Opinions

The pros and cons to multilingualism

A trilingual international student reflects on multilingualism in Canada

The pros and cons to multilingualism
(Photo supplied)
written by Sarath Sasidharan
November 5, 2015 9:40 pm

 

As an international student away from India and moving to Canada, this is the biggest journey I have ever taken in my life. Moving from a familiar environment where there was no language barrier and relocating to a place where I have to orient myself, I have had my challenges. Luckily, being able to speak three languages, I can get around and adjust easily to the environment.

In Canada, international students comprise eight per cent of the post-secondary student population in Canada. This makes Canada the seventh most popular country in the world for international students to attend university. These students coming to Canada bring along a huge amount of multiculturalism to Canada, as they are more prone to be multilingual.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being an international student speaking multiple languages in Canada. As for myself, being a student coming from India and speaking English, Hindi (national language of India) and Malayalam (native language of my province), I have had challenges and advantages in Canada.

Advantages

International students who speak multiple languages can grasp a different language easily because they have learned multiple languages throughout their life.

The next advantage is that they are able to make friends with people who speak that language more easily than students who are not able to get grasp of that language. This makes them able to create an impression instantly. Canada being a multicultural country, there’s a good chance that someone will speak that language. I have had the experience and opportunity to make acquaintance with people from a variety of countries where I am able to understand their language.

A community is more willing to accept someone who speaks its language. This breaks down the barriers of being strangers, and the international student is able to become a part of the community. Being a student from India, I have been able engage in conversations with different people from India living in Halifax and other parts of the country.

Disadvantages

A multilingual international student can lose grasp in her native or other languages she speaks due to lack of use because she can’t meet or engage in conversations with people who speak that language.

The student might also mix up with her known languages. This could be due to a prolonged use of certain language that was not commonly used by the student before.

One of the major disadvantages would be if the student is fluent in a language other than her native language, the community might look down on the student’s use of another language. This can cause the student to disconnect from her native community.

With the variety of culture the multicultural, international students bring with themselves, and the range of languages they know, these are some of the disadvantages and advantages every multilingual international student faces throughout their experience.

Sarath Sasidharan is the president of AISEC Halifax.

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