LET’S WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE: Bilingualism and its role in the 21st Century

The question of how important it is to be able to speak a language other than English both in Canada and beyond has occupied researchers for decades. Some argue that due to the globalization of the language in most parts of the world today, being able to communicate in another would not be very beneficial at all. Others however maintain that an advantage always lies in the ability to converse with people in more than one language.

Schooling in Québec prior to coming to Western, I was very much exposed to the advantages of being able to speak English in a part of the world where it wasn’t even recognized as an official language. With my English skills, I was more likely to get jobs and volunteer positions than my monolinguals competitors, could apply to several universities in any Canadian province I desired, and was ultimately able to travel anywhere I wanted without yoking within me, the fear of being completely unable to communicate with locals. English was my universal passport that could take me anywhere I yearned and like a minimum-wage earning worker offered complementary breakfast at a 3-star hotel, I took maximum advantage of all its benefits.

Today, almost half the residents of Quebec are able to speak English with a good amount enrolling in programs to learn the language everyday. However, bilingualism is unfortunately shrinking in the rest of Canada. Lesser and lesser jobs require being able to communicate in a French as a prerequisite, and more and more people find learning a second language to be an absolute waste of their time, money and effort. This, I believe, is a huge inaccuracy that needs to be addressed.

First of all, being bilingual doesn’t only open doors for you within Canada, but it also does in so many different parts of the world. I cannot emphasize enough the great amount of opportunities that can come along with being bilingual in today’s world. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, businessmen, etc., are needed more today all over the world than in any other time in our history. Due to the fact that English is the new global passport of the world, many Non-Anglophone countries are setting programs in place to teach the next generation how to be true citizens of the world hence putting native English speakers at a huge advantage. However, there lies an astoundingly greater advantage that comes along with being able to speak both English, and the language of the locals in any natively non-English speaking country. So why is there seemingly a decline in the number of people learning speak French and/or other languages in English speaking Canada?

It is absolutely imperative that we, as a country, protect the French language by giving more and more opportunities to people capable of speaking both French and English. It is equally extremely important that we encourage students to learn a second language while in university by stressing the advantages that come along with doing so. It should also be accentuated that the argument that being able to speak only English is all that is needed to keep all doors open lacks clarity, is not backed up by statistics, and in short, is simply not true. Even in this country, situated in a continent where the English language has prospered immeasurably for centuries, being able to speak only English is not nearly as advantageous as being bilingual.

So, ladies and gentlemen of Western, let’s wake up and smell the coffee: Bilingualism is still, and quite rightly so, very much advantageous in today’s world.

A stop sign is seen near Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

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