Multilingualism is becoming an increasingly desirable skill in Canada, a country already known for its bilingualism. While French immersion and core French classes are taught in nearly every public school system, international and heritage language classes offer students of all ages an opportunity to become polyglot. You can’t ask for a better place than Canada to learn international languages: the country boasts a proudly multicultural population, with many newcomers choosing to retain their linguistic heritage. Whatever language you are learning, you will surely find a community of native speakers or other students you can practice with.

Thanks to widespread immigration to Canada, you’ll find speakers here in just about any language you can think of. Amharic, Arabic, Filipino, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, German, Welsh, Dutch, Vietnamese, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Polish, Pashto, Farsi, Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi, Swahili, Twi, and Hungarian are just a handful of the languages you’ll hear in cities from coast to coast. With so many fantastic restaurants and enclaves you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore different cultures without even leaving the country.

People that learn and speak multiple languages gain a better understanding of the world and can connect with other cultures and nationalities in a special way. Maybe you have fallen in love with a country on vacation and see yourself visiting more often, or are considering retirement there. Perhaps your in-laws speak another language exclusively and you’d like to talk with them. If you’re a parent, you might want your children to learn their heritage language, or acquire writing and reading skills in your home country’s language. Do you want to work internationally? Proficiency in another language is an excellent skill to offer your future employers or clients.

Kids and adults alike will benefit from learning a new language. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons kids and adults should become multilingual, and explore some strategies for learning a new language.

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

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Heritage Languages for Kids

kids learning languages
Get your kids learning a new or heritage language! Source: Unsplash

Looking for a way to enrich your child’s education and help them become more worldly? Why not give them an opportunity to learn their heritage language? A heritage language is a language that your family has a cultural connection with, or is spoken at home. Here are the top reasons parents should enable their kids to learn a heritage language.

1. Your Kids will Have a Stronger Connection with your Family’s Culture

One reason you might want your kids to learn their heritage language is to help them connect with your family’s culture or cultures. In many cases, language learning has already been started by parents speaking that language at home - kids may gain some oral proficiency from hearing it from parents and relatives, or can understand it but not speak, read, or write in it. If your kids fall into this category, enrolling them in a heritage language class can help them strengthen their communication skills and help them build reading and writing skills - they already have a solid base, so these skills should come more easily.

If you and your kids are both beginners in learning your family’s language, it can be an incredibly rewarding and fun activity to do as a family. Get started by borrowing or purchasing language books in the library, listening or watching lessons on the internet, or finding a starter workbook course. Some cultural centres offer language classes for kids and adults, so find something that works for your family and have fun. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet other families in the same culture as you?

Enrolling your kids in heritage language classes is important as it will help them to develop a stronger sense of identity and pride in their ancestry. They will feel connected to a larger diasporic community, build self-esteem, and may even be able to connect with extended family.

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

2. Prepare your Child for the Future

As we have mentioned before, multilingualism is an asset both globally and locally. Having proficiency in another language looks great on a resume, and will prepare your child for a variety of fields, like tourism, education and business. They will be well-positioned to network with others, or work in different parts of the world. If your kids are older, they can use their heritage language skills for a long ‘homecoming’ trip, where they may choose to volunteer, take a course, or simply experience life in a different way.

3. Explore a New World of Media

It’s not hard to get caught up in a diet of Western movies, TV Shows, and music in Canada. It can be refreshing to see the world through a different set of eyes, and see how values, norms and customs differ from one country to the next. When your kids study their heritage language, they will gain access to a whole world of music, shows, movies, books, and social media that they can be entertained with, while also learning their background.

International media is easy to access online
Discover a whole world of international shows and social media when you study another language. Source: Pexels

Streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix may have movies and TV shows in your family’s language, or a quick search on YouTube can do the trick. Sports, telenovelas, music horror movies, comedies, or any genre of entertainment you enjoy can be easily found on the internet - your kids will be endlessly entertained while they learn the language.

Language Learning for Adults

Adults who have not learned another language or their heritage language will, like kids, find becoming multilingual incredibly beneficial. So why should adults learn their heritage language or become multilingual? Let’s find out.

Get Back to Your Roots

revisit your roots
Get back to your roots by learning languages, wherever they may be. Source: Unsplash

If you grew up in Canada and your parents were immigrants, you probably experienced a cultural divide with your parents. With one foot in Canadian society and another in family tradition, second generation Canadians often find themselves longing for culture as adults. Has your family been in Canada for generations? Getting back to your roots by learning your heritage language and culture will be particularly meaningful. You’ll strengthen your identity, connect with a whole community of people locally and globally, and learn your own personal history.

Learning your heritage language will also enable you to access a culture with which you are inextricably linked. Food, art, literature, and film from your culture will have a whole new meaning, and your mental health will improve as you stimulate your mind and make connections with your own life. Join a community group, and you’ll have access to new people and perhaps even make new friends!

