English as a Second Language (ESL)
Alberta.ca » Financial Support » Alberta Works » Alberta Works Policy Manual

Employment & Training Programs and Services

Published Date: June 21, 2016
Bookmark this page

Work Foundations

English as a Second Language (ESL)


Income and Employment Supports Act, Part 3 Section 20
Income Support, Training and Health Benefits Regulation
Training Provider Regulation, Section 2


English as a Second Language (ESL) training programs approved by the Government of Alberta (further referred to as ESL programs), are part of Work Foundations Programs under Alberta Works. 

ESL programs are designed to improve English language skills of unemployed or marginally employed adult Albertans. By improving their English language skills, Albertans will enhance their employment prospects and opportunities. By gaining required English language skills, immigrants to Alberta will integrate faster into their communities and be able to obtain adequate employment.


Eligibility for ESL Program

Individuals may be eligible for an ESL program if they: 

  • have insufficient English language skills to obtain sustainable employment or to pursue employment related training, AND 
  • are adult immigrants or other individuals whose first language is other than English, AND 
  • require Canadian work experience and/or related training, AND/OR
  • require employability and/or essential skills training.

There are two categories of individuals who may be eligible for ESL programs: 

  1. Eligibility of LINC program transferees

    Individuals who are eligible for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program may access ESL programs if they meet all general eligibility criteria specified above AND:

    • if they live in Calgary or Edmonton and have completed the LINC program and achieved a minimum Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) score of 5 in all four competency areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing, AND are employable, labour market destined and able to attend and complete an ESL program, OR
    • if they live in other communities in Alberta and have completed the highest LINC class offered in their community and achieved CLB scores in all competency areas at the level corresponding to that LINC class, AND are employable, labour market destined and able to attend and complete an ESL program.

    The following table is an example of interpretation of the above eligibility criteria.

    LINC Level LINC Equivalency to CLB Competencies ESL Policy Requirements in CLB Competencies




    Listening Speaking




















    Proof of Language Proficiency

    To enter any ESL program individuals have to provide proof of their English language proficiency before they enter ESL program. That proof can be one of the following:

    1. LINC Certificate issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada which specifies scores in all CLB competency areas, OR
    2. Language proficiency assessment completed by a Language Assessment Centre, which also specifies scores in each CLB competency areas, OR
    3. Language assessment performed by the educational institution providing the ESL program in which the individual is enrolled; the assessment must specify scores in CLB equivalency.

    In specific circumstances, a Learner Specialist has the authority to make an exception to the above eligibility criteria for admission of LINC eligible individuals into ESL program. The exception can be made if there is a compelling reason why LINC is no longer the most appropriate program for that person.

  2. Eligibility of other individuals

    Individuals who are not eligible for the LINC program (in most cases Canadian citizens such as Francophone or Aboriginal peoples), but need access to language training programs, may be eligible for ESL programs if they meet all general eligibility criteria specified under section 1 of this Policy.

ESL Programs General Rules

Program Delivery / Type

ESL programs are delivered as full-time or part-time through:

  • classroom,
  • synchronous e-learning, and/or
  • other type of distance learning

Participants in full-time ESL programs in a classroom setting or using a synchronous e-learning method may be eligible for training benefits and income support, while those using distance learning may be eligible only for training benefits.

Participants in part-time ESL programs may be eligible for a Skills Investment Bursary.

Duration / Enrollment & Eligibility for Assistance

ESL may be provided on both a full-time and part-time basis. A full-time learner must be enrolled in not less than 20 hours a week. 

The length of eligibility for participants in full-time ESL programs is specified in the Duration policy.

The eligibility for Sponsored Immigrants is specified in Partial Financial Eligibility.

Content / Components

ESL programs may include several different components such as: all or some of the four language competency areas (listening, speaking, reading, and writing); grammar; pronunciation; workplace-related skills (workplace culture, intercultural communication, or other), work experience (work placement, mentorship, job shadowing); preparation of language testing exams (TOEFL, IELTS), etc.

If an ESL program includes work experience or language test preparation components, the following additional requirements apply to participants in that program:

Work Experience

The need for work experience must be clearly identified in the participant’s Service Plan. Program instructor, the participant, and the employer must together identify work experience activities and outcomes. 

If work experience is included in ESL program, participants are not paid by the employer; therefore they may continue receiving income support during their work experience placement.

Participants in the work experience placement have to comply with the training provider’s, employer’s and HS attendance policies.

Participating employers must not receive any compensation from training providers for providing work experience opportunities for participants. In addition, training providers must ensure employers’ compliance with OHS Act and other labour-related rules and regulations (Employment Standards’ Code).

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

If an individual intends to enter an academic program at a post-secondary institution they may be eligible for:

  1. Training benefits and income support if they have to prepare for TOEFL exam. Preparation for TOEFL may be a single part-time course or a component in a full-time program. 
  2. The cost of TOEFL Exam may be considered for full-time students while attending the program. The cost may be covered through the Employment Training and Transition Supports benefit. If the cost is approved, the payment is issued directly to the individual who is responsible for payment of the exam fees directly to the test administrator / provider.

Procurement Method

ESL programs are approved through contract-based or tuition-based training program approval process.