Last Updated on May 10, 2022 by Allard John Keeley
We’ll let you in on a secret. Canada is filled with English-as-a-Second-Language or ESL schools. In most medium sized cities, you’ll find one or more institutes specializing in English courses. Additionally, ESL courses are available at regular high-schools, community colleges, and even at universities. The abundance of options is understandable given how important foreign skilled workers and international students are to the workforce and the post-secondary student body in Canada. Upgrading your official language skills is a win-win for everyone involved.
Now, you might understandably be a little overwhelmed by the choice, so we’ve put together a list of 15 high-quality ESL Schools in Canada to help you navigate your way to a good program. Plus a few free options you might not have considered.
- LSI Vancouver: located in downtown Vancouver a couple of blocks from Howe Street, this well-established school offers generalized through intensive courses. But be aware that the intensive English courses are not cheap. For example, an 8-week TOEFL intensive preparation course will cost you CAD$ 3,475. A general English course is much cheaper at just over CAD$500.
- Canadian ESL Centre: Located in leafy and lovely London Ontario, (about two hour’s drive west of Toronto), the institute is all about helping you speak a fluid and fluent level of English and improving your test scores for IELTS and TOEFL – two of the principal English Language tests for admission to English-speaking universities. As well, IELTS (along with CELPIP) is a key requirement for permanent residence in Canada, as we detail in our blog How to get your IELTS or CELPIP in Canada vs Abroad for Express Entry. A 4-week course runs at CAD$ 800 plus $700 for homestay. They’ll even pick you up at the airport for $150.
- Carleton University – Intensive English Language Training Program (IEL): This is a 12-week deep-dive into functional and accurate English at one of Ottawa’s excellent universities with a lovely campus just south of the city centre. It ranges from basic to advanced levels which are always focused on either work-based or academic communication. Any international student or foreign worker in the Ottawa area should check out this option.
- Discover English Academy: Another institution that focuses on students and workers who need to upgrade their English skills. It’s located in North Vancouver, they focus on core skills like speaking in work situations, how to listen and develop your vocabulary in discussion situations and also include an advanced development program. A 10-session package of listening and speaking lessons will cost you CAD$ 750 as will a 10-session package of reading and writing lessons for a total of CAD$ 1,500.
- Full-immersion: this is a Toronto-based school that offers a full-time 30 hours per week program with a focus on TOEFL and IELTS, as well as TOEIC. You can choose between general, semi-intensive, and intensive courses and one-to-one instruction or small classes with an average of just over 10 students per class, over 50 classrooms and over 60 nationalities studying there. A 6-week full immersion course in Toronto will cost you CAD$ 2,140 without accommodation.
- Queens University School of English: Located in Kingston Ontario (less than 3 hours from Toronto; 3 and half hours from Montreal, and about an hour from Ottawa) Queens is one of Canada’s better-known universities, if not quite on the level of UBC or U of T. This option is really for international students looking to upgrade their academic English. The program is 8 weeks long, and the cost is substantial, around $5 thousand. But you will have access to all the university’s facilities and enjoy a well-tailored course with everything from grammar to academic writing techniques that will get you ready for university-level English at any university in Canada. As can be expected, it’s expensive. Tuition for their 3-month English for Academic Purposes runs at CAD$ 5,280 while a 6-week foundational English course will cost you CAD$ 3,900. While these courses should help you with exams like IELTS and TOEFL they do not have specific courses aimed at familiarizing you and preparing for those types of exams.
- George International: Located on Dundas Street near Toronto’s financial district, it offers a wide range of courses including IELTS, TOEFL, and Business English courses, as well as Intensive English courses. In business since the early 90s it has full-qualified Canadian English instructors to provide skilled guidance for its students. An 8-week IELTS course costs about CD$ 2,000 without accomodation.
- George Brown College – English for Academic Purposes: This Toronto-based program at one of Ontario’s best-know colleges is a 3-term program leading to a Certificate. Unfortunately, the program is for permanent residents and refugees (as well as for Canadian citizens of course) so it may not be an option for most international students. However, for sponsored family members with a permanent resident visa in their passport, this may be just the ticket. There are 9 levels – depending on your IELTS or TOEFL score so it has something for everyone – everyone with a PR visa that is (unless you have refugee status). Tuition for the English for Academic Purposes will run you about CAD$ 3,500 including incidental fees, books, and health insurance.
