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Where are all our language options?

Correction [Made Sept. 28]: Previously, this article asked why the Mi’kmaw language is not taught at Dalhousie University, St. Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU). The Mi’kmaw language is taught at Dalhousie, St. Mary’s and MSVU. Students at Dal can find Mi’kmaw Language for Non-speakers I (INDG 2901) and II (INDG 2902) under Indigenous Studies in the academic timetable. The Dalhousie Gazette has updated the article and apologizes for this error.

A variety of cultures and identities are growing within Nova Scotia, however, the option of learning languages outside of English or French remains limited in universities. This should change to provide more inclusive and explorative educational opportunities.

Offering more language options in post-secondary schools allows us to accept and embrace the diversity of Nova Scotians. It creates ties of communication between the cultures and identities in our province.

Growing up in private schools in Halifax and Ontario, I’ve spent a lot of time with international students. I came to notice that students who witnessed a lack of interest in their mother tongue felt their cultures were undervalued by not only the school but also their peers. This created a sense of alienation for many students to the point where they began devaluing their own cultures and identities as well. 

Language in Halifax

This year Dalhousie is offering courses in Arabic, Mandarin, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Mi’kmaw and Russian. St. Mary’s University offers Mi’kmaw, Japanese, Mandarin, Irish, French, German and Spanish. Mount Saint Vincent University offers M’ikmaw, Mandarin, French and Spanish. 

Where are all the options? According to a 2016 report by the Finance and Treasury Board of Nova Scotia, the most commonly spoken language in Nova Scotia outside of official languages were Arabic, Mandarin and Mi’kmaw, with others speaking Tagalog, German and Spanish. 

The Nova Scotia Health Authority also reports approximately 58,000 deaf people in Nova Scotia. Where are the classes for American Sign Language and Tagalog?

In the past, I studied Spanish as an elective and found it opened many career opportunities I hadn’t considered. Learning Spanish also taught me about Spanish culture. This helped me better appreciate and understand Latin America and provided access to opportunities for co-op job opportunities outside of Canada. 

  With a possible surge of refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan coming to Halifax in the near future, there are opportunities for new jobs to be held and businesses created by people who don’t primarily speak English. 

Learning languages other than English and French has helped me make a more attractive resumé. Knowing language improves employability, I wonder if having a broader selection of languages would inspire a wider range of job opportunities.

There is also a language benefit to our tourism industry. According to Discover Halifax, the tourism industry brings in 5.3 million overnight stays in the region each year.

Encouraging students to study different languages supports foreign citizens and visitors of Nova Scotia and helps them feel welcomed and valued. 

Learning new languages promotes understanding

The importance of including multiple languages in the lives of students is emphasized by Ria Angelo, a University of Bath doctor of education candidate, in her article about the need for more language options in Canadian schools, published in the Conversation. 

Angelo is also a middle school teacher in Toronto. A survey in the piece showed students “lose interest and become disconnected and may become set for failure” when teachers don’t show interest in any linguistic knowledge they may have already had in other languages. 

The article also expressed that learning different languages doesn’t only teach us how to speak differently, it helps us understand those cultures and their traditions. 

Building positivity through language

As students learn new languages in school, they also learn to be more understanding of the differences between cultures. 

In a study by American researchers, Hanh Thi Nguyen and Guy Kellogg in the Modern Language Journal, students were encouraged to learn new languages to break stereotypes of said language’s associated cultures. The researchers showed that learning languages has a positive impact on the way people think and act.

Providing access to language learning (outside of English and French) in Nova Scotia universities could offer a similarly positive impact. 

The student opinion

In a list of reasons to study foreign languages created by Auburn University, it was cited that university grads often say foreign language studies are among the “most valuable courses in college because of the communication skills developed in the process.”

The same list suggests knowing a foreign language in combination with a degree offers a greater number of job opportunities in fields like “government, business, medicine, law, technology, military, industry, marketing and more.”

The difficult aspect of including more languages in school curriculum is deciding which to include. With the growth of multicultural communities in Nova Scotia, there are many languages that deserve to be spotlighted by local education. 

Despite the challenges of selecting the appropriate languages to teach in universities, we should be helping to ensure our fellow Nova Scotians aren’t deprived of services or knowledge because of language barriers. 

Obtaining more language options for universities begins with university students like us. It’s important that we speak up for the rights of our own and other cultures.

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