Multilingualism gets royal attention

Posted on Monday, March 12, 2018

Author: Laura Darche

The King of Belgians discusses with sudents along with the president Jacques Frémont

The University of Ottawa had the great honour of being part of the state visit to Canada of Their Majesties the King and Queen of the Belgians. The royal couple took part in events as part of the “Multilingual Education and Language Learning: Canada and Belgium at a Crossroads” conference organized by the University of Ottawa and the Université Catholique de Louvain. Along with the conference, the two universities also signed an agreement for a double degree in multilingual communication / organizational communication (with research paper option).

Émilie Cousineau adressing the public on the Huguette Labelle room podium

Émilie Cousineau, who was an exchange student at the Université de Liège, Belgium, told His Majesty the King of the Belgians that in addition to cultural discovery and academic learning, her exchange allowed her to discover her own resilience, along with issues related to multilingualism common to Canada and Belgium.

Bilingualism is us!

It’s no accident that this conference on multilingual education took place on our campus: we’re the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world. We also have the largest French immersion program in Canada, with many courses offered in both languages. Students who have been through French immersion before university have very limited options to convert the language skills they’ve acquired into real research skills and bilingual work. Learning scholarly writing in both English and French simultaneously allows these students to make the most of their educational investment and fully attain biliteracy in two official languages. 

Students who pursue higher education in a second language face serious challenges. At the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI), professors and researchers are constantly looking for new ways to apply their research results to promote best practices in the classroom and in teacher education. Here are some examples. 

Francophiles with community connections

If you search on the Wikivoyage — Est de l’Ontario page, you’ll probably come across an article written by students in the internet technologies and social media for French as a second language course taught by Marie-Josée Hamel. In this new course, Hamel applies the notion that students can leave their mark in the francophone community by being in situations where there is real communication. For example, while they were writing an article on Cumberland, a new local microbrewer became quite taken with the project and provided lots of information on local tourist attractions. Students also took part in the Concours de twittérature des Amériques, a tweet-based competition, and were invited to be YouTubers for a day, as you can see in this student’s video. 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained 

Learning a second language on a bilingual campus is a double-edged sword: on one hand, there are many opportunities to practise, but at the same time, it’s easy for learners to give in to the fear of making mistakes and only use their first language. To get them out of their comfort zone, Nikolay Slavkov, along with a team of professors, students and OLBI staff, launched the Linguistic Risk-Taking Initiative. Students receive a passport with a series of tasks of varying levels of difficulty (making a phone call, writing a Facebook post, shopping, etc.). They write down and evaluate risks in the passport, and suggest new ones (like slamming in public!). The passport is a living instrument that will soon be available as an app, to be able to geolocate places that lend themselves to risk taking.

The King of Belgians walks on the red carpet with the president Jacques Frémont


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