Aiming Higher: Increasing bilingualism of our Canadian youthPublished on 26 June 2015 Blog by Senator Claudette Tardif (retired)
Bilingualism is at the heart of the Canadian identity. It has many benefits, including social, economic and cognitive advantages. I strongly believe that all Canadians should have access to second language training and all should be able to reap the benefits of bilingualism.
From an economic standpoint, bilingualism creates opportunities and improves job prospects, increases median income, and increases trade opportunities. Research has also shown that bilingualism improves cognitive development as it increases creativity, critical thinking skills, mental dexterity and concentration. Bilingualism also makes learning other languages easier. From a social perspective, bilingualism is an asset as it encourages interactions among language communities; it contributes to national cohesion and allows for communication among people from various cultures. A Canada with a more bilingual population would have a stronger global presence.
In 2011-2012, 2.4 million young Canadians were learning French or English as a second language in Canada’s elementary and secondary schools. Approximately 350,000 young anglophones were enrolled in French immersion programs across the country. Furthermore, close to 62,000 students were enrolled in intensive French programs since they were introduced in Canada in 1998. Although the numbers are on the rise for these specialized programs, the proportion of students in public school enrolled in a core French program has decreased, dropping from 53% in 1991 to 44% in 2011.
As well, there is a decline in the proportion of Canadian youth who can hold a conversation in both English and French. 22.6% of young Canadians between the ages of 15 and 19 had knowledge of both official languages in 2011.
Between 2001 and 2011, the number of youth who had knowledge of both official languages declined from 23.9% to 22.6%. This issue has to be taken very seriously. The status quo is no longer an option.
Based on those statistics, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, of which I am Chair, undertook a study on the best practices for languages policies and second-language learning in a context of linguistic duality or plurality. In June, the Committee tabled its report titled “Aiming Higher: Increasing bilingualism of our Canadian youth” and made 10 recommendations to improve the situation. These recommendations focussed on four specific areas: active promotion of bilingualism; increased fluency in both official languages; innovative practices; and funding.
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. The Senate Committee believes it is important to immediately take measures to improve the status and equality of Canada’s official languages. We are convinced that a firm commitment from the federal government to actively promote bilingualism and improve official-language proficiency across the country is not only desirable, but also essential.