ARCHIVED - Ottawa, October 29, 2009

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Canadian youth need more second-language opportunities at university, says Graham Fraser

One of our country’s biggest assets, its two official languages, must be seen as a key element at all levels of our education system, including the post-secondary level, said Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser today after the release of a new study. The study recommends that the federal government offer financial support so that university students have more opportunities to perfect their knowledge of English and French.

“What we found through this study is that some universities offer second-language courses to students, but that there is a definite lack of more intensive second-language learning opportunities. Joint action by governments and universities is needed in order to change that,” said the Commissioner. “The opportunity to learn and perfect second-language skills must go beyond the elementary and high school levels.”

The study is entitled Two Languages, A World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada’s Universities. It includes a survey of 84 universities and identifies important gaps that keep students from developing their second-language skills as they pursue higher education and prepare to enter the workforce. In addition to the study, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has launched an on-line interactive map to assist students in finding universities that offer intensive second-language learning programs and opportunities. The map is available on the Office of the Commissioner’s Web site.

Currently, immersion-style second-language programs in Canadian universities are quite limited. For example, very few universities offer subject-matter courses taught in the second language or second-language courses tailored to different disciplines, such as engineering, business or nursing. In addition, collaboration between English- and French-language universities on initiatives such as exchange programs is limited, and university policies and requirements with regard to knowledge of both official languages are minimal or non-existent.

“The federal government and Canada’s universities have a responsibility to prepare our youth to have the skills for a knowledge-based society and to compete in an increasingly global job market,” said the Commissioner. “Language skills are an asset in the public and private sectors.”

“Canada must show leadership in this area,” stated Fraser. “I am encouraged to see that the federal government and the provinces and territories, through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, have added second-language learning and courses taught in the second language as performance targets in the recently signed Protocol for Agreements for Minority-Language Education and Second-Language Instruction. But for this and similar initiatives to succeed, there must be broad-based mobilization as well as the necessary funding. This would make the post-secondary level the stepping stone—not the missing link—on the road to bilingualism for young Canadians.”

“I therefore call on the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages to convene universities, educational organizations, language experts and governments to discuss how to improve second-language learning opportunities in universities and determine the investment that needs to be made so that Canadian youth can take full advantage of our country’s linguistic duality,” Fraser concluded.

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The study and the interactive map can be viewed on this site. For more information or to schedule an interview with the Commissioner, please contact:

Robin Cantin
Manager, Media Relations
Telephone: 613-995-0374
Cell: 613-324-0999
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368