Edson Kenzo Takei from the ESL Conversation Group is breaking down language barriers one conversation at a time

One of the biggest struggles when moving to another country is language. It can be really intimidating trying to learn a new language and can cause challenges and miscommunication between people. This language barrier is the driving force behind Edson Kenzo Takei’s motivation for starting the ESL Conversation Group. The ESL Conversation Group is a Canadian youth-led initiative that focuses on giving non-native English speakers from across the world the opportunity to practice English with native speakers of similar age. After three successful trials of their tutoring program, the Group is now currently in their fourth round.


What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?

“As a Japanese-Brazilian, it was difficult for me to fully embrace my Asian heritage growing up. With Brazil being an ethnically diverse country where multiraciality is often assumed, I never fully explored my Japanese side. As I moved to Canada, I finally started my journey of self-discovery,” said Edson.

“I was introduced to people of various backgrounds that were able to embrace and preserve their cultures while in this country, and I realized that it was time for me to do the same. Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity for me to connect with my culture and understand more about my background.”


Why did you start your business?

“As an international student, I struggled to communicate in English when I arrived in Canada as my main communication skills weren’t as strong as my understanding of the language. As I felt I was often misunderstood and struggled to get my point across, I was unable to fully integrate into society. After connecting with people from my community, I noticed that I was not the only one facing this problem and I realized how much easier it would have been to integrate if I had the opportunity to improve English in my home country,” said Edson.

“With this, me and my partner Shivangi (who is an immigrant in Canada) started our venture, ‘ESL Conversation Group.’ We are still in the testing phase of our venture, but our idea is to offer youth (ages 15-19) English Language Learners (ELLs) from across the world the opportunity to practice conversational English with native speakers of similar age through our online tutoring program. Our service not only allows for ELLs to practice their English, but also allows our volunteer tutors to broaden their cultural knowledge and making them better prepared for the workforce.”


What role does your heritage play as an entrepreneur?

“As someone that just started their entrepreneurship journey, I am still trying to fully understand the role my heritage plays as an entrepreneur. However, I am confident to say that coming from a diverse background has helped me build connections that are necessary for our business idea. I am still in my journey of self-discovery to see where I fit in this world, and being Japanese-Brazilian has helped me to connect with multiple cultures while gaining a better understanding of the world that surrounds us. I always try to apply the knowledge I gain from past experiences to new endeavors, and as someone that is working on building connections between people across nations through our venture, I believe my international background will be of great value in the future.”


This piece is part of Startup Canada’s wider campaign to celebrate and honour Asian Heritage Month. Find more entrepreneur stories such as Edson’s in our full list of Asian entrepreneurs who are shaking up Canada.