ARCHIVED - 3. How is Canada Doing?

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The survey results, as well as information from the focus groups and interviews, lead to the conclusion that, while many universities in Canada offer a range of second-language learning programs and courses, there are important gaps and unmet needs.

Where Canada is not doing enough

  • Opportunities for intensive second-language study are limited.
  • Students face challenges if they want to study in their second language, and lack opportunities to take courses in different academic disciplines taught in the second language.
  • Immersion opportunities at the university level are very limited.
  • Few institutions offer students second-language courses that are tailored to their chosen field of study.
  • Exchange opportunities within Canada are limited.
  • University second-language policies or requirements are generally weak or non-existent

3.1 Access to regular second-language learning opportunities at university is generally good

Overall, Canadian students have good access to what may be termed regular second-language learning programs and courses in universities across the country. In this context, "regular" means programs and courses that are designed to teach the second language, including linguistics, literature and cultural studies relating to that language.

The great majority of universities in Canada—three-quarters of institutions, in fact—offer these types of second-language learning programs and courses.

  • Almost 74% of universities offer French second-language (FSL) programs and courses (62 of 84 institutions).
  • FSL programs and courses are offered at these institutions at the beginner (94%), intermediate (89%) and advanced (85%) levels.
  • Thirteen of 17 universities in Quebec offer English second-language (ESL) programs and courses. Nearly all universities that do so (12 institutions) report offering ESL at the beginner, intermediate and advanced or intensive levels.

Most universities offer courses at all levels, from beginner to advanced; many offer a degree in linguistics or literature or both, and graduate programs as well.

Universities also offer students a wide variety of learning supports, such as language labs and language centres, personal or group tutoring, assistance with writing and access to online and other pedagogical tools.

Social and cultural activities include clubs, films and television, cultural evenings and discussion groups.

3.2 Access to intensive second-language learning opportunities is limited

Access to what may be called intensive second-language learning opportunities is much more limited for Canadian university students.

In the context of this report, intensive second-language opportunities are defined as follows:

  • opportunities for students to study in their second language, that is, to have some or all of their subjects taught in the second language;
  • opportunities to enrol in immersion programs at the university level; or
  • opportunities to take second-language courses that are linked or tailored to specific academic disciplines, that is, that teach the second language by using the content and vocabulary of that discipline.

Each of these opportunities is discussed in the following sections.

3.2.1 Students who want to study in their second language at university face special challenges or have limited opportunities to do so

Studying academic subjects in their second language can be a very effective way for students to develop their skills in that language.

Students at university in Canada who wish to take some or all of their courses in their second language have different options:

  • They can enrol at an other-language institution.
  • They can study at a bilingual institution.
  • They can take courses taught in their second language at an institution where the usual language of instruction is the student’s first official language.

Whatever option they choose to study in their second language, students face special challenges, and have limited opportunities to do so.

Studying at an other-language institution

Students who already have a high level of ability in their second language and who wish to further develop their second-language skills can attend an other-language institution, that is, an institution where the language of instruction and study is the student’s second language.

English-speaking students can enrol at one of the 14 French-language institutions in Quebec or at one of the four French-language institutions outside Quebec.2 French-speaking university students can enrol at one of the three English-language institutions in Quebec3 or at an English-language institution elsewhere in Canada.

Data is not available on the extent to which students are availing themselves of these opportunities, which would offer them a more-or-less complete immersion experience in their second language. However, the number doing so at this time appears to be quite small.

Officials at some French-language institutions outside Quebec do report that a significant portion of their enrolment is now coming from English-language students; for example, almost 70% at Campus Saint-Jean and just under 30% at the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface.

Studying at a bilingual institution

Students can also study in their second language at one of Canada’s six bilingual institutions.4

Data is not available on how many students at these institutions are taking at least some courses in their second language. According to university officials interviewed for this study, the number of students doing so is believed to be small, however.

