INTRODUCTION

Canada is a nation whose identity is comprised of the mosaic of languages and cultures it embodies. It is a nation that stands as a role model for multiculturalism and which views difference as strength rather than a weakness. Most importantly, Canada is a nation that welcomes people from all walks of life regardless of their race, religion or creed. Throughout my career I have worked tirelessly to ensure that these ideals and values are upheld and that Canada continues to be recognized by the international community for its uniqueness as a peaceful and multicultural country.

After working closely with the Canadian Languages Association, it has become quite clear to me that English, French, Aboriginal languages and International Heritage languages are key and equal members of Canada’s multilingual mosaic, which is inseparable from our concept of multiculturalism. In an effort to foster linguistic plurality by recognizing that language education reinforces the Canadian identity and strengthens us as a society that values intercultural living, I alongside with the Canadian Language Association and it’s affiliates have worked to together to develop a National Language Strategy. This proposed Canadian Languages Strategy would set out the Federal Government’s commitment to increasing Canada’s languages capability, and a vision of languages as both a life skill and an engine of economic growth“ to be used in business and for personal growth, to open up avenues of communication and career enhancement, and to promote, encourage and instill a broader cultural understanding amongst Canadians.

THE VISION

According to the 2006 Canadian Census, more and more Canada is becoming a multilingual society for more than five million Canadians have a mother tongue other than English or French. Having multilingual vision for Canada means respecting the valuable voices that populate this country, the very voices that have worked together to build this great nation and have given life into the mosaic that we are so proud of.

There are indeed various social and cultural benefits perpetuated by multilingualism, however, there are also numerous economic benefits as linguistic plurality produces new ideas and knowledge that helps generate innovation, grows and attracts high-technology industries and spurs economic growth and prosperity.

For example, a 2003 Financial Post Poll, According to business leaders, there are a number of benefits to having a second language. Specifically, more than half (55%) of respondents say people who speak more than one language are more likely to find employment.

In addition the Canadian business community has identified its potential markets of growth in the new millennium to be in countries outside of North America. Unfortunately Canada currently lacks the competitive edge it requires to flourish in these foreign markets. A large part of this is due the scare number of multilingual graduates our country produces each year.

For example, the President of the Canadian Council for the Americas reports that the reason so many companies fail to secure and maintain their position in the international market is due to their failure to recruit people who have sufficient language skills. Therefore, in order to achieve our economic goals, we must continue to invest in the lives of Canadians.

NATIONAL LANGUAGE STRATEGY

The Strategy’s objectives include the following:

1.To promote and improve the teaching and learning of languages by encouraging provinces to draw upon experience of other educational systems around the world where multilingual education is provided in a core schooling system.

2.To increase the number of people studying languages through the development and implementation of a strong and coherent national public education and awareness campaign creating a partnership between education, business, government.

3.To work with the provinces to provide effective and equitable funding for language programming at the school board and community levels. This could include: increasing the number and types of languages offered at primary and secondary schools; supporting after school programs; encouraging school boards to designate key schools as “language learning centres;” and, explore bilingual programs where feasible.

4.To raise an awareness of the importance of multilingualism to all Canadians for individual and collective well-being.

1) CURRENT CANADIAN CONTEXT

Various provinces support the teaching of heritage/international languages but there has not been a uniform effort to articulate a coherent policy framework for the promotion of languages other than or in addition to English and French.

Although Ontario has been fortunate to have mandated programs in International Languages for over thirty years which has been a key resource for many Canadians, recognition of this program and of its benefits are yet to be realized by the greater society and the true potential for these programs remain untapped and unexamined.

Saskatchewan Education, Training and Employment’s commitment to in-school and out-of-school heritage language programming is stated in the following:

Vision Statement

An educational system which values the cultural diversity of its students and makes heritage language learning accessible enhances multiculturalism in Saskatchewan and in Canada.

This educational system makes students aware of the personal and social value of heritage languages. It emphasizes to all students, educators and parents that Saskatchewan is strengthened culturally and economically by the linguistic diversity of its population.

