Canada is an incredibly diverse country with millions of people originating or arriving from well over 200 countries. You will find Canadians speaking languages from all over the world: Cantonese, Punjabi, Mandarin. Tagalog, Arabic, Serbian, Portuguese, Italian, German, Vietnamese, Swahili, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Farsi, Cree, and Twi are just a handful of voices you’ll hear across Canada.
While English and French remain the two official languages, the homes of Canadian families are often multilingual thanks to parents and elders who continue speaking their heritage languages, even to new generations of children. While many kids retain their family’s language, there are children who will ‘lose’ their multilingualism as they become immersed in English or French, or retain receptiveness to their home language. Generations that follow may not even have any knowledge of their heritage language, having lost a valuable link to their family’s past.
Any parents interested in maintaining their family’s linguistic heritage will be pleased to know that Canada is one of the best places for their kids to be multilingual. Not only is multilingualism an asset in a global job economy, it is widely valued in an increasingly multicultural economy. With communities and cultural centres for dozens of nationalities in cities across the country, it can be easy to find a heritage language class or a community of other people with the same background as your kids.
Let’s take a closer look at why you should encourage your child to learn their heritage language, and how you can best support them in their language learning.
Find out why so many Canadians are becoming Multilingual right now!
1. Build a Strong Connection with your Family’s Culture
- Learning a heritage language will help your kids feel closer to their family's cultures. Source: Unsplash
Perhaps one of the best reasons to get your child to learn their family’s language is that it helps them feel connected with their roots. Whether you are yourself an immigrant, a second-generation Canadian, or your family has been here for generations, you will want your child to be proud of their ancestry. When kids understand their cultural background they will have a stronger sense of pride in who they are, and feel connected to a larger, diasporic community. Identity is important, and when kids know who they are and can even speak the language of their ancestors, they will develop better self-esteem and may even be empowered to communicate with their extended family.
Your kids will also be better prepared for a trip into your family’s home country if they can grasp even a basic level of the language. To really support their learning, you might even find a school or some classes where they can learn their family’s language in your home country. If all goes well, your family can return every year or two and continue practicing their language skills. Picture your kids speaking to a grandparent or relative in their language - they will have access to a wealth of family history and traditions.
2. Multilingualism is an Asset
As technology and globalism thrive, multilingualism has become a huge asset in the Canadian economy. When your kids speak another language, they will also be better prepared for their careers. Having proficiency in languages other than English looks great on a resume, and many companies that operate internationally value second and third language skills in their staff. Your child will be equipped to converse with a wider range of clients, colleagues, and employers who speak different languages, and will be well positioned to make connections with others. Studying and volunteering abroad is a popular option for many college and university students, and your child will be well positioned to live abroad if they have multilingual skills. Being able to speak different languages is also incredibly useful for travel, which will surely enrich your child’s life as they grow up.
What are the best strategies for helping your child become bilingual? Find out in our article.
3. Develop Literacy in Another Language
Another benefit of heritage language learning for your child is that they will develop literacy skills in another language. Each language has its own alphabet or script, their own ways of reading (some languages like Arabic read right to left; languages such as Korean read up and down), and their own conventions for spelling or sentence structure. When your child becomes literate in another language, they will be able to enter a whole world of communication and understand how to use language in different modalities. Learning the nuances of another language will make your kids more aware of their own usage of English, as they make connections from one language to another.
- Help your child develop literacy skills in their heritage language. Source: Unsplash
Imagine your child using Spanish accents, writing in Cyrillic, or understanding Mandarin script - you will be thrilled as they acquire new linguistic skills.
4. Enjoy a Whole New World of Music, Film, and Books
With reading and listening skills in another language, your kids will be able to understand and appreciate a whole new world of media. Thanks to the internet, content in a variety of languages from different countries can be easily found, from telenovelas to dance music to social media posts. As they acquire their heritage language, they will be entertained as they learn and watch international films or listen to music with lyrics in the target language.
Find movies in Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Hebrew on Netflix; find popular music from hundreds of countries on YouTube. You’ll find plenty of bookstores that carry books in international languages, and a quick social media scroll will reveal hundreds of accounts and influencers from different countries.
5. Learning a New Language Supports Cognitive Development
If you need another reason for your child to learn another language, you might consider that learning a new language is healthy for our minds. When we learn another language, our brain makes connections with different ideas and concepts, and our minds work to decode and understand new words.Research has even shown that bilingual kids are better problem-solvers. Some studies have even connected multilingualism to lowering the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease - a huge benefit for everyone.
When our kids attend language classes, they will also learn new study habits and skills that benefit them in different subjects. Learning grammar rules, new vocabulary, and how to navigate social situations in another language is challenging, and meeting new friends in their classes can be socially stimulating.
Language learning isn’t just for kids! Read our article on heritage language study for adults here.
Learning Heritage Languages in Canada
There are so many ways for your child to learn their heritage language. Many school boards in large cities like Toronto and Mississauga offer an International Language school where kids can learn languages for low to no price. These classes often take place on the weekend or after school, and bring together groups of students that may not have met otherwise. Teachers are often multilingual staff that are well versed in teaching young kids.
Another way your kids can learn their heritage language is through cultural centers. These organizations are often created by community members who have a strong interest in seeing their languages continue to thrive in Canada. These centres are typically found in neighbourhoods with a significant ethnic group; they may also promote folkloric dance, food, music, and social events in addition to language classes.
Private language schools are another great place to learn languages. The Alliance Francaise, Spanish Centre, or schools like Berlitz offer classes for kids and teens. You’ll also be able to find plenty of online schools for kids where they can meet kids from all around the world.
Hire a Private Tutor
One of the most convenient and effective ways your child can learn their heritage language is with a private tutor. Private tutoring is an amazing option for families with busy schedules: with sports, clubs, and school, it can be hard to align all the extracurriculars. A tutor can meet you at a time that works for your family, and can come to your home or teach virtually if it’s more convenient. They may have their own curriculum, or you can order a workbook or textbook from an online bookstore to support your child’s learning.
- A tutor is an excellent way to help your child learn their heritage language. Source: Unsplash
A private tutor is also perfect for families with a language that may not be widely spoken and there is limited availability for classes. If you can get a group of kids together, or have multiple kids, you can work with your private tutor to organize small group sessions. A private language tutor can give your kids valuable one-to-one or small group instruction and conversational practice that can be hard to get in a class. They can focus on specific topics, or work on the finer points of writing and grammar. If your child is already in a language class, a private tutor can help them get to the next level in their speaking, writing, and reading, or help them prepare for assessments.
Thanks to sites like Superprof, finding a tutor near you is incredibly easy. Superprof lists local tutors who can teach your child whatever language you want them to learn. Check out Superprof today!
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