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Aiming Higher: Increasing bilingualism of our Canadian youth

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The Report

Preface

In the spring of 2013, members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages adopted the terms of reference for a study on the best practices for language policies and second-language learning. Since the early 1970s, a significant portion of the federal government’s investment in official languages has gone to second-language learning. This first report of a two-part study is the result of more than two years of study, during which time we also addressed other important topics, such as examining the language obligations of CBC/Radio-Canada and the recent changes to the immigration system.

This report concludes the Canadian part of the study and presents an overview of the practices in place in Canada. From the beginning, our intention was to identify the challenges we face in our own country and then to observe what is done in other countries. We believe Canada can learn from the practices in place in other countries that have two or more official languages. As a result, we intend to proceed with the second part of this study once parliamentary business resumes.

For the Canadian portion of this study, we held no fewer than 19 meetings in Ottawa, at which we heard from 51 witnesses. In our report, we identify the primary issues raised by witnesses and we draw attention to a series of good practices in place across the country. We believe it is important to learn from best practices and to strengthen our second-language learning and language policies.

Bilingualism is at the heart of the Canadian identity, and the federal government has a key leadership role to play in implementing a pan-Canadian strategy to promote official languages and official-language learning. As the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation approaches, a strong commitment from the federal government to actively promote bilingualism and increased fluency in the official languages across the country is not only desirable, but also essential.

We would like to extend special thanks to the witnesses who gave their time to our study and shared their enthusiasm for working to find common solutions. To overcome the challenges from coast to coast, we need to work together to create a climate where both official languages can take their rightful place.

Claudette Tardif
Chair

Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis
Deputy Chair

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Executive Summary

This report presents the conclusions of the first phase of the study of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages (“the Senate Committee”) on best practices for language policies and second-language learning in a context of linguistic duality or plurality. It marks the end of the Canadian portion of this study and provides an overview of the practices in place in Canada. The Senate Committee’s study began in April 2013 and continued until May 2015. In total, the Senate Committee heard from 51 witnesses who appeared at public hearings in Ottawa. These witnesses represented a variety of interests, including those of educational institutions, government officials, researchers, young people, parents, teachers, the media and non-profit organizations.

Second-language learning programs are found across Canada, but vary from province to province. There are core programs, where a set number of hours are allocated to second-language learning. There are intensive programs, where a higher number of hours are allocated to second-language learning and where exposure to the second language is concentrated over a certain period of time. There are also immersion programs, which are becoming more and more popular across the country. In some areas, learning a second language is mandatory, while in others it is optional. Sometimes second-language learning begins at a very young age, and other times it is introduced in a later grade.

In 2011–2012, 2.4 million young Canadians were learning English or French as a second language in elementary and secondary schools across the country. Approximately 350,000 anglophone students were enrolled in French immersion programs. Since intensive French programs were introduced in Canada in 1998, around 62,000 students have participated in the program. Although the numbers are on the rise for specialized programs, the proportion of students in public school enrolled in a core French program has decreased compared with 20 years earlier, dropping from 53% in 1991 to 44% in 2011.

The Senate Committee’s report provides a general overview of Canada’s linguistic situation, education as a shared jurisdiction, and the legislative and policy frameworks in place. It looks at the evolution of bilingualism and differentiates between teaching French as a second language and English as a second language. It summarizes the key challenges identified during the public hearings and draws attention to a series of good practices in Canada and around the world. These practices are applied inside and outside the classroom, as well as in the areas of post-secondary education and national coordination. The report proposes learning from best practices and strengthening our second-language learning and language policies. It includes 10 recommendations to the federal government to improve the current situation.

The Senate Committee’s recommendations are divided into four specific areas: active promotion of bilingualism; increased fluency in both official languages; innovative practices; and funding. There are many advantages to being bilingual, including social, economic and cognitive advantages. Bilingualism is an added value, and all Canadians should be able to benefit from it. The federal government must ensure that bilingualism is promoted. It must take steps to ensure that more people become more fluent in both official languages. To do so, it must encourage innovative practices and focus on good practices. It must also provide equitable, sustained funding and improve its accountability practices.

As the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation approaches, Canada must take steps to ensure that bilingualism takes its rightful place as a fundamental value across the country. A firm commitment to actively promote bilingualism and to support increased fluency in both official languages across the country is not only desirable, but also essential. English and French are among the most influential languages in the world. There is no doubt that a Canada with a more bilingual population would also have a stronger global presence.

In addition, it seems relevant to observe what is done in other countries to see what we are already doing well and especially where we can do more by implementing best practices, policies and systems in use elsewhere in the world. That is why, after tabling this first report, the Senate Committee plans to turn next to countries that have two or more official languages so it can study their current practices and identify possible solutions to the barriers we have in Canada.

Recommendations

ACTIVE PROMOTION OF BILINGUALISM

Recommendation 1

That Canadian Heritage, acknowledging that education is an area of shared jurisdiction and pursuant to its responsibilities under subsection 43(1) of the Official Languages Act with respect to the learning of English and French in Canada,  ensure second-language programs are accessible to everyone, everywhere in Canada.

Recommendation 2

That Canadian Heritage, pursuant to its responsibilities under subsection 43(1) of the Official Languages Act, encourage the public and the business community to foster the recognition and use of the two official languages, and that it launch a national awareness campaign to encourage Canadians to learn their official languages.

INCREASED OFFICIAL-LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY

Recommendation 3

That Canadian Heritage work with the provincial and territorial governments and consult with language organizations, school boards and teachers to establish a specific, measurable objective to increase official-language proficiency among Canadians, particularly youth aged 15 to 19, by 2018.

Recommendation 4

That Canadian Heritage acknowledge the importance of continued language learning after secondary school by helping colleges and universities develop more second-language programs and by allocating the necessary resources to them.

Recommendation 5

That Canadian Heritage work with the provincial and territorial governments to establish a common Canadian framework of reference for languages that includes common reference levels for language teaching, learning and evaluation in Canada, by 2018.

Recommendation 6

That Canadian Heritage immediately increase its support for language and cultural exchanges for both students and teachers.

INNOVATIVE PRACTICES

Recommendation 7

That Canadian Heritage encourage the media to play an active role in promoting Canada’s official languages by building on the practices of TV5 Québec-Canada and TFO Éducation.

Recommendation 8

That Canadian Heritage invest in sound research with an emphasis on innovative practices and that it disseminate the latest research results in the areas of official language promotion and language learning.

FUNDING

Recommendation 9

That Canadian Heritage maintain, or even increase, its investments in official-language promotion and learning, taking into account the four priorities identified in this report, namely, the active promotion of bilingualism, increased official language proficiency, innovative practices and funding.

Recommendation 10

That Canadian Heritage improve current accountability practices to ensure the funds invested under the federal-provincial/territorial agreements are used wisely.

Contact information

General Information:
613-990-0088 or 1-800-267-7362

Email: OLLO@sen.parl.gc.ca

Mailing Address:
Senate Committee on Official Languages
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1A 0A4