Coronavirus is changing the way some language schools do business in Canada

Efforts to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in China are changing the way language schools do business in Canada, as they scramble to offer incentives to find new teachers and find new ways to meet growing demand from people stuck at home overseas during the quarantine. 

Companies that offer English as a second language are scrambling to meet a surge in online demand

The London Language Institute has been working on an e-learning application for its classrooms, which the school is now scrambling to modify to meet the growing demand for online ESL classes created by the lockdown in China. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Efforts to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in China are changing the way language schools do business in Canada, as they scramble to find new teachers and keep up with growing demand from people stuck in quarantine. 

Chinese authorities have embarked upon a lockdown of unprecedented scale, imposing travel restrictions and closing schools and some businesses in an effort to contain the spread of the illness. The cordon has affected roughly 50 million people, turning bustling cities into virtual ghost towns because so many people are stranded at home.

That means many Chinese students who would normally be learning English as a second language (ESL) in a classroom in Canada are unable to travel, putting pressure on language schools to find another way to deliver their services. 

"We're now actually scrambling in the last week to make adjustments," said Justin Wismer, a director at the London Language Institute (LLI), based in London, Ont. 

'I think it's a big shakeup'

2 years ago
Duration 1:08
Justin Wismer of the London Language Institute explains the ripple effect the coronavirus is having on foreign language schools. 1:08

The school recently launched an in-class software application designed to offer interactive lessons and evaluations to students. Wismer said LLI is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a version that can also offer those same lessons over the internet to the students stuck at home in China because of the quarantine. 

Wismer said since the quarantine began, most language schools that offer services to Chinese students are also scrambling to find more qualified teachers to meet the sudden surge in demand for online ESL courses. 

"Coronavirus obviously is a terrible thing, but there's more demand and with demand, obviously the supply of teachers didn't increase in the last three weeks."

Because of that, schools are also offering Canadian-based instructors higher pay and performance bonuses. A teacher who is normally paid between $30 and $40 per hour can expect to see up a 30 per cent increase, along with double the performance bonus in some cases, he said. 

Students work on their English skills at the London Language Institute using the school's new interactive e-learning application. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"There's obviously going to be increases in pay or some sort of rewards or implements during this extra demand that's put on the system," Wismer said. 

It's not just Canadian schools that are paying more, Chinese schools are too. Bailey Soulliere, who works as an ESL instructor for China-based online learning company Qkids, said the company has started offering more hours at better pay for instructors willing to teach all the students stuck at home thanks to the lockdown.

"You could work 13 to 14 hours a day if you wanted to," the 23-year-old said. "It really is flexible and you can teach from wherever you are and I do a lot of travelling." 

The company pays teachers according to how many classes they teach. Each lesson has four students who learn for half an hour. Since the quarantine, QKids has raised teachers' pay from $8 a class to $12 per class, which works out to a pay raise of $8 an hour. 

Soulliere said the company also gives teachers bonuses for taking on more classes and a $200 bonus if they can sign up other people to teach ESL online. 

"They don't have a physical office in Canada," she said. "They rely on teachers to communicate through word of mouth and sign on other teachers." 


Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email:


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