ARCHIVED - 7. The Way Forward

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The findings of the study suggest a number of important areas where Canada needs to do better in second-language learning at the university level. The study also has yielded information about what works, what is needed for success, what students want, and what some of the key issues and challenges are.

Where do we go from here? Are there potential models and examples that can be adapted by others? What are the next steps to take? And who should do what?

This section of the report proposes broad directions, outlines different models and approaches that have emerged in the course of the study and summarizes the many suggestions put forward by various parties for future action and next steps.

7.1 Broad directions for the future and priority areas for attention

This study points to several broad directions and areas for attention.

Moving Forward—Broad Directions and Key Areas for Attention

  • Improve opportunities for intensive second-language learning
  • Exploit potential of minority-language institutions
  • Enhance partnerships, collaboration and use of technology
  • Expand exchanges and real-life opportunities to use second language
  • Adopt stronger second-language policies and requirements
  • Expand information, promotion and marketing efforts

First, Canada needs to improve opportunities for intensive second-language learning.

Second, minority-language institutions (as well as bilingual institutions) hold great potential for offering young Canadians such opportunities, and this potential needs to be better exploited.

Third, enhancing partnerships and collaboration, notably with minority-language and bilingual institutions, and the use of technology offer much promise for doing more in a better way.

Fourth, expanding exchanges and real-life opportunities for students to use their second language should be a priority.

Fifth, adopting stronger second-language policies and requirements should be considered as part of an overall strategy to improve second-language learning at university.

And lastly, more needs to be done to better inform students about the advantages of second-language skills and about the opportunities to develop them further at university.

7.2 Potential models and approaches

In the course of the focus groups and key-informant interviews, a number of potential models or approaches for second-language learning at university emerged.

Participants felt that a variety of models and approaches to enhancing second-language learning opportunities were needed. No one model or approach can be applied to all circumstances. Each university works within a unique context:

  • The situation of an institution—its size, mission, resources, location
  • Whether the university is situated in a majority- or minority-language context
  • Its proximity to other-language institutions and communities

As well, the students’ objectives, needs and levels of ability play an important part in the equation.

Participants noted that there were already a number of models that could be adapted or tailored to particular situations and contexts.

Potential Models and Approaches

  • The other-language institution model
  • The bilingual institution model
  • The buffet model
  • The centre model
  • The partnership model
  • The targeting model
  • The tailoring model

Each of these is discussed in this section.

It should be noted that these models are not necessarily complete models, in a fully developed sense.

Some are more concepts or approaches; and while some describe a management style or approach, others describe an approach to program delivery.

It should also be noted that the different models identified are not mutually exclusive; institutions looking to enhance second-language learning opportunities could choose to incorporate elements of different approaches to either management or program delivery.

7.2.1 The other-language institution model

In this model, students attend institutions where the language of instruction is the other official language, that is, English-language students study in French at French-language universities in Quebec or in other provinces, and Quebec French-language students study in English at English-language institutions in other provinces or in Quebec.

The very important advantage of this model is that it offers students almost total immersion in the academic, community, social and cultural milieu of the other language.

An important issue with respect to this model is the willingness and ability of students to study at an institution where the language of instruction is their second language. As noted earlier, relatively few students seem to be currently doing so. A number of considerations can be presumed to explain this:

  • Not all students want to take all their courses in their second language.
  • Many have concerns about being able to succeed in their second language at the post-secondary level or to compete with students for whom it is their first language.
  • There are additional costs when studying out-of-province or away from home.
  • Students may want to study at a particular institution or at an institution recognized for its excellence in a chosen field of study.
  • There is sometimes limited availability and choice of programs and courses at some institutions.

Institutions may need to offer special learning supports and accommodations to facilitate the integration and success of these students, and may need to undertake special marketing and promotional activities to attract students.

7.2.2 The bilingual institution model

Under this model, students study at a university that has identified itself as a bilingual institution, where bilingualism is a fundamental element of the mission and mandate of the institution.

Such institutions offer a range of programs and courses that are taught in both languages. The model is not a monolithic one. Some institutions may offer all, or virtually all, programs and courses in both languages. Others may offer only some programs and courses in the second language, or may concentrate their efforts to do so in certain specific academic areas. Institutions may also use a bilingual education approach, offering courses where both English and French are used in the classroom.

Students at bilingual institutions who choose to take some or all of their courses in their second language may require special learning supports and accommodations, as under the other-language institution model.

Some bilingual institutions may offer, as well, a structured immersion program, with sheltering and other supports, such as having language teachers attend classes with students and extra language-learning classes.

As with the other-institution model, an issue may be the willingness and ability of students to take courses taught in their second language. Other issues include cost, as there may be additional costs for course offerings as well as administrative costs.