Language learning isn’t just for kids! Read our article on heritage language study for adults here.

Get the Multilingual Advantage

Whether you learn a new language for personal reasons, for work, or school, you will find that it will open a whole new world of travel and exploration, both geographically and culturally. Your lifestyle will be enhanced and enriched as you can plan exciting trips where you can be independent and communicate with locals whenever you need to get something done or want to socialize. Learn a language like Spanish or Portuguese, and you’ll be able to speak the language of locals in parts of North and South America, Europe, and Africa; you’ll experience travel and build a special connection with the places you visit. Take a ‘homecoming’ trip to your ancestral country and learn more about where your family originated from. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be able to retire abroad somewhere you love to be.

Being multilingual will also make you a more ideal candidate for jobs, and make you appear a more well-rounded and ambitious person on your curriculum vitae. Many companies are global, so speaking another language will enable you to work with an international office or clients. If you want to work in public services or education, having another language under your belt will enable you to communicate with a broader range of people that may need help navigating anything from government agencies to schools. Some languages, like Spanish and French, have certifications for proficiency like DELE and TCF that you can use to verify your skills to schools and employers - learn what your options are and start setting goals immediately.

Where to Learn A New or Heritage Language

language class
Choose the right language course for you. Source: Unsplash

Ready to start on your language learning journey? The first step to take before enrolling in anything is to identify what your goal is, how much time you can allocate, and what you are willing to spend achieving your learning goals.

Those pursuing a language as a hobby should start by checking out independent schools, community centres, cultural centres, or even your city’s department of parks and recreation. If you want a more boutique-style experience in a modern learning environment, consider private independent schools like the Berlitz. Classes here will come at a higher price, but you’ll be in a highly organized class with its own curriculum. Cultural centres have classes usually taught by members of the community and are often not-for-profit. They will be more affordable, connect you directly with a community, and possibly even have a class available for kids. Cultural centres often participate in local festivals, so they are a great way to build social connections. Community centres will also offer a similar, low cost experience: however, these courses are often run based on demand, so if there are not enough people interested you may have to deal with a cancellation.

If you are a more serious student and would like to receive a high school or university credit, you’ll find plenty of colleges, universities, and school boards with language classes. At the college level, you’ll find language classes in widely spoken languages, and these classes are often part of their continuing education program - meaning you won’t need to apply to attend. College programs are often reasonably priced, and can be taken as part of a certificate or diploma program.

Students who want to graduate university will also find language courses in their schools. Some classes, like French or Spanish, will have an entire department dedicated to learning language or literature. Other language classes might be found in departments like Asian Studies, Slavic Studies, or Middle Eastern Studies. Some classes can be used to attain a major or minor in areas like International Policy or Comparative Literature, so determine what you want to achieve in your degree first before signing up.

Independent Study

Those with an inflexible schedule or a tight budget can be extremely successful studying independently through workbooks and free resources from the internet. While this style of learning requires initiative and dedication, you can certainly learn the basics and beyond through a combination or workbooks, audio resources like podcasts and language audiobooks, activities on websites, and international movies and TV. Start by purchasing a language textbook and workbook from a bookstore or Amazon. As you work through the book, consume a steady diet of media in the target language to enhance your vocabulary and practice listening skills.

a woman independently studying
Study a language independently and save lots of money. Source: Pexels

Independent learners will also find lots of apps and sites online that offer language practice. Check out Duolingo for a popular, fun option, or Memrise for free courses. EdX offers Massive Open Online Courses - get a login and you’ll be learning the language of your choice at the university or school of your dreams for low or no cost.

Set realistic goals for yourself, practice speaking whenever you have the opportunity, and you’ll have the basic skills to communicate in no time!

Hire a Private Tutor

Whether you are an independent learner, taking a class, or have a child learning a heritage or second language, hiring a tutor can be an amazing learning option. A private tutor is great for those with busy schedules, can’t find a class in their community, or are looking for enrichment and extra classes. If you have a short-term goal, like learning for a trip or a specific type of vocabulary, a tutor can tailor their instruction and focus on what is most relevant to you.

a woman tutor
A language tutor is an easy and convenient way to learn another language Source: Unsplash

If you have kids that are learning, a tutor can do a private class for your child or children, or a small group of relatives if you can get a group. Work out a price and grab some workbooks, and you’ll have a private classroom at home or online in no time. A tutor can help your kids with their existing language classes, or help your older kids prepare for an exam or proficiency test. Tutoring offers so many flexible solutions for your needs!

Language tutors are usually native speakers that can provide you or your kids with valuable conversation time that is hard to get without travelling. In many cases, they are teachers themselves that have their own tried and true strategies to help you learn. Sites like Superprof have amazing local options for tutors near you in a variety of languages. Can’t find a tutor near you? Hire one from another city or province and do classes virtually.

Find your international language tutor on 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.