Academic journal article Education

Teaching and Learning in Bilingual Countries: The Examples of Belgium and Canada

Academic journal article Education

Teaching and Learning in Bilingual Countries: The Examples of Belgium and Canada

Article excerpt

As a Canadian visiting Belgium I was struck by the similarity in linguistic challenges in the two countries. Like Canada, Belgium is officially a bilingual country with French as the language both countries have in common. In Canada, of course, the other language is English, whereas in Belgium it is Dutch. It seemed to this visitor that there existed the same lack of cohesion and the same stresses between the two linguistic' groups as exists in Canada. As a student of bilingual language polity in Canada and as someone interested in the teaching and learning of a second language, I wanted to investigate some of the similarities and some of the differences in language instruction between the two countries. For this study, I have chosen to examine more closely the teaching of French to Dutch speakers in Belgium and the teaching of French to English speakers in Canada. This paper will look at the policies for student learning and for teacher education in both countries.

Background Information

In order to understand educational policy, it is important to present some data concerning the linguistic and political situation in Belgium. Modern Belgium is divided into two regions with the Dutch speakers living in the northern part called Flanders, and the French speakers living in the southern part called Wallonia. Each region is responsible for its own educational system. The 1932 Belgian law on language use in primary and secondary education "was based in principle on the concept of region unilingualism, whereby only Dutch would be used in the North (Flanders) and only French in the south (Wallonia)" (Sonntag, 1989, p. 17). Brussels, the capital, interestingly enough, is located geographically in Flanders but is predominantly French speaking, although officially bilingual. In education, the Brussels area has a special bilingual status. Belgium is a small country of less than 12,000 square miles, but with a population of 10 million. Over the years, there has been friction between the groups, each vying for preeminence both politically and economically. Speaking linguistically, Goethals (1993) has stated that "the presence of Dutch in Wallonia and Brussels has grown, in an increasingly friendly or at least more accepting atmosphere and in Flanders, French is much less felt to be a threat to Flemish culture" (p. 18). As in Canada, French speakers are the minority; however, official bilingualism makes it imperative that French be taught as a second language to the non-francophones (French speakers).

Canada, conversely, is an immense country geographically with a relatively sparse population of approximately 25 million. The country, officially bilingual nationally, is divided into ten provinces each with its own linguistic policy. French is the only official language in one, Quebec. New Brunswick is officially bilingual, and Ontario, also with a significant francophone population, is like the other provinces officially. English speaking. Education is a provincial concern, so each province has its own jurisdiction over policies and practices of teaching French to anglophones (English speakers). For the purposes of this paper, I shall use Ontario as the Canadian example since it is the province with which I am most familiar. The policies regarding the teaching of French in Ontario are similar to those in the other officially English speaking provinces.

French as a Second Language

In Flanders, French is introduced to neerlandophones (Dutch speakers) in the last two years of primary school (ages 10-12) with approximately two hours of instruction per week. In Brussels, though, FSL is introduced two years earlier giving students there extra years to improve their linguistic abilities. In secondary schools of Flanders, French is taught for four hours per week (Goethals, 1993, p. 16). It should be noted that the amount of language instruction varies with the academic stream the student is in. …

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