ARCHIVED - 4. Is There a Demand . . . and Real Need?

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The study findings suggest that there is both present and potential demand for improved second-language learning opportunities.

4.1 Why, according to students, are second-language learning opportunities at university important?

"Learning another language opens so many doors and exposes you to another world . . . It helps in connecting with people . . . It’s a huge benefit."

"It sounds like a cliché but learning another language breaks down barriers. It expands your way of thinking. It gives you access to a whole different way of seeing life."

"Speaking another language gives you a vehicle to understanding another person, another culture, another way of life . . . It’s a kind of bridge, another way to get closer to one another."

"It opens so many opportunities, you’re not bound to one region, one city, one culture . . ."

Student participants

Student participants in the focus groups emphasized a number of reasons why they felt learning their second language was important.

Many cited second-language skills as being a real asset for employment and career opportunities.

Students also referred to the two official languages as a fundamental element of Canadian citizenship and of Canada’s national identity, hence the desirability and importance of more Canadians speaking both languages.

Francophone students in Quebec underlined the importance of English for business and international affairs.

Strikingly, many student participants emphasized personal development and enrichment as their motivation for wanting to learn a second language. They see the need for knowledge of other languages as a given in the modern, increasingly global context—and therefore as an integral part of post-secondary education in today’s world.

4.2 Students have varied second-language learning needs that are not being met

Participants in the focus groups and key-informant interviews made it clear that students have language-learning needs that are multiple and varied, and that are not being fully met.

Many made the point that students now at or arriving at university want to maintain or improve second-language ability obtained at elementary and secondary levels. Not to do so, they feel, would mean losing their own investment of time and effort at the earlier levels and wasting the investment of significant public resources.

Students’ needs vary greatly, according to their second-language knowledge and experience, for example, in immersion or intensive second-language programs or regular programs.

Immersion graduates are looking for opportunities to continue to study in their second language at the university level, at least for some programs and courses.

Other students arriving at university want to acquire the degree of second-language proficiency that they wanted but failed to reach at the earlier levels. Often, they expressed frustration about this and a determination to do so now.

" I can’t believe I took French off-and-on throughout elementary and secondary school, sometimes immersion, most often Core French, and I still can’t speak it properly! All that time and effort . . . How can that be?

And now I’m at university, I really realize how important it is going to be to me in the future. That’s why I’m determined to master French by the time I graduate and start looking for work."

Student participant


Many student focus-group participants expressed a strong desire for more content in second-language learning, both cultural content and content relating to their chosen academic and career field.

Some expressed the desire to take courses in different academic areas that were taught in their second language, as a way of meeting a twin objective: to acquire greater second-language proficiency while learning subject-matter content.

"You get a thrill from being able to study a subject in another language . . . It gives you intellectual stimulation."

"I love the idea of combining learning your second language with study in an academic subject that really interests you . . . It gives you ‘two for one’ . . . A real bonus."

"The best way to learn a second language is to study in it . . . When you study a subject in your second language, you have to do it at a more profound and intimate intellectual level . . . Learning how to say ‘I saw a dog’ in your second language just isn’t enough!"

Student participants

Students all said they were looking for more opportunities to use their second language, more contact and interaction with peers and others of the other language group, and more opportunities to study, live or work in their second-language environment.

4.3 There is both actual and potential demand for more second-language learning opportunities

While it is clear that students have multiple second-language learning objectives and unmet language-learning needs, there is little hard data available on the extent of demand from students for improved second-language learning opportunities, or on the demand by employers for second-language skills.

A few studies do provide some analytical and statistical information on private-sector demand, and on the advantages of language skills and knowledge of the second language.

  • According to a study by the Canadian Council on Learning (Lessons in Learning, October 2008), employment rates in Canada are higher for individuals who speak both English and French (70%) than for persons who speak only English (just over 60%) or only French (slightly less than 60%) according to the 2006 census.
  • The same study found that persons who speak both English and French had a median income almost 10% higher than those who speak only English, and 40% higher than those who speak only French (2001 census).
  • It also reported that a survey of 63 companies across Canada found that 84% of employers considered knowledge of both English and French to be an asset or gave preference to English-French bilinguals.
  • Another recent study (Canadian Parents for French, Survey of Supervisors of Bilingual Employees, 2008) found that, outside of Quebec and the federal public service, 81% of supervisors of bilingual employees considered them "a valuable asset" to the organization.

There is widespread belief among students, university educators and administrators, government officials and other participants in the focus groups and interviews that language skills are a definite career asset. There is a strong sense that this will continue to be increasingly important.

