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new Canadian Maria Smeriglio

by Maria Smeriglio | November 29, 2000

In 1973, I arrived in Toronto with a suitcase full of dreams, but no English skills. I was quite fluent in French – then, not now – but I had never studied English. I was 19 years old and already married. My husband and I had no family in Canada at that time. Today, however, we have two great adult sons – Frank and Pat.

In 1983, when my children began to attend school full-time, I decided to take some ESL (English as a Second Language), typing and accounting courses. Perhaps I would be able to land a part-time job in an office. Without realizing it, I began a journey that has taken me from Adult Day School to York University, to Italy on a scholarship, to a university degree and teaching qualifications. On this journey, I made two startling discoveries: first of all, I could learn English; secondly, learning has no limits! I still continue to take additional qualification courses to meet both the needs of our changing society and our educational system.

Learning another language involves more than just learning words. It is a great opportunity to grow as a person both intellectually and culturally. AND, there’s no better place for continued learning and growth than working as a teacher-librarian. Presently, I am the head librarian at Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate Institute (Toronto District School Board).

I must be honest and admit that, at times, things were very difficult. A York University requirement was to take a bridging course and pass it with a B+ average before I could begin my credit programme. However, when my commitment and confidence were reinforced by success, I felt at east studying with younger students. In addition, balancing family life with university studies required excellent organizational skills and a strong love for learning. I took care of my family during the day, studied at night and learned alongside my children.

Because I immigrated as an adult, I speak fluent English with an Italian accent – sexy, yes, but an accent nonetheless! This accent, however, has made it necessary for me to continuously prove my capabilities. Even in today’s beautiful multicultural society, filled with the echo of dozens of different languages and accents, there are members of this society who “look down” on those of us who dare to utter English with an accent. In my mind and in my heart, I speak English without a trace of accent – clearly and eloquently – just as I speak Italian without a Canadian accent. In fact, my accent was acquired when I moved to Canada!

It can be argued that all of us speak with some form of accent. However, an accent should not impede our ability to communicate with one another. Well-spoken words, followed by competent actions, are understood by everyone. There is no connection between an accent and our desire to succeed and make a meaningful contribution to society.

Canada is truly a land of opportunity where our desire to succeed should be our only driving force!

resources for this story
  • The Feminist Institute for Studies on Law and Society of Simon Fraser University (Vancouver,B.C., Canada) has an online list of resources that can be accessed by clicking on Women Immigrants.

This feature was first published on’s predecessor site CoolWomen.


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