Berlitz Blog

Published : Mon, Jun 28, 2021 4:00 PM GMT

COVID response helping preserve Canadians’ heritage languages

The COVID pandemic has disrupted our lives in many ways, large and small. Companies have closed, as have some entire countries, travel has been disrupted and education moved online. 

Research has shown that being isolated at home, social distancing and being forced to wear masks have caused people to feel more isolated from their families, their friends and the rest of the world.

But there is also evidence that studying language and culture online may help people feel they are still part of the world in addition to providing well-documented benefits, ranging from better reasoning and math skills among children to helping older people stay sharp and delaying the onset of such degenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s.

There has been a lot of debate recently about the effectiveness of virtual vs. in-person education. Regardless, online language has shown to help maintain the interest of children and, perhaps more important, keep them connected. Through virtual language learning, users have the opportunity to contact thousands of other young people around the globe, sharing cultures and experiences, as well as language learning.

COVID isolation has also affected our cultures in other unusual and unexpected ways, such as helping to rejuvenate interest in immigrants’ heritage languages. 

More than one-in-five Canadians speak a language at home other than French and English, and while most parents understand it’s vital their children are proficient in Canada’s two official languages, for many there’s also a strong desire to stay connected to their mother country. 

One side effect of COVID isolation may be to help this happen. According to a number of experts, children are showing greater interest in their backgrounds, including learning more about their languages and culture.

The New York Times has reported that as a result of the COVID lockdown, children are spending more time in with their parents and grandparents, making those in multi-cultural households more likely to hear elders speak their heritage languages. Evidence shows this has helped result in increased interest in language learning, not only in Canada, but also in such countries as Germany, the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere.

Top countries from which immigrants are coming to Canada include India (No. 1), China, Philippines, South Korea and Iraq. Berlitz Canada offers instruction in the languages and cultures of all these countries, as well as many others. 

The COVID pandemic is also having another unexpected result, strengthening the importance and use of Canada’s 66 aboriginal languages.

This language “revitalization” is growing throughout Canada, according to a research study by Onawa McIvor of the University of Victoria.

When COVID hit indigenous communities quicky began to develop resources in their heritage languages to teach members about the virus and how to protect themselves. Digital tools and even posters were created in aboriginal languages to share this information.

Research gathered is being used to create resources which will be shared with communities and organizations across Canada to continue heritage language work after the pandemic ends.

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