Across Canada

For the most part, children of recent immigrants whose home languages are neither English nor French have not received, except in relatively small numbers and for short periods, mother tongue language support through the school system.

Various academic research indicates: The heritage languages model of voluntary additional instruction for short periods of the school day does provide demonstrated benefits in assisting adjustment to schooling but falls far short of what would be required to maintain immigrant languages and cultures beyond the second or third generations.

With respect to Aboriginal languages in Canada: According to the Assembly of First Nations, the current situation for Aboriginal languages is critical.

Overall, the lack of a coherent federal Canadian Languages Strategy means we are neglecting important national resources and built-in economic advantages in a time of increasing globalization.

Canadian Languages Association has a number of affiliates spread out across the country:

British Columbia:

The Society for the Advancement of International Languages (SAIL) is a provincial nonprofit organization that actively promotes cross-cultural understanding through heritage/international language instruction and education.

Edmonton, Alberta:

The International and Heritage Languages Association‘s primary objectives include: supporting and promoting heritage language education; assisting in the development of heritage language curriculum, teaching resources and materials; and, supporting heritage language teacher training and skill development. IHLA’s supports the view that international language education increases the level and respect and appreciation for multiculturalism and the diversity of Canada’s peoples.

Calgary, Alberta:

The Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association (SAHLA) is a non-profit umbrella organization whose mission is to lead, advocate and provide resources for the promotion of international/heritage languages (IL/HL) and cultural education. SAHLA represents over 30 community-based language schools teaching 36 languages to over 6,000 students, both children and adults. SAHLA is governed by an elected board of directors and operates through the dedication of volunteers and staff. Together with our sister organization NAHLA, SAHLA represents over 80 language schools and 12,000 language students across Alberta.

Saskatchewan:

Diversity of languages is what the Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages is all about. We are a provincial non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the study and teaching of heritage languages. That means we concentrate on languages other than Canada’s official languages of English and French. SOHL operates as an umbrella organization for groups, schools and individuals across the province.

Within the context of a multilingual, multicultural Canadian society free of prejudice, the Multilingual Association of Regina Inc. (MLAR) shall advance education in international/heritage languages (other than official languages of Canada) by providing materials and services (such as training workshops, teaching aids and course materials) to non-profit member Heritage Language Schools in Regina and surrounding areas.

Manitoba:

Learning an Additional Language in the Seven Oaks School Division When making educational choices for their children, more and more parents are recognizing that knowing an additional language is an important skill in today’s ever-shrinking world“ and will be even more important in their children’s future. Consider the many advantages! Students in the Seven Oaks School Division have the opportunity to study in more than a dozen different languages. During the regular school day parents may choose to have their children receive instruction in one of three languages in addition to English. These programs are offered at several schools within the school division. Students are strongly encouraged to enter the program at the Kindergarten or the Grade 1 level.

Ontario:

The International Languages Educators’ Association of Ontario (ILEA) provides a forum for the exchange of information, resources, best practices and relevant news pertaining to International Languages education and other related topics. ILEA members include: Language educators and supporters; School Boards Faculties of Education; Organizations supportive of ILEA’s mission; Embassies and/or Consulates. ILEA members believe in the importance of a multilingual society and promote the benefits of the learning and teaching of International Languages for all ages in schools across Ontario, Canada.

Language classes are a growing trend in the capital. In Ottawa more than 60 language courses are offered by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board. These programs are offered to all Ontario residents regardless of their language background. Every year, more than 10,000 students participate in courses provided by these two school boards.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board offers International Languages (Elementary and Secondary) through Continuing Education. The IL Program is mandated under the Ministry of Education. Communities work in partnership with the school board in order to provide high quality instruction in non-official languages

Related Links
Senate Chamber Inquiry – Wednesday, March 23, 2011
National Language Strategy

Senate Chamber Statement“ Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Language Education

House Of Commons of Canada – Bill C-232 – FIRST READING, NOVEMBER 26, 2008
An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages)

Bill C-232 PDF File

 

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