[lg policy] Support for bilingualism for children waning

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed May 22 11:21:37 EDT 2019

Support for bilingualism for children waning
LES PERREAUX <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/authors/les-perreaux/>

Young parents who speak English are waning in their determination to make
sure their children speak a second language, despite robust support for
Canada’s 50-year-old policy of official bilingualism.

A poll conducted by Environics Institute for Survey Research found 69 per
cent of anglophone adults under 35 outside of Quebec think it would be
important for their children to learn a second language, down from 86 per
cent when the same questions were asked in 2001. Other age groups also saw
reduced levels of support, but not as steep.

In Quebec, 95 per cent said it was important children learn a second
language, down three percentage points from 2001.

Experts say the decline of the Quebec independence movement helps explain
the reduced importance found outside the province. “We’re not as immersed
in the crisis-management part of the language issue. It could be we’ve
stopped talking about it, and we’re at a little bit of risk of coasting,”
said Andrew Parkin, director of the Mowat Centre at the Munk School of
Global Affairs and Public Policy, which commissioned the survey.

Mr. Parkin added that globalization and digital communication may be
“reinforcing the sense you can get by in English.”

Graham Fraser, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa and the former
official languages commissioner, pointed out that at the start of 2001,
Canadians were fresh off the 1995 referendum and Lucien Bouchard headed a
Parti Québécois government in Quebec. “There was an ongoing sense that the
dissolution of the country was a continuing possibility. Young parents
today probably have a hard time remembering the 1995 referendum,” he said.
“Quebec independence is just not on anyone’s radar now.”

Mr. Fraser added other factors are also likely at play. He said Ottawa does
little to promote bilingualism and there is a growing public emphasis on
STEM education – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “When
you think of a parent of a young child looking at changes in the digital
economy and anxiety over finding a job, in some ways it’s impressive that
three-quarters still say they want their child to learn a second language,”
he said.

Mr. Fraser added that the overall picture is very encouraging. “It’s
reassuring that after 50 years, support for the policy is so strong,” he

The Official Languages Act making English and French the official languages
of Canada and requiring federal institutions to provide services in both
languages came into force in September, 1969. Opposition to the law was
fierce at the start, particularly in English-speaking Canada where many
argued it was a waste of money. The Environics poll conducted early this
year showed 78 per cent of anglophones and 93 per cent of francophones
support official bilingualism. Eighty-two percent of immigrants expressed
support for official bilingualism. The levels of support overall have
remained constant since 2001.

Nicole Thibault, national executive director of Canadian Parents for
French, said she is surprised to see the survey results showing a decrease
in importance placed on bilingual education by young parents. Immersion
programs remain extremely popular in English-speaking parts of Canada,
particularly in British Columbia and Alberta, where enrolment has increased
for 15 straight years.


Immigrant families are driving much of the popularity in the West, she
said. “Newcomers have been sold on the idea Canada is a bilingual country,
and they want their children enrolled in French immersion so they can fully
participate and contribute to Canadian society,” she said. But, she added,
“with well above 50 per cent of people thinking it’s important to learn
another language, mainly French, the offer for French as a second language
is far from catching up to parental demand.”

The Environics survey showed 35 per cent of Canadians whose mother tongue
is neither French nor English say they believe their children should learn
French, ahead of Chinese languages (18 per cent) Spanish (9 per cent) and
English (6 per cent.) There was no comparable data for 2001.

Over all, 65 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec thought French was the
more important second language, down from 75 per cent in 2001.

Environics conducted the survey online in the provinces and by telephone in
the territories among 5,732 adult Canadians between Dec. 14 and Jan. 16.
The comparison survey in 2001 was conducted entirely by telephone, so
“don’t know” responses, which are higher in online surveys, were removed.
Ottawa launching review of Official Languages Act 50 years after its
introduction Subscriber content


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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