Allocution d'Elena Valenzuela, Directrice de l'ILOB, devant le Comité sénatorial permanent des langues officielles

Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme
Droits linguistiques

Par Elena Valenzuela

Directrice de l'ILOB et doyenne associée de la Faculté des Arts, Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme

Elena Valenzuela
Elena Valenzuela
Le 27 mai 2024, la directrice de l'Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme, Elena Valenzuela, a prononcé un discours au Sénat.

Notes d’allocution
Elena Valenzuela, Directrice et doyenne associée
Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme, Université d’Ottawa

Étude sur les services de santé dans la langue de la minorité
Comité sénatorial permanent des langues officielles
Le lundi 27 mai, 2024

Note : Le texte qui suit est présenté dans la langue originale du discours.

Monsieur le Président, mesdames et messieurs membres du Comité sénatorial permanent des langues officielles,

Merci de m'avoir invitée à présenter mes points de vue sur les services de santé en langue minoritaire et le rôle des établissements postsecondaires.

Depuis plus de 15 ans, je mène des recherches sur les langues minoritaires dans le contexte canadien. Dans mes recherches, j'examine les défis liés au maintien de la langue minoritaire, la relation entre la langue et l'identité, ainsi que les effets des politiques sur le maintien de la langue maternelle. Aujourd'hui, en tant que directrice de l'Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme à l'Université d'Ottawa, la plus grande université bilingue au monde, j'ai le plaisir de collaborer avec des enseignant.e.s, professeur.e.s, chercheur.e.s et étudiant.e.s qui sont engagé.e.s et soutiennent activement la mission bilingue du Canada, qui enrichie et fait partie intégrante de l'ADN du pays.

There has been a good amount of research on the impact of language of care for anglophone, francophone, and allophone patients in minority language settings in Canada. A study looking at patients from long-term care facilities admitted to hospitals in Ontario showed that when patients received care in their own language (French, English, or non-official language), they had shorter hospital stays, decreased anxiety, and fewer adverse effects while in hospital (Seale et al. 20221). Similar studies outside of Canada support Canadian findings. When health care providers can speak with patients in the patient’s language, there is improved direct communication resulting in increased patient autonomy. It is a matter of dignity and respect to be able to receive care in your first language and thus take ownership of your own health and wellness. On a personal note, I am the daughter of Spanish immigrants and have firsthand experience with this issue. My father worked for the government for 30 years speaking both French and English. Now at 88 years old, he is still proficient in French and English, but Spanish remains his dominant language. I accompany him to all his medical appointments because he finds that the combination of hearing loss and needing to speak in his second language creates a certain anxiety that makes it difficult for him to retain the medical information. I am there to translate for him. The few times we have come across health care workers that spoke Spanish; I could see an immediate difference in my father’s engagement with his care.

Having access to healthcare in one's minority language ensures effective communication and better health outcomes. It reinforces the cultural and linguistic identity of the community. By providing healthcare services in the minority language, we acknowledge and support the integral role it plays in the well-being and cultural continuity of its speakers. It also supports the maintenance and survival of our official languages. Once we start cutting access to official languages in minority settings we will start to lose that language. If Canada wants to uphold its commitment to bilingualism, it will have to keep these essential services accessible in the minority language.

Minority-language communities, including Francophones outside Quebec, Indigenous peoples, and allophones, face substantial barriers in accessing health services. These barriers impact healthcare quality and overall well-being of these communities. Universities and post-secondary institutions can address these challenges through research, education, and community engagement. In the following I will address some key points.

  1. Training Health Professionals: One of the most pressing challenges is the shortage of health professionals who are proficient in minority languages. Universities can address this gap by integrating language training into health-related programs. For example, the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute at the University of Ottawa offers French immersion programs as well as certifications for bilingual healthcare providers. At the university, our main challenge is funding and support for such programs.
  2. Interdisciplinary Education: Universities can foster interdisciplinary collaboration, essential for addressing complex health issues. This approach ensures that graduates not only understand the clinical aspects of healthcare but also the cultural and linguistic nuances that affect patient care.
  3. Bilingual and Plurilingual Health Programs: Establishing more bilingual health programs within universities can attract students who already speak minority languages and provide them with additional training. Although most health science programs outside of Quebec are English, there are several programs in French and fewer still that are bilingual. Language training for future health care workers should not be minimized. Scholarships and financial incentives can further encourage students to pursue these programs, addressing the shortage of bilingual health professionals.

To conclude, universities and post-secondary institutions play a crucial role in improving minority-language health services by providing linguistic training to health professionals, conducting research, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and engaging with communities. By investing in these areas, we can ensure that all Canadians, regardless of their language, can better engage in their own healthcare, gain autonomy, and feel the sense of dignity and respect we all deserve. Linguistic rights are human rights.

Merci. Thank you.

1 Seale, E., Reaume, M., Batista, R., Eddeen, A. B., Roberts, R., Rhodes, E., ... & Tanuseputro, P. (2022). Patient–physician language concordance and quality and safety outcomes among frail home care recipients admitted to hospital in Ontario, Canada. Cmaj, 194(26), E899-E908.