Largest language school in Canada
By Cheryl Long
Diversity is everything at the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC). Not only has an ethnically diverse business model helped the school stay afloat during tenuous times, but it has also helped to create a richer and more progressiveenvironment for thousands of students.
Established in 1997, the private school attracts students from more than 80 countries worldwide, eager to hone their English language skills. Once they graduate, many will either pursue additional studies or employment in Canada, orreturn to their home countries with strong bonds to Canada that were developed while studying here.
Jonathan Kolber is one of the school’s executive directors, along with Ilan Cohen and Bernardo Riveros. All three came together 17 years ago to found an international language academy that is now Canada’s top English school with multiple campuses in downtown Toronto and Vancouver. Kolber initiated an idea to launch the school while working part time asan English (ESL) teacher. His expertise in finance and banking helped to establish the school’s strong reputation.
The founding partners held a grand opening in the summer of 1997, sending invitations to ESL students studying across Toronto. Their first intake drew 25 students that July, followed by 40 in August and 70 in September. They peaked at 80 in October and then hit an unexpected stumbling block in December when an economic crisis in Korea – home to close to 50 percent of their students – saw many ask for refunds and return to Asia. Combined with the natural drop that occurs when students leave for the Christmas break, ILAC saw its population suddenly dwindle.
Diverse population was school’s saving grace
Fortunately, they were also heavily marketing the school’s programs to South American students at a time when many ESL institutions were focusing primarily on the Asian market. Many were from Colombia, where the school year ended in December and students were looking for English studies beginning in the new year. That initial vision to create diversity, primarily to give students a more well-rounded experience, cushioned them from the unexpected end-of-year drop in revenue. Since those early days, ILAC has seen enrolment increase by 15 to 20 percent annually, drawing students from a widening array of countries year after year.
“We were creating a niche; a whole experience about living in Canada and making friends for a lifetime,” Kolber said. “They say we were the game changer. Everyone else was selling education and we started selling an experience. We focused right away on diversity of nationalities. We felt that having one or two nationalities in the school did not lend itself well to having a good experience in Canada.” Instead, they wanted students to not only improve their English language skills, but meet people from many other cultures and countries, including Turkey, Brazil and Russia. “We were pioneers in most of these new emerging markets, where other language schools focused on two or three main markets— Japan, Korea and a little bit of everything else,” Kolber explained.
Today, they try to limit intake per nationality to about 10 percent, which forces students to speak English in the classroom and improves their overall experience. Between the two campuses, they offer instruction to approximately 14,000 students each year in programs that run from four weeks to 18 months in length. Students can learn general or business English, prepare to enter a Canadian high school, college or university or take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) course, among other programs. During their studies, students stay with Canadian host families or receive assistance in finding other accommodations.
ILAC puts a lot of effort into promoting Canada as a place of opportunity for international students looking for an exceptional quality of life and education.
Multiple awards recognize ILAC’s success
The desire to create their own niche has helped ILAC become the largest language school in Canada, not to mention the recipient of numerous awards. In 2011, they were among the Ontario regional finalists in Canada’s Best Managed Companies program run by Deloitte. They have received the Study Travel Magazine Star Award for Best English Language School in North America five years in a row, making the school a lifetime award winner. The lifetime award is considered the most prestigious award handed out to English schools worldwide. Countries like Turkey and Japan have also recognized the school for their English language curriculum through special awards programs.
ILAC’s founders, together with an ever-growing team, have built the school’s brand internationally. Numerous recruiters and a huge network of international agents help students learn about ILAC and make a smooth transition to language studies in Canada. Ranging in age from 18 to 30, they arrive in hopes of learning the language but end up gaining so much more.“Some arelooking tocome and improve their English and take amonth off fromtheir business career, some are looking to have a full immersion program and perfect the language and others are looking to learn enough English to get into a university,” Kolber said.
ILAC also helps thousands of students earn post-secondary placements through their University Pathway program, acting as advisors and walking them through the admissions process.
The school’s newest venture is their ILAC International College, which offers Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) diploma or certificate programs. The program, recognized by TESL Canada, prepares instructors to teach English as a second language to a variety of students at any level.
Providing great customer service is another part of the ILAC culture; in fact, they pride themselves on offering “the best customer service in the industry” and have built a reputation on their attention to students and agents alike. They’re now offering a diploma program designed to teach students how to deliver “service excellence” in any field. Students have an opportunity to practise their skills on the job as part of a co-op placement and gain hands-on experience in Canadian business, often using that as a stepping stone in the pursuit of an MBA or post-graduate diploma.
“It’s a nice first step and a good introduction to Canada, and gives them a lot of understanding of Canadian customer service and Canadian business culture,” Kolber said. “We think thatexperience in Canada will help them wherever they live because we have a very strong business culture for integrity, honesty,transparencyand no corruption. If they bring that back home, it makes them more marketable.”
Many ILAC graduates do return to their home countries, but there is an estimated 10 to 15 percent of students who move on to college or university, or apply to stay in Canada. The school has been instrumental in bringing talent to Canada, fostering students who are now highly successful in banking, international marketing and IT. A number of ILAC’s students have been hired by the school over the years, building a very diverse workforce of teachers and administrative staff.
“I think again we’re trying to reinvent ourselves and improve the experience,” Kolber said. “That’s always our goal, and I think we do that very well. We’re always the leader.”
To learn more, visit www.ilac.com.