7.2.3 The buffet model

Under this model, institutions offer students the possibility of taking different courses in their second language. The range of courses varies in terms of academic areas and the number of courses offered. Factors include student interest and demand, the availability of professors willing and able to teach subjects in the second language and the mandate and mission of the institution.

This model can be tailored to the circumstances and capacity of institutions, and can be seen as a way to respond to the language learning objectives of students who do not necessarily wish to take all or most of their courses in the second language.

Issues relating to this model include costs, largely relating to smaller class size and to the need for learning supports, and the effectiveness of this approach for second-language learning if students take only a few courses in their second language.

7.2.4 The centre model

This model can be seen more as a management model for developing and offering intensive second-language learning opportunities.

It is characterized by a strong mandate and support from the most senior levels of the university to drive institutional efforts in this regard, along with a strong administrative core to plan, organize and implement the delivery of new language-learning opportunities. It can also include strong learning supports and a physical centre to concentrate resources and supports and facilitate opportunities for second-language use.

Under the model, the number and variety of courses offered could be limited, at least initially, and concentrated in one or two academic areas. The management approach under this model can be accompanied by different modes of program and course delivery.

Issues relating to the model include costs for program management, development and delivery; limited program and course selection; and limited spaces available in such programs.

7.2.5 The partnership model

This model is based on partnerships and collaboration with institutions that use the other language.

Under the model, an institution does not itself offer courses taught in the second language, nor do students enrol full time at an other-language institution.

Rather, an institution establishes arrangements with an other-language institution to respond to students’ demand for courses taught in the second language. This could involve a variety of means: part- or full-year attendance at the other institution; online, video-conferencing or distance learning; or the other-language institution offering courses on the campus of the receiving institution.

Issues relating to this model include costs, credit recognition and transfer, ease-of-access for students and effectiveness for second-language learning, if only one or a few courses are taken in the second language.

7.2.6 The targeting model

This model involves identifying academic disciplines and career interests where second-language ability is seen as especially relevant and important, and then applying a variety of tools and instruments to foster enhanced second-language learning within the discipline or subject area.

These tools could include, for example, second-language requirements for graduation; targeted second-language courses focused on the content and vocabulary of the discipline; some courses taught in the second language, either at the institution or through arrangements with an other-language institution; and opportunities or built-in requirements for time spent living, working or studying in the second-language milieu.

This model can lead to a very coherent approach with institutions using a variety of means to make the second-language dimension an integral part of the program of study.

Issues include costs and scope. Effectiveness can also be an issue, depending on the extent and nature of the tools and approach selected.

7.2.7 The tailoring model

This model involves an approach to teaching and learning the second language that focuses on the content and vocabulary of different academic areas, for example, Business French. The choice of disciplines would reflect student interest and demand and relevance to future study and career choices.

This model is more limited in scope and approach than the other models—for example, it focuses on second-language courses and not studying in the second language—and could be used either on its own or integrated with other models and approaches as part of an overall strategy. Recognition of linguistic proficiency, including special certificates, joint degrees or a minor, would be an important feature.

Issues include the costs for program development, the need for close co-operation with other faculties and overall effectiveness if utilized as a strategy on its own and not in conjunction with other efforts and initiatives.

7.3 Suggestions for possible next steps and future actions

Participants in the focus groups and key-informant interviews offered a wealth of suggestions for possible next steps and future actions, which can be divided into advice for four distinct groups:

  • universities
  • governments
  • the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • other organizations and interested parties
7.3.1 Suggestions for action by universities

Many participants felt that individual university institutions were in the best position to examine models and approaches and develop plans and proposals for new initiatives, in light of their own situation and their students’ needs and objectives.

A number of participants, however, suggested that a group or consortium of interested institutions should be encouraged to come together and examine issues and develop proposals for future action.

The suggestion was made that minority-language institutions should work together to examine issues relating to them and to develop proposals for action and new initiatives, possibly through the formation of a working group of such institutions. As well, if a consortium of interested institutions were to come together, it would be important to include minority-language and bilingual institutions since they are in position to play a lead role in improving second-language learning opportunities.

Many participants suggested that institutions should consider new or strengthened second-language requirements. These could be either part of general university entrance or exit requirements or targeted to certain academic disciplines where second-language knowledge is most relevant and important, for example, public administration, journalism, international affairs or international business. These requirements could form part of an overall strategy to enhance second-language learning in those disciplines, coupled with other measures such as offering tailored second-language courses, offering some courses in the discipline that were taught in the second language or building exchange opportunities or requirements into a program.

Suggestions were made that institutions—on an individual basis or perhaps jointly or in collaboration with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) or other parties—should undertake surveys on the willingness and ability of professors to teach in the second language.

