By Derek Gagnon
There can be any number of reasons why a person might choose to learn a new language. Some do it for fun, as they look to improve themselves. Others do it in preparation for a big trip, not wanting to be unable to communicate in a faraway land. And, there are international students, studying abroad fully immersed in a foreign language to better their education and future job prospects.
For many people, English has become the language of choice. It is the official language of the United Nations and there are 840 million English speakers worldwide. With Winnipeg being the multicultural hub that it is, it was just logical for an English school catering to the international market to set up in the city.
A growing demand to learn
Heartland International English School opened in 1999, and has been growing ever since. Gary Gervais came up with the idea because his girlfriend at the time was looking to learn English, but didn’t have many viable options to learn the language fluently.
“The only option available to her wasn’t very good,” said Gary. “So, I got the idea to start a school. I contacted my friend, Rennie Zegalski, who was also interested in starting a business and together we started the school. I got the idea in December 1998. We opened our doors and started operating in June 1999.”
The school opened with three classrooms and zero students at 508 Portage Ave. A teacher was hired, a curriculum was built and the school quickly began to grow. Gary bought out Rennie’s portion of the company and took sole-ownership a couple of years into the business.
By 2002, the school had outgrown its original space and moved to 161 Portage Ave. The following year, Heartland was recognised by Profit Magazine as one of the top 50 emerging growth companies in Canada. Heartland is the only accredited, private English as a second language (ESL)school in Manitoba.
By 2010, Heartland had moved again, this time to their current location in The Exchange District, the Massey Building at 294 William Ave. Demand saw them become a test centre for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in 2014. The following year, Heartland expanded yet again, opening a brand new location in Mississauga, Ontario. This January, they also began offering programs in Steinbach, Manitoba.
A diverse crowd
Heartland attracts over 300 students per year, and has seen over 4,000 since opening. Students’ ages have ranged from 12 to 75. With flexible start dates and study lengths, students can start any Monday of the year and study any length of time from one week to a year or more, the program is adaptable for everyone. At any given time, there are between 50 and 80 students in the school.
Gary says that summer is the busiest time for new students, with students staying for about three months on average.
“Last year we had students from 43 different countries,” said Gary. “Our biggest markets, in order, are Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Japan and Taiwan. The students come with various motivations for studying English. For some, it’s a language holiday. For others, it’s learning English for their careers. For some, it could be to get into college or university. And some are hoping to immigrate to Manitoba.”
“We had a student come from Italy and studied for one week. She had done her Master’s Thesis on Margaret Lawrence and was essentially making a pilgrimage to Neepawa and tied in a week of language study. We had another student who was 75 years old and was studying English because he wanted to go on to business school to better run his two businesses in Japan.”
“For me the best part is seeing people from different countries come together and learn about each other,” said Gary. “We get students from all over the world and the only thing they have in common for sure is being in Winnipeg to learn English. We are used to being in a multicultural environment in Canada, but it’s not the norm most places in the world.”
“For some it may be the first time they have travelled outside their country or the first time they’ve interacted with other nationalities. They naturally bring a lot of stereotypes with them. When I see people from different countries learning about each other, becoming friends, and losing their prejudices, I think there is hope for less hatred and conflict in the world.”