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Maria’s story: the language of learning

Posted on August 4, 2015

News-Maria-380When Maria Metcalfe came to Canada in 2001 to work as a live-in nanny, she was equipped with little more than basic English phrases and some tips from her Canadian aunt. Nonetheless, she was determined to succeed in her new life.

Looking back at those early years, Maria remembers trying to absorb English at every opportunity; she’d listen to conversations on the SkyTrain, repeat things silently in her head, watch people’s mouths to perfect her own pronunciation, read and re-read books and newspapers and translate them into Tagalog. “Remember cassette tapes?’ she laughs. “I even listened to voice tapes in the library, rewinding them again and again!”

Today, as Maria enters the highest levels of VCC’s ESL Pathways program, she finds herself on the verge of not only English fluency but also a rewarding new career.

Round the clock

As a nanny, Maria worked tirelessly for a number of different families—including caring for a set of baby twins!—even as her own young son remained in the Philippines. “If there were 25 hours in a day, I would work 25 hours. If there were 8 days in a week, I would work 8 days,” she says. “It was hard work but also really fun.”

After successfully immigrating and bringing her son to Canada in 2008, Maria moved into a seniors care position. Then last year, she decided she was ready to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. “I want to help people,” she says. “Even if I have nothing left for me, I want to give. That’s just my nature.”

The prerequisites for VCC’s program demand B-level scores in many Grade 12 subjects, and ESL Level 8 in English. To achieve this level of fluency, Maria’s advisors recommended ESL Pathways, a flexible program designed to give students the skills to communicate naturally in Canadian society.

Despite living in Canada for nearly 15 years already, Maria knew there was hard work ahead. Her days soon involved getting up at 4 a.m. to beat the traffic, studying before class, taking courses, working part-time and looking after a household.

When things start to feel difficult, Maria says she turns to her instructors and her classmates for encouragement. There’s one elderly man, originally from China, whose eagerness to learn continually inspires her. “I’m almost half his age and I have to push myself to do this.” she says. “This man has truly motivated me to work on my English!”

The power of please

Maria came to fully understand the usefulness of English fluency one night when she found a parking ticket on her motorcycle. That same day, her class had learned how to make polite requests using phrases like “would you” or “could you please?”  Never one to back down from a challenge, Maria approached the parking attendant.

“Would you please cancel my ticket?” she asked, in perfect form.

The attendant refused and gave her a customer service phone number instead. “So I asked again, ‘Would you please cancel my ticket? Please?’” As they continued talking, Maria remained firm yet polite. She now loves telling the end of the story: “And you know what? He cancelled my ticket!” The next day, Maria was especially excited to go to class and let her instructor know—polite phrases really work!

The path ahead

Having just achieved the prerequisite ESL Pathways Level 8 in listening and speaking, Maria’s next goal is to test her reading and writing. After that, she’ll tackle the biology and math prerequisites, then apply to the LPN program. “I’m not in a rush,” she says. “But I’m going to do this. I’ll just keep working at it one thing at a time.”

Remembering the fear felt when still new to Canada, Maria also offers advice for other newcomers. “Improve your English and adapt to the culture,” she says. “If you need help, ask. Don’t be shy. And love what you do!”


VCC’s ESL Pathways curriculum prepares students holistically for academic, professional and social settings. Learn more about the ESL Pathways program as well as non-repayable adult upgrading grants.