"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
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Evaluation of Section 23: Minority Language Rights Policy Featured

 

Parabjot K. Singh

Canada is a diverse nation that welcomes individuals from all over the world regardless of religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, and most importantly, language. Unlike its counterpart, the United States of America, Canada is known to embrace multiculturalism and inclusiveness while the USA prefers her immigrants to adopt assimilation subsequently entering the country. While it is important for immigrants to learn one of the official languages of Canada (English or French), their heritage languages are dishonoured and not given the same respect as the official languages.

Minority Language Rights policy is socially unjust because the policy contradicts its principles, fails to reflect Canadian demographics, and it is ignorant of the linguistic well-being of non-English and French speaking Canadians.

          Section 23: Minority Language Rights policy in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom aims to preserve and promote the English and French languages in Canada. Since majority of emigrants came to Canada from English and French speaking countries, English and French represented the majority emigrant population in Canada during colonialism. Thus, the children of English or French speaking parents have the right, according to law, to be educated in one of these languages. For example, French minority language education rights are guaranteed to French-speaking communities in English speaking areas. On the other hand, English minority language education rights are guaranteed to English speaking communities in French speaking areas such as Quebec and New Brunswick (“Minority Language Education Rights”).

Furthermore, the policy is divided into three subsections. The first section states that a child can learn the language of his or her parent if the parent’s first language is the minority language of the province. The second section declares that if the parent received its school instruction in either English or French and continues to live in a province where one of these languages is the minority, his or her child can receive their school instruction in either language. The final section states that all children of the parent are allowed to receive their school instruction in the same language (“Minority Language Education Rights”). While the promotion of English and French makes it easier for the Canadian government to efficiently deal with Canadian society, it fails to consider the needs of other language groups in Canada.

While preserving heritages and cultures have positive results, psychological research strengthens the belief that bilingualism benefits all individuals. Many parents believe that learning two or three languages at the same time hinders their child’s language development. As a matter of fact, this is not true. In their articles, Bialystok and Kaushanskaya et al. (qtd. in Willis 1) explain that students who were exposed to more than one language between five to ten years performed higher on cognitive performance tests, and had better judgment and attention skills compared to monolingual students (2012). Also, bilingual research shows how students benefit and perform better in all aspects of their lives. According to Danesi, (qtd. in Duff 77) there are three principles that promote bilingual students’ success academically. Linguistic interdependence means that the student is able to successfully transfer his or her knowledge from the heritage language to the second language. The principle of narrativity suggests that students who are familiar with their heritage cultural story telling are more mentally versatile when learning a second language. The last principle, cognitive enhancement shows that students make better connections while learning the second language (2008). Despite the fact that the Minority Language Rights policy is aware of bilingual research, it still clings on to the bilingual framework. The progressive changes in the policy need to be implemented as soon as possible because it is unfair to the other language speakers in Canada.

The Minority Language Rights policy strongly believes in the core principle of preserving languages and cultures. I agree that a culture does not survive without its language. In order to prove this claim, the policy states that providing education to the minority language community in their own language provides a better education, as children are taught in the language they best understand, and in a culture they share” (“Minority Language Education Rights”).  If the Canadian Charter recognizes this fact, then why are English and French the only language options in the education system? While the policy contradicts its own belief, research supports the idea that children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue or their mother tongue is taught to them alongside another language. Duff argues that heritage languages play a crucial role in the success of minority language students. Students who maintained their heritage language tend to achieve higher in third language performance compared to those who were unable to read or write in their heritage language (2008). In relation to the Minority Language Rights policy, as a result, it clearly does not represent the true demographics of Canadian provinces. Cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have a high immigrant population from all over the world, specifically from India and China. Therefore, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to reform its principles in order to reflect Canadian demographics.

          Speaking of Canada’s demographics, BC is an attractive province for immigrants; thus, the second most spoken language in BC is Punjabi. Sanghera, the president of the Punjabi Language Education Association, states that “Punjabi . . . is now the third most spoken language in Canada with at least 460,000 speakers” (2013). Most Punjabi speakers reside in the lower mainland of BC and the Punjabi speaking population is increasing over the years. Because of the increasing Punjabi population, the Punjabi language should be given recognition in BC, not French. The French speaking community is the minority in BC and there are far more Punjabi speakers in the province than those of French. Moreover, Binning argues that the language policy needs to be changed at the federal level. He gives two suggestions that the Canadian government can take into consideration. One suggestion he makes is that the new language policy should reflect the demographics of Canada even though this may be a lengthy process. Also, the government should produce a formula that recognizes languages based on their population and length (2016).  I agree with both Sanghera’s and Binning’s point of view. Demographics have always been the one number indicator of determining language use since the past. While the system continues to remain static, it is logical to suggest that the Punjabi language should be given recognition in BC.

