• By: Eric Murphy

Interlangues Celebrates 40 Years in Ottawa

Surrounded by the Canadian Museum of History’s inspiring collection, Interlangues language school will be recognizing its own history on Friday, September 16. This year marks the school’s 40th year in business.

Today, Interlangues employs thousands of teachers to educate students all over the world. In 1974, two years before founder Christiane Millet-Alexis began the school, she left France with little to her name. Bringing only her daughter, two suitcases and $100, she arrived in Canada.

Millet-Alexis’ daughter, Barbara Anquetil, remembers the drive that pushed her mother in the company’s early years.

“The job was my mom’s everything,” she says. “She has more energy and a better work ethic than truly anybody I’ve ever worked with.”

Anquetil stared helping her mother when she was only four by lending her voice to recorded French lessons. A few years ago she went back to lead Interlangues ESL school in Ottawa, and she’s still impressed by what her mother has managed to create and the obstacles she overcame.

“For a woman in the 1970s to get a bank loan, that’s kind of unheard of,” Anquetil says. “So my mom was definitely a trailblazer in that sense.

Since those early years, Interlangues has taught over 20,000 students in 72 different languages. Huge names like astronaut Roberta Bondar and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have attended their programs.

September’s big event is centred around the year the school was founded, and its official hashtag is #Ottawa1976. Aside from the prestigious venue, Juno Award-winning rapper Kardinal Offishall will be the evening’s DJ. Guests can expect plenty of interesting cocktails, dishes from around the world and some very funky dancing. The dress code is “gala glam, national dress, and eccentric evening wear,” so you know it’s going to be an interesting night. Tickets are invite only.

Due to Interlangues’ success, the school is now the sole language training provider used by the City of Ottawa, the Department of External Affairs & International Trade and The Department of National Defense.

Interlangue has also become an important centre for Canadian newcomers to learn English. School staff have been advertising and spreading the word around the world to bring more students into Ottawa.

“When people come and study in Canada they want to come to either Vancouver or Montreal,” Anquetil says. “So we try to get Ottawa a little more on the map.”

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Millet-Alexis has also been recognized with a number of awards and positions in the community, both for her achievements in business and in human rights. She’s been honoured with a United Way Ottawa Community Builder Award. She is a board member of the Black Canadian Scholarship Fund, a partner of the Canadian Organization for Development through Education, a member of the "Rendez-Vous de Gens d’Affairs" jury, a member of Languages Canada, a member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a supporter of various NGOs, including Canada Without Poverty and S.O.S. Children's Villages.

Looking away from the school and local success, perhaps the most impressive thing about Millet-Alexis journey is that she started it all in a strange country with just a few suitcases, $100 and some ambition.