Developing Thoughts on Multilingualism

Last October, I got a tweet from Mimi Masson (@mimi_masson) asking my thoughts on Multilingualism Education in Ontario.  I remember feeling a bit caught off guard and I have to admit that I didn’t respond because I needed some “thinking time” so to speak.

Since then, I had a few experiences that furthered my thinking.

While co-teaching in a Core French class with a significant indigenous student population, about 1/2 of the students left during French class to go to Oneida class.  I think this is really wonderful that these students have the opportunity to learn Oneida.  Not too long ago, in residential schools, students were forced to speak English or French only and a lot of their native language was lost.  Perhaps learning Oneida at school is a step towards reconciling that.

I’ve also been thinking about all of the Syrian newcomers to Canada.  What opportunities do they have to preserve their Arabic language? I know that there are schools and resources outside of my school board for reading and writing in Arabic.  I know many parents would work on this at home with their children.  But what if they could further their Arabic in school?

I then had a conversation with my family over the holidays about it.  What if, for example, my husband had had the opportunity to learn Danish, his father’s mother tongue, in school?  His father immigrated here around the age of 12.  What opportunities would this have opened for my husband?  He certainly would have had family members to test his skills out with – near and far.

My mother-in-law’s reaction was the same as mine initially.  She expressed that language unites us.  It’s a common ground.  And I agree with that.  Whether you speak a lot of English or a little, or a lot of French or a little, knowing a bit or a lot of both languages is part of our Canadian identity.  It is what unites us.  A common thread that I sort of imagine like this:

At first I imagined that the base of this thread is two spooled together: one English, one French.  But the reality is that for many, a third string, a mother tongue other than French and English, would be thicker.  See how it is coloured by the other languages people speak.

I am starting to think that we have to find a way to honour languages other than French and English.  Our society is too diverse not to.  While French and English are important as they reflect our history and culture, there are also a lot of other languages spoken here.  How can we include them?

What if an Arabic teacher could travel to different schools to further learning Arabic language?

And that does not mean I don’t have concerns.  I have no idea how this would work.  My back gets a little up as I think of these programs replacing French instruction.  Then again, we are struggling to find high quality French teachers!  And at what age would students choose the language they would wish to persue?  How would this work?

And I have one last experience to share.  My daughter is learning Danish on Duo-lingo.  She  decided this out of the blue.  She is excited to try out a few phrases with her grandfather.  It is self-directed learning and she is loving it.  I wonder what effect choosing to learn a language might have on learning that language?

My thinking on this is evolving.  I know this will not be my last post on the subject.

In 2011, Global News used Census data to create maps which included mother tongue.  The one from the GTA is amazing and very colourful.  Check it out here and you can perhaps find your community.

We are not a “melting pot”.  We have the right to practice different religions, celebrate different cultures and speak different languages in Canada.  And if I can borrow the idea from a colleague from a few years back, we’re more like a salad.  We can retain our identities.  While French and English are important, we also need to recognize that we are more than this.  So how can we reflect this better in our school system?

What are your thoughts?

2 Responses

  1. Tammy at |

    Jen I love this post! The thread analogy is great. I really connected to this and it has stimulated thought an consideration on this end. Love your blog in general. I look forward to it. Thanks. Tammy

  2. Jen Aston at |

    Thanks so much for the response Tammy. I’m glad that Mimi stimulated the thinking in the first place. At first, I really had my back up but I had to look at that reaction and think about what it was. Sounds like Mimi is going to respond with a blog post of her own… stay tuned!

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