          The Punjabi Language Education Association of BC (PLEA) was formed in 1994. The main goal of PLEA is to connect children and adolescents from Punjabi speaking families to their heritage language. PLEA successfully managed to implement Punjabi classes in many public elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions in the lower mainland.

After celebrating their 10th annual International Mother Tongue Day event, Sanghera states, “A number of teachers made an excellent effort in encouraging their students to participate. PLEA is very thankful to all of those parents, teachers and students who were there either as participants or as part of the audience” (2013). PLEA’s efforts to connect younger generations to their culture through the language create a healthy Canadian society.  On the other hand, PLEA’s progressive ideas and beliefs allow non-Punjabi individuals to learn the language. In his article, Sanghera states that “[Former] MLAs Sue Hammell and Bruce Ralston [took] Punjabi language classes at SFU’s Surrey campus . . . including Vancouver [former] mayor Sam Sullivan . . . also [learnt] this language privately or in BC’s public schools and post secondary institutions” (2007). As a result, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to take the demographics into serious consideration; progressive organizations like PLEA will continue to progress with implementing language classes into the public-school system.    

          Although the Minority Language Rights policy may not change in the next ten years or so, students who learn their heritage language have a better sense of their identity and connect well with their grandparents. Duff states that “Participants reported feeling anger, frustration, shame, and disappointment with such outcomes, thus experiencing negative self-image and negative views of their ethnic cultures and a feeling of identifying with neither their [heritage language] nor the dominant English culture” (2008). This is bound to happen because as social beings, individuals need a place to belong. One of the reasons that immigrants come to Canada is to give their children a better life. If their children do not feel socially and linguistically well in their country, then the future of Canada will not flourish and prosper. Since the offspring of majority immigrants are third generation Canadians, they have had a Canadian upbringing. These young individuals, as a result, are bicultural citizens. Furthermore, bilingual individuals are able to successfully adapt in terms of intergenerational communication. According to Dagenais and Berron, third generation individuals have the ability to code-switch when speaking to members of their family. For instance, they speak in their heritage language when conversing with grandparents. On the other hand, they switch to English when conversing with siblings and use both languages when communicating with their parents (2001). It is interesting to note how the heritage and official languages are both used in the same context. Instead of being worried about preserving English and French, we should be more worried about the preservation of other heritage languages in Canada. It is logical to state that these languages, not English and French, may become extinct and endangered if they are not taken care of. Because of these reasons, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to consider the linguistic diversity that exists in Canada.

          In conclusion the Minority Language Rights policy is socially unjust in present day Canada. Firstly, this policy contradicts its own principles especially the value that preserving the mother tongue increases students’ ability to learn in school. Secondly, the policy does not represent current Canadian demographics. Finally, the policy does not consider implementing the Punjabi language despite the fact that it is heavily spoken in BC’s lower mainland and other urban areas across Canada. In the end, the federal government needs to revise and reform the Minority Language Rights policy. It needs to be fair to other linguistic groups that reside in Canada. While it is extremely important to learn at least one of the two official languages, it is equally important to honour, preserve and promote other heritage languages in Canada.

Therefore, Canada’s success does not only depend on multiculturalism; however, multilingualism must be given equal rights too.

 

 Parabjot K. Singh is an educator, social activist, and writer. She is a board member of Punjabi Language Education Association.  She was one of the Surrey's Top 25 Under 25 award recipients of 2016. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Berron, Catherine and Dagenais, Diane. “Promoting Multilingualism through French Immersion and Language Maintenance in Three Immigrant Families.” Language, Culture and Curriculum, vol. 14, no. 2, 2001, pp.142-155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07908310108666618

 

Binning, Sadhu. “A Significant Moment for the Punjabi Language in Canada.” Punjabi Language Education Association. Wordpress.com 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. https://plea4punjabi1.wordpress.com/

 

Duff, Patricia. “Heritage Language Education in Canada: A New Field Emerging.” HeritageEducation in Canada, edited by Donna M. Brinton, Olga Kagan and Susan Bauckus, New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2008, pp. 71-90.

“Minority Language Education Rights.”  The Charter in the Classroom: Students, Teachers and Rights ,CC:STAR, http://www.thecharterrules.ca/index.php?main=concepts&concept=10

 

Sanghera, Balwant. “Canadians non-Punjabis Start Learning Punjabi.” Punjabi Language Education Association. Wordpress.com 16 Jan. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. https://plea4punjabi1.wordpress.com/documents/canadians-non-punjabis-start-learning-punjabi/

 

Sanghera, Balwant. “How Punjabi in Canada Became the Third Most Spoken Language.” NewsEastWest, Sogwap Web Design, 1 Mar. 2013, http://newseastwest.com/how-punjabi-became-the-third-most-spoken-language-in-canada/

 

Willis, Judy. “Bilingual Brains: Smarter and Faster.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22

Nov. 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching/201211/bilingual-brains-smarter-faster

 

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