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Newcomer shock: how to switch to English in daily life as quickly as possible

By IRYNA PALTSEVA - July 1 2023

By Iryna Paltseva

On February 24, 2022, 43.5 million people in Ukraine found themselves waking up in their worst nightmare – the biggest war in Europe in the last 70 years. At 5.30 in the morning, deafening explosions from air strikes were heard almost throughout the country. Over the past year, Ukrainians have seen it all – massive tank offensives, the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the destruction of power plants, the capture of cities, and massacres and torture. Millions of people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries. Fortunately, the civilized world quickly reacted to the humanitarian crisis and provided significant support to the Ukrainians. Canada was one of the first to develop a special program and hospitably open its doors to Ukrainians. Over the past year, more than 160,000 Ukrainians entered Canada (of which about 60,000 entered the province of Ontario), and another 700,000 visa applications are still being processed.

This is one of the largest waves of immigration in Canadian history in recent decades. All these people need housing, food, and work. Ukrainians are not refugees; therefore, they do not have access to a number of social programs, and the state does not provide free accommodation. In the very first days upon arrival in Canada, Ukrainians need to rent a house and find a job as long as the opportunity to pay for their existence. And all this in a new country, under great stress, and most often without knowing English or French.

The peculiarity of newcomers from Ukraine is that all these people aren’t prepared for immigration. This means that there is no accumulated money, no knowledge about the customs and traditions of the country, and no psychological readiness to move. Most people do not have a sufficient level of English even for domestic needs. That is why almost all English courses for newcomers (LINC and ESL) turned out to be simply overcrowded with Ukrainians at all levels. My family also went this way, I studied LINC courses for 5 months, which allowed me to feel much more confident in an English-speaking environment.

The inability to competently express one’s own thoughts turns out to be one of the main problems for adapting to a new country. Of course, with a strong desire, one can arrange their life within the diaspora and not use English almost at all. But then, even after a few years, they won’t be able to feel really comfortable in Canada. 

The need to sit down at a desk again in adulthood also comes as a shock to many. But, unlike adolescence, when many studied not because they really wanted to, but because their parents told them so, motivation decides a lot. The benefits of learning as an adult lie in a clear understanding of the goals, as well as in the ability to highlight the main thing and correctly allocate one’s own time. For everyone who wants to switch to English as quickly as possible in Canada, I recommend not to neglect such life hacks:

  • Translate the settings of the phone, laptop, mail, and social networks into English
  • Try to make acquaintances outside their diaspora
  • Watch movies, and series in English with subtitles
  • Watch or read the news in English at least once a day for 15 minutes
  • Go to the library and take an interesting book, read at least 1 page a day
  • Do not be shy to practice speaking wherever possible (in a store, pharmacy, cafe, or at work).

As for parents of school-age children, they don’t need to worry. Children easily integrate into a new environment, and, as a rule, begin to speak English fluently much earlier than their parents.

Does learning English as a second language require determination, assertiveness, and regularity? Yes. But is it possible to learn English from scratch as an adult? Yes, definitely! And over the past year, thousands of Ukrainians confirmed this by deeds, not words.

This article was submitted by Iryna Paltseva. She is a Ukrainian Freelance Writer who relocated to Canada under the CUET (Canadian-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel) program. You can contact her at:

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