"The private sector increasingly sees language skills as a global competency . . . This doesn’t mean only English and French, but multiple languages . . . It’s part of Canada’s ‘brand,’ part of our competitive advantage . . . For the individual, language skills mean more mobility, more opportunities . . . And the private sector sees language capability as a ‘marker’ not only of specific skills but also of attitude, of capabilities, of willingness and ability to learn . . . This is so important in today’s global, knowledge-based economy . . . "

Private-sector representative

Many persons saw the demand question as a "chicken-and-egg" situation—a wider range of varied opportunities does not currently exist, so universities are not experiencing huge demand.

Many felt that doing more would attract more students and thereby increase a university’s enrolments.

"If universities offered a range of options and choices that were ‘enticing’ to students, if appropriate supports were available, if second-language acquisition was seen as valued and valuable, if information was available and opportunities promoted . . . We would see significant demand."

Language-learning expert

"There is definitely a market out there for this . . . Lots of immersion graduates and others looking for somewhere to go . . . . "

Provincial government official

"Diversify the number and kinds of programs you offer in French and you will see, you will attract more students!"

Student participant

4.4 There are economic and societal arguments for doing more

"In a highly globalized and knowledge-based marketplace, linguistic duality is a key competitive advantage, which can help Canada further its economic success. Having two languages of international scope puts Canada at the forefront of societies with knowledge-based economies. This asset allows Canadian businesses easier access to global markets and partners. The language skills of Canada’s workforce, particularly among youth, are also a major asset for the economy. These skills strengthen Canada’s human capital advantage and allow Canadians to build stronger economic links with international partners."

Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future

Many persons made the point that globalization, the knowledge economy and international competition are placing a premium on new skills, including language skills, in today’s world.

Participants in the focus groups and key-informant interviews frequently expressed the view that Canada was falling behind other countries in recognizing and acting on the importance of language skills.

UNESCO has stated that "intensive and transdisciplinary learning of at least a third modern language […] should represent the normal range of practical linguistic skills in the twenty-first century."

UNESCO, Implementation of a language policy for the world based on multilingualism (2000).

"The European Union (EU) has established that, in the long term, each of its citizens should speak his or her mother tongue and two other languages."

Official Journal of the European Union (July 25, 2006).

Second-language learning is seen as important for Canadian identity and citizenship, and better understanding among Canadians.

Many participants expressed the view that Canada needs more bilingual people in many different fields in order to function effectively as a country. They emphasized that this did not mean that everyone in Canada should be bilingual; rather, it is important that all Canadians have the opportunity to become bilingual if they wish.

"[A] bilingual institution, province, or country can function efficiently only if there are a sufficient number of bilingual people to maintain contact between the two language groups."

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Book One: General Introduction – The Official Languages

"[E]ffective cooperation between the two linguistic groups depends on the willingness of individual Canadians to become bilingual […].

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Book Two: Education

Many noted that the Government of Canada needs to recruit more bilingual candidates and to ensure that the public service reflects the linguistic and regional diversity of Canada.

The federal government is the largest employer in the country, with close to 500,000 employees when the armed forces and government agencies are included.

In the context of public service renewal, given the retirement of many older workers, it is seen as critical for the government to have access to a larger pool of bilingual recruits, many of whom will be coming from Canada’s universities.

"The public service currently has approximately 180,000 employees who are part of the core public administration. In addition, 300,000 people work for ‘a Crown corporation established by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament and any other body that is specified by an Act of Parliament to be an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada or to be subject to the direction of the Governor in Council or a minister of the Crown’ and are therefore subject to the Official Languages Act. By comparison General Motors employed 10,800 people in Canada in 2008.


Since 2000, the federal public service has had to recruit between 12,000 and 15,000 employees per year to replace and plan for the retirement of public servants. In other words, the core public administration has to recruit more employees every year than General Motors’ entire workforce in Canada, and close to half a million people are currently employed by an institution subject to some part of the Official Languages Act."

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

The Public Service and Bilingual Staffing—Some Facts

As of March 31, 2008, for (staffed) indeterminate positions in the federal public service

  • in the National Capital Region, almost 65% of all positions were bilingual.
    • Almost 54% were bilingual imperative (i.e., positions for which the linguistic requirements of the position must be met upon appointment)
    • Almost 11% were bilingual non-imperative (successful candidates may take language training after appointment)
  • nationally, almost 40% of all positions were bilingual.
    • Almost 34% were bilingual imperative
    • Just over 6% were bilingual non-imperative

The number and percentage of appointments that are made to bilingual imperative positions has increased in recent years, and appointments to bilingual non-imperative positions have declined.

  • In 2003–2004, only 496 appointments were to bilingual non-imperative positions, or 3.5% of all appointments.
  • In 2007–2008, those figures were 265 and 1.2% respectively.
  • In 2003–2004, 3404 appointments were to bilingual-imperative positions (23.9%).
  • In 2007–2008, those figures were 5482 and 25.1%, respectively.

Public Service Commission, Appointment Information and Analysis Directorate

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