.


  • Toronto District School Board. Offers courses at several sites. One of them is Bickford Centre, Tel: (416) 393-0528. Courses last 13 weeks and run on Saturday mornings.
  • Toronto District Catholic School Board. COSTI Corvetti Education Centre, Tel: (416) 534-7400. Courses last eight weeks and run Monday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m.
  • Skills for Change, Tel: (416) 658-7090. ESL/Accounting and Computer Skills. Courses last 14 weeks and run Monday-Thursday from 9:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.


  • Ottawa Catholic School Board. St. Joseph’s Adult School, Tel: (613) 741-6808. Courses run Monday-Friday (half-days).

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