Canada: Reaching bilingual goals requires a change in thinking

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jan 9 14:30:43 UTC 2008

 Wednesday » January 9 » 2008

Reaching bilingual goals requires a change in thinking

The Calgary Herald

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Depending on how you define bilingual, the goal of having half of all
Canadian high school students fluent in both official languages by the
time they graduate is tenuous at best. The federal government's lead
adviser on the issue, former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, says
that many students will "probably not" be bilingual upon graduation.
"I think it's a long shot," he said of the 2013 target date set out in
the federal government's policy to increase bilingualism in Canada.
It's a noble goal, but one that will only be met by rethinking how
second languages are taught at school.

Language strategies differ widely. However, most people agree that
bilingualism requires a plan that introduces a variety of experiences
in both official languages, from reading books to total immersion. It
also helps if one parent speaks the second language so that each one
is able to speak a different language to their children -- a
one-on-one language strategy that has met with success. The best way
for children to learn another language is to hear it spoken in their
home so that they pick it up as naturally as a mother tongue, in their
own environment.

As it is, provincial and federal governments have just been throwing
hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting bilingualism, without
achieving reasonable results. According to the latest Statistics
Canada data, the number of bilingual high school students has dropped
since the federal government adopted its bilingualism policy in 2003.
Canada should turn to linguistics guru and world-renowned language
expert Stephen Krashen, whose theory of acquiring a second language
hinges on "meaningful interaction in the target language."

Krashen says fluency in another language is the result of a
subconscious process. Speakers learn best in low-anxiety situations
that allow for natural communication, where the focus is less on "the
form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and
understanding." Lord, who will report back with recommendations next
month, should recognize that more money isn't the answer but rather a
change in thinking is needed.

Changes to the core teaching of second language would also aid
students' fluency. A spiral curriculum in language teaching is
inefficient, for it forces the student to review anew each year what
should have been learned the year before. Instead of progressing to a
more complex mastery of the language, the student stagnates at the
most basic level. There comes a time when every French student must
move on from "il fait beau" to study the subjunctive, or fluency will
never be achieved.

Second language acquisition takes a multi-faceted approach involving
more than rote. It's about communicating, and that requires practice
and opportunity. N'est-ce pas?

(c) The Vancouver Sun 2008

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