Canada requires immigrants to relearn many aspects of their lives, including language, laws, diet, driving and many other factors. The pressure can sometimes lead to people suppressing their identity in order to fit in.
Many newcomers struggle to find the right balance between assimilation and preserving their unique identities and culture in Canada.
This article will examine the issue surrounding mother tongues and identity among immigrant families in Canada, the advantages of passing down a language for future generations and ways to do it.
What is a mother tongue?
In the context of an immigrant child who learns more than a single language in early childhood, the mother tongue is the language spoken most often at home before starting school.
Do immigrants get to practice their culture and mother tongue in Canada?
In today’s Canada, it is not uncommon to see people practicing their customs in their daily lives. The rise in immigration and immigrant communities has created a positive environment for unique cultures and languages to flourish. One such breakthrough was the use of the Punjabi language at the Canadian parliament.
Nowadays, many cities are multicultural hotspots with people of different backgrounds, faith and cultures.
What are the most common immigrant fears about language in Canada?
Many immigrant families fear their children will lose the ability to interact in their mother tongue in a foreign land.
This fear is balanced by an understanding that their child’s development in one of the official Canadian languages is crucial for integration and success within the system.
Why should children be taught their mother tongue?
The Caring for Kids New to Canada society encourages parents to develop good foundations in the child’s mother tongue. The reasons given as to why parents and children need to converse in their mother tongue were:
- Preschool children with a strong first language base can easily pick up a second language
- Preschool children with a strong first language perform better at reading and writing exercises
There are many other advantages to having children know their mother tongue:
- Giving them a link to their culture- Language is a way for children to develop closer associations with their culture. Connecting to your culture and history can be a big source of self-confidence and pride.
- Way to communicate with relatives back home- Many recent immigrants have close ties with their relatives back home. Teaching your children their mother tongue can be an effective way to bridge this gap between generations.
- Research also proves that bilingualism and multilingualism are beneficial to a child’s intellectual development. It can improve the brain’s cognitive functions and maximize your child’s potential.
- Knowing more languages can lead to more professional opportunities in the future. It improves your child’s employability, especially if they are proficient in a major language.
How to teach children their mother tongue
Helping your kids get proficient in their mother tongue in Canada requires effort and commitment from you as a parent. Some steps will go a long way towards this process.
- Interacting in your mother tongue is the simplest and easiest way to instil it in your kids. Mentor and help them cultivate a sense of pride in their unique language and culture.
- Finding a community of people with a shared background can be beneficial to your kid’s development. It widens their social circle with people who can influence and broaden their understanding of their language and roots.
- Exposing your kids to reading and visual media in your mother tongue can be fun and educational. It helps them widen their vocabulary and understand cultural tropes and practices.
- Maintaining a solid connection to your roots and regular visits to your home country can help your child pick up a language, develop relationships and understand cultural and social norms.
Are there schools that cater to other languages
Most of the instruction in school is in one of the official Canadian languages, English or French.
What is the status of minority languages in Canada?
The 2021 survey showed that one in four Canadians (9 million) had a mother tongue other than English or French. The number of Canadians who spoke a non-official language at home was 4.6 million- an increase of 16% from 4 million in 2016.
Aside from English and French, Mandarin was the most predominantly spoken language at home, followed by the Punjabi language, Cantonese and Spanish.
Other languages with a growing number of speakers from 2016 to 2021 were,
- Malayalam (+129% to 35,000 people)
- East African language (+114% to 22,000 people)
- Hindi (+66% to 92,000 people)
- Punjabi (+49% to 520,000 people)
- Gujarati (+43% to 92,000 people)
- Turkish (+48% to 28,000 people)
- Tagalog (+29% to 275,000 people).
The statistics are an encouraging sign of the rich multicultural fabric of modern Canada. The increasing number of speakers is a good reason to teach a child to converse in their mother tongue.
As adults, we’re often guilty of underestimating a child’s ability to pick up languages. There’s no reason to compromise one language in favour of the other. With the proper guidance and socialization, a child will progress in both their mother tongue and a second language, be it English or French.