The University of Ottawa

  • The University of Ottawa is by far the largest bilingual institution in Canada.
  • Almost all courses are available at the university in both English and French, in most disciplines.
  • The available data on language use indicates that there are some 25,000 students studying in English at the university and approximately 11,000 studying in French.
  • The number of English-speaking students taking courses in French, however, is believed to be quite small, less than 5%.

Studying in the second language at an own-language institution

Students who want to take at least some courses taught in their second language at an own-language institution—that is, English-speaking students wishing to take courses taught in French at an English-language institution or French-speaking students wishing to take courses taught in English at a French-language institution—have very few opportunities to do so.


The French Cohort Program at Simon Fraser University

  • The Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs was established at Simon Fraser University in 2004, with a mandate to develop and coordinate opportunities for study in French at the University.
  • The French Cohort Program or Program in Public Administration and Community Services is a four-year, multidisciplinary program taught mostly in French, leading to a major in Political Science and an extended minor in French (or vice versa).
  • The program features small class sizes, linguistic supports outside class, a French-language resource centre and a variety of socio-cultural activities.
  • In the third year, students are obligated to participate in an exchange program to study in French in Quebec, France or Belgium.

Only a few English-language institutions in Canada report offering any courses taught in French.

The majority of those institutions offer only a small number of courses in French, and these tend to be in a narrow range of academic disciplines: most are in Education or in subjects related directly to language study; examples of other areas include Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Only a few institutions, in fact, reported courses taught in French in more than one or two academic disciplines.

  • Of the 60 English-language institutions in Canada, only 16 (26%) report offering any courses taught in French.5
  • Most of these (nine institutions) offer such courses only in one or two academic areas, e.g.,
    • Bishop’s University (Business, Fine Arts)
    • Queen’s University (Canadian Studies)
    • University of Alberta (Cultural Studies)
    • University of Lethbridge (Education)
  • Only seven English-language institutions report offering courses taught in French in more than two departments.

Similarly, only a relatively small number of subject-matter courses are taught in English at Quebec’s French-language institutions. Only half of those institutions (seven institutions) offer such courses, and they tend to be offered in a fairly narrow range of departments, including Business, Accounting, Science and Engineering.

3.2.2 Access to immersion programs at the university level is very limited

Immersion programs offer students a structured program that involves them taking all or a significant proportion of their courses in the second language, while benefiting from special second-language learning supports and assistance.

French-language Immersion at the University of Ottawa

  • Students take one-third of their courses in French, choosing courses from more than 50 academic programs.
  • Immersion students attend classes with Francophone students, accompanied by a language teacher.
  • Small-size, 90-minute language-support classes are offered, adapted to course content.
  • Graduates receive a "French-immersion" designation on their diploma and a Second Language Certificate.
  • Students can combine immersion with an international exchange or co-operative education.

Glendon Campus— A bilingual liberal arts campus

Immersion programs are, however, much less available in universities in Canada than they are at the elementary and secondary levels.

Only a few institutions that participated in the survey reported offering immersion programs. The available data does not provide information on the depth or extent of those programs, for example, on how many courses are offered in the immersion program, or how many students are enrolled.


Immersion is very limited at the university level in Canada

  • French immersion programs are offered at only 17 of 84 institutions (20%): 10 English-language institutions, including one in Quebec; two bilingual institutions; and five French-language institutions, including three in Quebec.
  • The regional distribution of French immersion opportunities is uneven, and in most provinces French immersion is offered at only one or two institutions.
  • Only Bishop’s University reports offering English immersion in Quebec.
3.2.3 Second-language courses linked to specific academic subjects are not widely available

A number of universities have begun to offer second-language courses linked to a specific academic discipline.

In such courses, the second language is taught using vocabulary and content related to a specific academic discipline, for example, Business French, French and Law, or Anglais d’affaires.

  • 32 of 84 institutions (38%) report offering French second-language courses linked to an academic subject
  • 9 Quebec institutions offer English second-language courses linked to an academic subject

For students, this can be an interesting and effective way to develop their second-language skills.

However, the number of institutions offering this kind of second-language course remains relatively small. The number of courses that are offered is limited and such courses are currently available only in a narrow range of disciplines.

