“You don’t even have to speak perfect English.”  

Helping Other Make a Difference

Frank BaileyMcDonald knows that newcomers face a steep learning curve regarding virtually every part of day-to-day living in Canada. From the typical questions (like “how do you handle the cold?”) to more specific problems (like learning a new language while isolated from public spaces), he helps find people who can provide answers.  

Frank is CSS’s Volunteer Coordinator for Immigration and Settlement Services – a position that has become busier as public awareness of those services has expanded. The Learning and Community Enrichment program (LACE) is one of the most popular programs offered by CSS, putting English learners into a group session facilitated by an ESL Conversation Practice Tutor Volunteer at a local library space. Together, the group practices conversational English in a collaborative and informal setting.  

“It’s not technically an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, since there’s no accreditation or testing process,” said Frank. “Still, it’s an opportunity to learn English from a native speaker for free, and it’s become very popular.” 

As a newcomer to Canada a few years ago, the former United Kingdom resident recognizes the challenges non-native Canadians encounter – things that lifelong Canadians might not even recognize as problems. 

“Living here is not without its challenges. Of course, there’s the weather, but there’s also things like public transit that may not be adequate in some areas. If you plan on driving, like most of us do, it’s not an inexpensive thing.” 

LACE program users are the definition of variety, coming from points worldwide; many are residents who have been in the area for a long time but who have had few chances to start integrating into the larger community. 

“Some older people may have come to help their children by being free childcare for their grandchildren or nieces or nephews,” Frank explained. “They could have been here in a private home for some time without having an opportunity to socialize or learn much about being Canadian.” 

The conversation circles were adapted to an online model during the 2020 pandemic, and this choice remains popular even after in-person discussions were reinitiated. The courses are free, and the temptation to continue expanding the program is real.  

“We’ve decided to resist that temptation for now and concentrate on making sure the quality of the experience remains high for both the users and the volunteers,” said Frank. 

And the volunteers are what makes the program work as well as it does. Each new volunteer receives training, guidance and encouragement before they take on their assignment. 

“You don’t even have to speak perfect English,” said Frank. “In fact, we have several non-native speakers volunteering. It’s far more important to have solid social skills and an interest in learning. If you don’t know a word, you can always look it up together.”  

If you’re interested in volunteering in LACE or any other CSS program, visit