In this paper, I focus on the affective atmosphere of the Adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. I argue that a humanistic learning approach can be a form of strategic resistance against the bureaucratization and standardization of publicly funded ESL programs for adult newcomers in Canada. Given the growing, top-down trend in our economically driven and technologically dependent society, there is a need to humanize the Canadian ESL classroom as a space for empathy and critical thinking. Through a literature review and semi-structured, in-depth interviews with former ESL learners and former ESL teachers, this paper reveals the psychological and political complexities of second language learning and cultural identity, as well as the pivotal role that an ESL teacher can play during the first few years of settlement. In this context, I also critique the racialized linguistic hierarchy embedded in Canada’s multiculturalism policy and exclusionary immigration and language policies.