ARCHIVED - 1. Introduction

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Society faces no greater challenge than that of educating and preparing its young people for the future—for work and career, for social interaction, for cultural and leisure activities, for becoming contributing and productive citizens of their own country and citizens of the world.

For Canada and for Canadians, meeting this challenge has an important linguistic dimension: ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity for a first-class education in their own first official language, that they have the opportunity as well to learn the other official language and that newcomers to Canada have the opportunity to learn the country’s two official languages.

While extensive knowledge has been accumulated about second-language learning at the elementary and secondary levels in Canada, less is known about second-language learning at the university level—the extent of current second-language-learning opportunities, key issues and challenges, and what is effective.

This report presents findings and results from a major study on second-language-learning opportunities in Canada’s universities undertaken in 2008 and 2009 by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL).

The objective of the study was to expand the knowledge base about opportunities for students to develop their second-official-language skills while pursuing higher education and preparing for their working career.

Related objectives were to identify challenges and barriers, potential models and approaches, and ideas on how to improve second-language learning opportunities at the university level.

Interest in this question reflects the new socioeconomic realities of globalization and the skill demands of the knowledge-based economy, including language skills and openness to other cultures.

It also arises in part from the large numbers of graduates of immersion and other second-language programs that are currently studying or preparing to study at the post-secondary level.

As well, for the Government of Canada, there is a compelling need, as part of the renewal of the public service, to have access to a larger pool of bilingual recruits.

OCOL’s interest in this area also reflects the amendments to the Official Languages Act adopted by Parliament in 2005 that strengthen the legislative commitment of the Government of Canada to take positive measures and work with other interested parties to promote Canada’s linguistic duality. This includes second-language learning and greater understanding between Canada’s two official-language communities.

It should also be noted that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages has recently tabled a report entitled 5,000 Bilingual Positions To Be Filled Every Year: The Role of Postsecondary Institutions In Promoting Canada’s Linguistic Duality in which it examines questions relating to second-language learning at Canada’s universities and makes a number of recommendations.1

The scope of this study included French as a second language across Canada, and, in Quebec, English as a second language. This is what is meant by the term second language as it is used in this report.

It is hoped that this study will encourage institutions, governments and other interested parties to work together to improve second-language learning in Canada’s universities.

More than 40 years ago, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism underlined in its report the importance of second-language learning for Canada and for Canadians.

This year, 2009, marks the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. The time has come for Canada to ensure that a true continuum of second-language learning opportunities is available for all Canadians from elementary school through to the labour market, as an important and integral part of meeting the challenge of preparing our young people for the future.

The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Most Canadians believe that a second language should be taught in the schools, and that it should be the second official language of the country [...].

Today, on all continents with the possible exception of North America, the study of a second language is as much taken for granted as the study of geography or mathematics [...].

Today’s child will live in a mobile and highly competitive society. What parent in 1968 can know with any certainty where his child will live in the year 2000, or even what career opportunities his child will have? It is apparent however that the child who learns English or French as a second language will have career opportunities that other children will not have.

Learning a second language is also a valuable educational experience because it brings the child into contact with a different culture. In Canada such contact can provide our children with knowledge and appreciation of the culture of many other Canadians [...]. Language learning can increase the number of bilingual Canadians and so reduce the language barrier in our country. It can play a significant role in increasing the mutual understanding of the two cultural groups [...].

The need for second language teaching cannot be seriously questioned.

The majority of Canadians are aware of this need and feel that all children should study French or English as a second language in school.

The national interest also underlines the need for Canadian school children to study the second official language.

The question therefore is not so much whether it should be taught but how it can be better taught.

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Book Two: Education

 

In 40 years, Canada has made significant progress in terms of individual bilingualism [...].

This said, there are still various obstacles facing some Canadians who would benefit from learning English or French as a second language, or who would like to do so. This situation must be rectified.

In fact, at a time when Canada is facing a major world-wide economic and financial crisis, it is important to stress that economic and language issues, contrary to what some might say, are related. [...]

Consequently, any reversal by the federal government on its commitments to linguistic duality, or any slowdown by the provincial or territorial governments in implementing learning support programs for English or French as a second language may have significant repercussions on the country’s economy. The mistake could in fact be so serious that it would take years to correct.

The attitude of Canadians towards English or French second-language learning has never been so positive [...].

The federal government and its partners should build on this solid support and increase their support in a coherent manner for the implementation of a true official-language-learning continuum across Canada [...].

Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, 2008–2009 Annual Report

Ensuring that this access exists across Canada is an important investment in our country’s future, as it enables young Canadians to acquire skills that will benefit them professionally, personally and culturally. In the current economic climate, language skills are an important factor in terms of professional mobility and competitive edge [...].

After 40 years of language policy, it is high time we eliminate the last roadblocks on this path.

Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages,
Statement to the media for the launch of the 2008–2009 Annual Report

Notes

1. House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, 5,000 Bilingual Positions To Be Filled Every Year: The Role of Postsecondary Institutions In Promoting Canada’s Linguistic Duality, http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3999183&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=2&Language=EGovernment site.



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