Growing up in Canada is ideal - the country is beautiful, expansive, and safe for the most part with a public education system that is admired around the world. With the exception of its Indigenous peoples, the vast majority of Canadians are or have descended from immigrants, thanks to widespread migrations from around the world. Walk around a city like Toronto, Vancouver or Edmonton and you’ll see vibrant ethnic enclaves, restaurants serving up the traditional meals of countries around the world, and a diverse range of faces and complexions.

While multiculturalism is a defining part of Canadian culture, many who are born here tend to gravitate toward Canadian identity linguistically, and may only speak English or French. With one foot in modern Canadian society and another in heritage and tradition, many Canadians often find themselves wondering: how can I get back to my family’s roots?

Learning your heritage language, or mother tongue, is one fun and exciting way adults can build a stronger relationship with their family’s ancestry. Whether you arrived in Canada as a young child or your family has been here for over a century, you will likely have one language other than English in your past. Not convinced? Let’s explore some of the best reasons for learning your family’s language. We will then take a closer look at how you can get started on your language learning journey.

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Reasons to Learn your Family’s Heritage Language

There are so many reasons and advantages to becoming multilingual, and with the right resources, studying, practice, and immersion, you’ll be speaking a new language in no time.

1. Develop a Stronger Sense of Identity

When you learn the language of your parents or ancestors, you will gain access to a culture with which you are inextricably linked. Making connections to art, language and culture is healthy for us as it promotes mental health and well-being. Participating in culture decreases loneliness while also promoting identity formation and intercultural understanding. As you take classes, you will meet other people that maybe have a similar background as you or are interested in your heritage culture as well. You’ll feel better connected to the history of your family, and develop a sense of pride from where you’re from.

With your new language skills, you can do a ‘homecoming’ trip to the country of your ancestors and make connections with relatives, see the village or city from where your family has roots, or simply immerse yourself in your heritage’s food, art and culture. Picture yourself visiting your heritage country and conversing freely in markets, restaurants and social gatherings - if you love travel, nothing could be more exciting. You’ll return to Canada feeling like there is another place in the world you can call home!

travel to your heritage country
Learn your family's heritage language and visit your ancestral country. Source: Unsplash.

2. Get the Multilingual Advantage

Being multilingual has many lifestyle and employment advantages. When you learn how to speak another language, you develop a skill set that prepares you for the acquisition of other languages and even a better understanding of English as you learn grammar and communication from a different cultural lens. If the language you want to learn is spoken in more than one country around the world, like Spanish or Portuguese, you’ll be able to travel confidently and perhaps identify a new place you might spend your retirement or move your life entirely.

Multilingualism also might even make you a better candidate for employers, especially if you work for a multinational company. If you want to work in public services, having another language will help you to communicate with people in need or who are learning English. If your dream is to live abroad permanently or for part of the year, being multilingual will open up a myriad of different options. You’ll have a skill that stands out from others, and that benefits you both personally and professionally.

Read our top five reasons kids should learn their heritage language.

3. Explore a Whole New World of Media

learn to read in your heritage language
Access a world of literature when you learn your heritage language. Source: Unsplash

We can’t all travel all the time, but thanks to streaming services like Netflix and sites like YouTube, we can quickly and easily access TV shows and movies in a variety of languages. Studying a new language will give international media a whole new meaning for you, and you’ll build your vocabulary and practice your listening skills all while entertaining yourself. Brazilian and Latin American telenovelas will get you practicing Spanish and Portuguese, watch Filipino romantic comedies to get your Tagalog on, immerse yourself in Korean through K-drama and horror: there’s so much to choose from.

Beyond international TV and movies, you can find plenty of great websites, podcasts, news shows, and stories with a quick Google search. Once you have immersed yourself into international media, you will definitely look at your regular Canadian or American media differently!

4. Learning Languages is Fun!

Need another reason to learn your heritage language? How about the fact that learning is fun? As an adult, you may be looking for more ways to meet new people and make new friends, especially if you have finished school. Taking a language class will put you in a group of like-minded people with similar goals. You will meet other people from your home country’s diaspora, and let yourself enjoy the excitement and social life that comes with learning.

What are the best strategies for helping your child become bilingual? Find out in our article.

Where to Learn your Heritage Language

If you are ready to get started, why not look into some options for learning? Before you commit to a class, you’ll want to consider what your language proficiency goals are, what your budget is, and how much time you can commit to learning without being stressed.

adults studying languages
Take language courses as part of your university study. Source: Pexels

Should you be learning casually, check out boutique schools, community centres, or cultural centres. Community centres will offer classes for low prices as they are subsidized by your city’s Parks and Recreation department, making them very accessible and affordable. Boutique schools like the Berlitz or Spanish Centre will have classes at a higher price point, but also have proven methods for supporting language acquisition. Cultural centres can be found in most ethnic hubs or enclaves: they will not only have language classes, but events to promote the arts and culture of the country or culture they represent. All of these options are great if you are not looking to get a university degree

More serious students will find plenty of colleges and universities: most large universities in Canada have departments such as Modern Languages, Asian Studies, or other areas of study where you’ll learn language for a university credit. Colleges will also have language programs where you can take a language class as part of a certificate or diploma program.

No time or budget for classes? With organization and discipline, you can self-direct your own study of languages with the help of the scores of free and low cost resources on the internet or at your local bookstore. Sites like Spotify and YouTube contain lots of language learning audio and podcasts that will teach you the basics. Head to your local bookstore or check Amazon for language study textbooks and workbooks. The most important thing is to stay focused, schedule time for studying, and setting realistic goals for yourself.

Hire a Private Tutor

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A tutor is a convenient and effective way to learn another language. Source: Unsplash

Whether you are taking a class or studying independently, one of the best options you can choose for learning is to hire a private language tutor. A private language tutor can meet you virtually, at your home, local library, or cafe, and work with you on whatever area of language you want to focus on. If you speak your family’s language well and want to focus on reading and writing, a tutor can tailor a program or suggest resources you can use to facilitate your learning. If you have a group of family members or friends that want to learn with you, why not organize some small group classes? Do you have a trip planned? Your tutor can help you grasp the basics for everyday interactions.

Find out why so many Canadians are becoming Multilingual right now!

The easiest way to find a local language tutor near you is to check sites like Superprof. Superprof has listings of amazing tutors in your area, and provides an easy option for finding someone who can work with your learning needs and budget. Check out Superprof today!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.