- Sheridan College – English Language Studies: With campuses in Oakville and Mississauga, they offer an 8-month (1 academic year) course with interactive, computer-based courses and hands-on learning experiences. There are 5 levels, from Foundations (basic) to English for Academic purposes (advanced). You will be placed based on your IELTS or TOEFL scores or you can take an ESL placement test. International students have the options of starting at various times in the fall, winter, spring, or even summer months. Your fees as an international student will run to just over CAD$ 3,600.
- Anne’s Language House. This isa smaller school offering small-sized classes of usually less than 10 students per class with university-trained professionals teaching you. A 5-week IELTS preparation course runs at CAD$ 1,575 while a 10-week IELTS prep course will cost you CAD$ 2,900. A good offer for anyone moving to Southern Alberta looking for personalized instruction.
- Stafford House International – Calgary: Another Calgary-based option with several levels of Standard English as well as University-Preparation English. Like Global Village, the courses are 52 weeks, and they also offer IELTS preparation courses. They’re located in the business district, close to public transportation. A 6-week intensive IELTS preparation course will run you CAD$ 2,500.
- ILSC Language Schools – Montreal: As you probably know, if you’re not a francophone you will be studying French if you move to Quebec. As well, if you have the time, there remain a number of good English programs, some of them at the same school that offers French courses. ILSC is one of those places. Located on elegant Sherbrooke Street near Westmount and the actual mountain (a large spreading hill around which the city was built hence the city’s name), it offers a wide range of language programs. You need French courses? They have them of course, as well as English language programs and IELTS preparation courses. And they’re even an IELTS test centre. A pretty good package deal. A 6-week full-time intensive IELTS course will set you back about CAD$ 2,700 without accommodation and about CAD$ 4,300 with accommodation.
- Halifax Language Institute: Like ILSC this is more than an ESL school, offering a wide range of language courses, but of course with a concentration on English programs. English as a second language, English for academic purposes, business English, and English for special purposes courses are offered as well as prep courses for TOEFL, IELTS, CELPIP, and TOEIC. If work opportunities or studies bring you to Halifax, you might think about taking a look at Halifax Language Institute. An 8-week general English course will cost you CAD$2980 in tuition and around CAD$ 1,800 in accommodation. Plus you should budget another $600 for incidental fees including student activities and health insurance. A Bridging program which is an English for university course will cost you CAD$ 4,400 in tuition.
- Heartland International English School: smack in the middle of Canada in Winnipeg, this school has been in business for decades and offers Intensive, Semi-intensive, and Super-intensive ESL courses are on offer designed for international students who need to boost their English skills. Their classes average 15 students with an allowable maximum of 20 students per class. Completing your course online is also an option and IELTS preparation courses are also offered as are TOEFL, TOEIC, and CELPIP prep courses. Just remember to bring or buy warm clothing. Winnipeg can be as cold as Siberia. No, that’s not an exaggeration. Of course, you could go to their Mississauga school instead if you can’t handle 30 below zero. On the costs side, an 8-week intensive English course will run just over CAD$ 2,500 while homestay (accommodation) costs for 8 weeks come to just under CAD$ 1,800.
- Memorial University – English as a Second Language Program: Newfoundland’s top university located in St. John’s offers this 13-week program (1 week orientation + 12 weeks of classes) for international students from around the world. The Intensive English Program (IEP) is for levels from beginners to high intermediate with 23 hours a week of classes as well as activities and events. The Intensive Bridge Program (IBP) is for advanced students with 15 hours of classes per week as well as events and activities and access (for both programs) to the university’s facilities. The 3-month programs cost – with tuition, non-refundable deposit and other fees – just over CAD$ 5,000.
However, you should realize that in some areas, you can actually get FREE English classes. Sound interesting? Let’s check out some of these no-fee options.
FREE ESL 1: Mosaic – Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canda (LINC). Mosaic is a non-profit charity serving newcomers to Canada (people with permanent resident status)in Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby BC. It offers up to level 7 English classes – all of them online, however. Once you complete a free language assessment, you will be assigned a level of English in accordance with your assessment results. These are practical English programs designed to help you function in Canada. While not directly aimed at international students, it’s definitely an option you might want to consider, seeing they have for-fee classes for those who aren’t permanent residents.
FREE ESL 2: Toronto Public Library – ESL Classes. Not only do they have online IELTS preparation courses (without instructors however) but the Toronto Public Library system also offers ESL classes. Unfortunately, classes are currently suspended due to COVID restriction, but they should be opening back up in the fall of 2021. Go here for information on re-openings.
Allard Keeley has been a published writer on immigration policy since 2013. Has written for publications like The Federalist. Fluent in Spanish and English. BA Honors Economics Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.