This report presents findings and results from a major study on second-language learning opportunities in Canada’s universities, undertaken in 2008 and 2009 by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The objective of the study was to expand the knowledge base about opportunities for students to develop their second-official-language skills while pursuing higher education and preparing for their working career. Related objectives were to identify challenges and barriers, potential models and approaches, and ideas on how to improve second-language learning opportunities at the university level.

An advisory committee was established to provide overall guidance and advice. The Committee was co-chaired by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, and the then President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Claire Morris. 

Members of the Advisory Committee included senior representatives from universities, education and research organizations, the private sector and the federal and provincial/territorial governments (for a list of committee members, please see the Appendix in report). Members brought to the Committee their personal knowledge and experience in the area of language learning as well as the perspective of their organization.

The first phase of the study consisted of a survey of Canadian universities that revealed the type and extent of current opportunities for second-language learning. The second phase included focus groups with professors, university administrators and students in different institutions across Canada, as well as key-informant interviews.

The Commissioner of Official Languages makes a number of recommendations—to institutions, governments, and others—with a view to improving second-language learning opportunities in Canada’s universities. A comprehensive list of recommendations is available in the report.

Recommendations for the Government of Canada:

Recommendation 1: Making action happen

In order to ensure a follow-up to the conclusions and recommendations of this report, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, given his mandate to encourage and support the learning of English and French in Canada, convene a meeting of interested parties, including universities, educational organizations, language experts and governments, to discuss how to improve second-language learning opportunities in Canada’s universities and identify possible next steps and future actions.

 

Recommendation 2: Making second-language learning a priority

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and provincial and territorial governments, through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, develop an overall policy statement recognizing second-language learning as an integral element of education at the university level in Canada, and encourage universities to offer enhanced second-language learning opportunities. This policy should identify improving second-language learning opportunities at Canada’s universities as a joint priority for action, and governments should enter into discussions on how to best collaborate to this end with each other and with universities and with other interested parties.

 

Recommendation 3: A new fund

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial governments establish a new fund to provide financial assistance to universities to develop and implement new initiatives to improve second-language learning opportunities. This fund should not, however, diminish the existing support as well as the need for additional support of minority-language and bilingual institutions.

Recommendations for the Government of Canada and universities:

Recommendation 4: The public service and universities

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Government of Canada, in the context of public service renewal, establish as a priority working with provincial and territorial governments and with universities to increase the pool of bilingual candidates for public service positions and ensure access for all Canadians.

Recommendations for universities:

Recommendation 5: Taking action

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that individual institutions develop strategies and action plans to improve second-language learning opportunities in the context of each institution’s own situation and circumstances.

In particular, the Commissioner recommends that institutions develop and offer students more opportunities for intensive second-language learning, including second-language courses linked to their field of academic study, opportunities to study in their second language and opportunities to live and study in the second-language milieu and interact with persons from the other language group.

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that institutions place particular emphasis on developing inter-institutional collaboration and using technology to address these needs.

 

Recommendation 6: Examining different approaches

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada work with universities to explore different approaches to improve second-language learning opportunities by promoting enhanced partnerships and collaboration among institutions.

This could involve establishing a working group of interested institutions to examine key issues and to develop proposals and advice for university presidents and for governments, including proposals for pilot projects to test different models and approaches.

It could also involve establishing a working group of French-language institutions outside Quebec to examine issues and develop proposals relating to the attraction and integration of English-speaking students, and to enhance collaboration on second-language learning with English-language institutions.

 

Recommendation 7: Obtaining more information

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that universities collect further information on the willingness and ability of professors to teach courses in the other language, and on students’ second-language learning objectives and interest in the kinds of opportunities that they would like.

Surveys and studies in this respect could be undertaken by individual universities, or collectively through the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and other interested parties.

 

Recommendation 8: Adopting second-language policies

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that universities adopt formal policies relating to second-language learning in the context of an overall strategy to enhance second-language learning.

The Commissioner also recommends that universities identify other ways and means to recognize the importance of second-language learning and demonstrate the value that they attach to it.

This could include, for example, developing new or strengthened second-language requirements as part of general university requirements or that are targeted to specific academic disciplines, recognizing the challenge of second-language learning through immersion or other forms of intensive study in the second language and taking such experience into consideration in assessing applications to university or to specific programs.

 

Recommendation 9: Further study

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that governments, universities, the private sector and other organizations undertake further research on second-language learning at the university level. This research could include documenting the following:

  • Employer and labour market demand for knowledge of a second language;
  • Additional data and information relating to second-language learning in university;
  • The experience, policies, models and effective practices of other countries with respect to second-language learning at university.