The Certificate Program in Business French at the University of Western Ontario

    " A unique and attractive program that offers you the opportunity to achieve a high level of proficiency in written and spoken French. It ensures that you will be recognized as functionally bilingual and can use French effectively in the workplace and in business-oriented situations. It can help prepare you for many types of employment [...].

    French is the first language of about a quarter of Canada’s population and of 90 million people worldwide. Proficiency in French is a valuable asset in today’s international job market."

    University brochure

  • Students take six full-credit courses on a full- or part-time basis: three compulsory core-language courses, one compulsory course in Business French, and two optional courses.
  • Course choices include Professional Communication in French, Intensive Business French, and Business French Writing (on-line).
3.2.4 Few institutions offer exchange opportunities within Canada

Many Canadian universities reported that they offer or facilitate exchange-type opportunities for students to improve their second-language skills.

Exchanges can be for a short (a few days or a week) or long (a semester or a year) duration, and can take the form of study exchanges or visits, cultural exchanges or visits, or work opportunities.

It appears, however, that most of the exchange opportunities are in fact offered at institutions in other countries, and that exchange opportunities at institutions in Canada are rather limited.

  • Almost 70% of institutions report offering French second-language exchange-type activities. 
  • Most of these exchanges are with France or other French-speaking countries.
  • Relatively few exchanges are with French-language institutions in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada.
  • In Quebec, only five institutions report offering English second-language exchange-type activities.

Moreover, few exchange opportunities are actually built into a program or course of study as an integral part of it, although some institutions have done so.

The Frecker Program at Memorial University

  • This one-semester (three-month) immersion program, offered in both the fall and winter terms, provides students with the opportunity to travel to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
  • Students take a full university program of five courses (15 credit hours) in French and live with a French family.
  • Other activities include theatre and musical workshops, cultural activities at the community centre, different excursions and athletic and recreational activities.
  • Students’ language skills are tested before and after participation in the program.
  • Students receive bursaries funded by the federal and provincial governments.
3.2.5 Second-language policies and requirements are weak or non-existent

Most universities do not have a formal policy that recognizes and promotes the value and importance of second-language learning, or any requirements regarding it.

Most policies or requirements cited are for prerequisites for a French second-language or English second-language program. Some institutions require students to complete a limited number of French second-language or English second-language courses in order to successfully complete their program.

Second-language requirements that do exist tend to be minimal (a few courses) and apply to a small number of academic disciplines. They often refer only to "a language other than English [other than French in Quebec]."

  • Two-thirds of institutions (65%, 55 institutions) have no formal policy on second-language learning. Twenty-five per cent report that they have a policy.
  • Examples of second-language requirements include the following:
    • At the University of Regina, the Faculty of Arts requires that all students take six credit hours in a language other than English.
    • At Dalhousie University, all Bachelor of Arts’ students must complete a full language credit (six hours).
    • At the University of British Columbia, in order to be admitted, high school students must have completed a Grade 12 course in a language other than English. To graduate, students must complete French 112 (Beginner’s French IV) or a second-year course in a language other than English.
    • At the Université du Québec à Montréal, all bachelor programs in administration of the École des sciences de la gestion require that students pass an intermediate-level English test.
    • At the University of Lethbridge, the French/Modern Languages Education program requires that students spend a semester studying at a French-language institution.


2 Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta, Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, université de Sainte-Anne and Université de Moncton

3 McGill University, Concordia University and Bishop’s University

4 Dominican College of Philosophy and Theology / Collège dominicain de philosophie et de théologie, Laurentian University / Université Laurentienne, Royal Military College of Canada / Collège militaire royal du Canada, University of Ottawa / Université d’Ottawa, University of Sudbury / Université de Sudbury, Glendon Campus (York University) / Campus Glendon (Université York).

5 Some English-language institutions have campuses that offer courses in French, but are treated separately for the purposes of this study (such as Glendon Campus or the Campus Saint-Jean).

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