It was also suggested that surveys should be conducted by institutions on the interest and willingness of students to pursue second-language study and the types of opportunities, options and programs they would like to have available to them.

Many participants emphasized the importance of institutions developing and undertaking expanded marketing and promotion initiatives. As noted in section 6.6, it was felt that such activities should be undertaken earlier at the secondary level, and could involve the use of ambassadors or the formation of a Speakers’ Bureau; in this regard, it was suggested that governments or the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages could facilitate and support such an initiative nationally.

Some participants felt that, rather than an across-the-board approach, the development of centres of excellence in second-language learning should be fostered. Institutions should be encouraged to develop niches, for example, in academic areas where second-language skills are most relevant.

7.3.2 Suggestions for action by governments

Participants made suggestions for possible actions by governments, at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels.

Many suggestions focused on funding and financial support, but strong views were also expressed on the need for governments to champion this issue and promote it through policy statements and public communications, and by bringing the different players together to take action.

Many felt that the Government of Canada needed to show national leadership and actively promote the importance and value of second-language learning opportunities at university and post-secondary levels.

It was also often frequently argued that, faced with the need to recruit more bilingual candidates as part of public service renewal, the Government of Canada should work more closely with universities to help prepare a bilingual workforce for the future. The need to establish linkages between public service linguistic requirements and language tests and university programs and language testing was often mentioned as an example where more needs to be done.

The current pilot project being undertaken by the Canada School of Public Service to make its language-learning resources available to a number of universities was cited as a positive development. Mention was made as well of recent efforts by the Clerk of the Privy Council to foster better collaboration between universities and the public service through the "champions" initiative matching university presidents and deputy ministers; it was felt, however, that official languages needs to be one important element of this collaboration.

In terms of government funding and financial assistance, many participants strongly felt that the federal, provincial and territorial governments would have to make available additional funding to support both existing and new initiatives by universities.

In keeping with the importance that many attached to fostering greater opportunities for students to use their second language through real-life opportunities for interaction with persons who speak the other language, suggestions were made for the federal, provincial and territorial governments to increase funding for exchange-type activities. These activities could include work co-ops both within government and in the private and non-profit sectors. Many thought that the government could look at developing a program similar to the Erasmus program in Europe.

Erasmus Program

  • A program that allows students to continue their studies for one semester in another European Union country.
  • Participants benefit both academically and by acquiring language and intercultural skills.
  • The program supports higher education institutions working together through intensive programs, networks and multilateral projects.
  • Around 90% of European universities in 31 countries take part.
  • Since its inception in 1987, 1.9 million students have participated in the program. Each year an average of 200,000 students take part.
  • One of the objectives of Erasmus is to recruit 3 million Erasmus students by 2012.
  • The new Erasmus Mundus program is an extension of the Erasmus program and applies to exchanges worldwide.

The increase of exchange possibilities inside Canada with other language institutions through such a program could help develop students’ desire to take part in these types of activities, where they would have real-life opportunities to use the language in a variety of different contexts. Because it is presently unknown how many students are taking part in these particular types of exchanges, it will be important to compile information to evaluate the progress that has been made.

It was also proposed that the Government of Canada increase the funding and promotion of national programs such as summer-language bursaries and official-language monitors, which were seen as valuable programs whose financing is inadequate or precarious. An example of the precariousness of these programs is the recent abolition of the Accent Program for part-time language monitors.

7.3.3 Suggestions for action by the Commissioner of Official Languages

Many participants felt that the Commissioner had an important role to play in raising public awareness of the importance and value of second-language learning at the university level in Canada.

It was emphasized that it would be important for the Commissioner to publish the results of this study, and take advantage of public opportunities and events to promote it.

It was also felt that the Commissioner had perhaps a champion role to play; the Commissioner should make the case to governments for the need to do more in this area, and to provide additional and dedicated funding for this purpose.

The Commissioner should also work with institutions and interested parties to advance the issue generally. This could include bringing people together, encouraging further work and study, for example on the different models and approaches, and supporting the testing of innovative approaches and the dissemination of information on best practices.

7.3.4 Suggestions for action by other parties

Suggestions for action by different organizations and interested parties included the following:

  • A conference or meeting should be organized to bring together all interested parties, including universities, students, language experts and governments.
  • The AUCC could work with universities to explore different models and approaches, and examine how to promote partnerships and collaboration.
  • The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) should develop overall university second-language learning policy objectives, and examine issues around second-language requirements.
  • Canadian Parents for French could work with governments, institutions and other organizations in each province and territory to encourage them to develop proposals tailored to their needs.
  • There needs to be better documentation of employers’ demand for knowledge of a second language.


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