Language Partner Program teaches more

Program helps students learn English and make friends

Giselle de Lima Cassaro was a newcomer to Winnipeg who spoke Portuguese and was looking to improve her English skills. She joined the Language Partner Program at the University of Winnipeg, hoping to find someone willing to help her learn English.

What she didn’t expect was that her language partner would become one of her closest friends.

“Her name is Raina. She is kind, friendly and has a huge heart … After my graduation, I knew that our friendship would continue, and she would continue to help me to improve my English,” Cassaro says.

Carolina Goncalves, the student life coordinator for the Language Partner Program, says the program helps international students get accustomed to life in Winnipeg.

She also says the program helps international students find native or fluent English speakers who can not only help with their language skills, but who can also teach them about how Canadians live.

The application process attempts to match people based on their language abilities and shared interests.

“When international students come to Winnipeg, they of course want to learn English, but they also want to know how Canadians live, how they do things, and where they (live) … the students connect with the local community. The students feel like they are a part of something,” Goncalves says.

When a student and a language partner are matched, they both attend an initial meeting. Afterwards, both parties set their own schedule with the only requirement being they meet for one hour per week for 12 weeks.

The schedule can be very free form with some language partners doing everything from going to a movie to playing hockey together.

Goncalves says that when a language partner program creates a friendship like Cassaro has, it is a sign that the program is working.

“When I saw that Giselle was spending Christmastime alone with (her language partner’s) family, that makes me so happy. ‘Oh my god, they’ve become friends.’ That tells us that we’ve run a very successful program,” Goncalves says.

Cassaro says that her language partner has even helped her family in a big way.

“Raina and her friend Dylan helped my husband to get his open work permit. During the winter, they drove from Winnipeg to (the) Canada-USA border with us just to help us to get this document. My husband is working now, because of them, and we call (Dylan and Raina) our ‘Angels,’” Cassaro says.

The Language Partner Program is currently looking for more applicants.

Find out more about the program on the U of Winnipeg website or by emailing

Published in Volume 72, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 7, 2017)

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