Mind your language!

The past few days have seen such a flurry of articles on the front pages of dailies and other news media about English not being spoken in immigrant homes. Well duh! Seriously? Is this something new?

We did know at least a year ago that almost 20 per cent of the population was born outside Canada. We also knew for the last decade that immigrants are coming from countries where English is NOT the first language. Why then are we SO surprised that they would speak their own language or “mother tongue” (as it is appropriately called) at home? I am surprised people (or should I say the 80 per cent) are surprised!

I speak English fluently and it is my first language. I also speak Hindi (and broken Gujarati occasionally with my mother in law). My new granddaughter has people speaking English, Hindi, Gujarati and Fijian Hindi to her! By having more languages spoken, I believe my granddaughter will be well equipped for a rapidly evolving world.

According to an article in the Telegraph researchers at the University of San Diego revealed that those with higher levels of bilingualism are more resistant to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A few weeks before the Census results were announced John Manley, the former finance minister who heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said it is time for a national debate over how to encourage new language skills as part of the country’s trade efforts.

Manley goes on to say that the global opportunities for Canadians who speak Asian languages are huge and by not teaching these languages to our children we may deprive them of global opportunities. The are obvious advantages of a different kind of bilingualism and growing economies of China, India and many Latin American countries would offer much opportunities to Canadians in the next decade.

The article says that “in Brampton and Mississauga, the Peel District School Board has elementary-level courses available in more than a dozen languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Gujarati, Hindi, Mandarin, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu and Vietnamese.”

Perhaps it is time for us to embrace Canada’s multilingualism and see it as something that is an asset rather than always feeling threatened by it. After all, having sushi, Kung pao chicken and butter chicken hasn’t weakened our culinary habits, why would our neighbor’s language make us feel threatened?

I have met Canadians in several parts of the world. Parts where English is not the first language. Think Korea, Japan and China.  And they speak English. Hmmm wonder if those countries have headlines reading ‘Canadians speak English in Korea!’ Insert big laugh smiley here!

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