Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN CANADA'S OFFICIALLY BILINGUAL PROVINCE: Challenges and Opportunities

Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN CANADA'S OFFICIALLY BILINGUAL PROVINCE: Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Abstract:

New Brunswick holds the unique distinction of being Canada's only officially bilingual province. Government services, including social welfare and education, are available to every citizen in either French or English. A research study explored social workers' views on the challenges and opportunities of official bilingualism, particularly in a context in which the Acadian francophone population historically has held minority status. The results emphasize the need for social workers to expand their linguistic abilities to include minoritized languages.

Abrégé : Le Nouveau-Brunswick a l'insigne honneur d'être l'unique province officiellement bilingue du Canada. Les services gouvernementaux, dont l'aide sociale et l'éducation, y sont offerts en français ou en anglais à tous les citoyens de la province. Une étude a été réalisée pour connaître le point de vue des travailleurs sociaux sur les défis et les perspectives du bilinguisme officiel, en particulier dans l'optique de la situation minoritaire qu'est historiquement celle de la population acadienne de langue française. On en conclut que les travailleurs sociaux devraient parfaire leurs compétences linguistiques pour les étendre aux langues minorisées.

SOCIAL WORK is a profession committed to social justice and to respect for human rights. In October 2004 the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) approved a Statement of Principles affirming that social workers are to take into account cultural and ethnic diversity, to challenge negative discrimination, and to commit themselves to overcoming practices and conditions that exclude individuals or groups from society (Hick, 2006). Evidence of social work's preoccupation with issues of diversity, cultural identity, racism, and anti-oppressive approaches to practice can be found in a survey of works in the field (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2003; Anderson & Wiggins Carter, 2003; Dominelli, 2002; Mullaly, 2002; Shera, 2003; Thompson, 2003; Williams, Soydan & Johnson, 1998).

Canada is a nation intimately familiar with diversity. Nearly half of the respondents in the 2001 Census (47 per cent) reported origins other than British, French, or Canadian (Pendakur, Hedges & King, 2003). A central aspect of cultural and ethnic diversity is the language or languages spoken, written, and understood by a group's members. In Canada, where two languages hold official status, 18 per cent of the population speak both English and French, 13 per cent speak French only, and 67 per cent speak English only. An additional 2 per cent speak neither English nor French (Pendakur, Hedges & King, 2003).

Social work literature acknowledges that, in any language, words and discourse can be used by those with power as vehicles of oppression to marginalize and discriminate (Marcoccio, 1995; Thompson, 2003). References to competence in cross-cultural communication (Diller, 1999; France, Rodriguez & Hett, 2004; Herberg, 1993; Leigh, 1998; Lynch & Hanson, 1998) exist in greater abundance than writings focused on linguistic minorities, diversity of languages, and social work's role in cornbatting linguistic oppression. Thompson (2003) is one author who has tackled the subject:

One problem that is commonly encountered is that speakers of a minority language may be perceived as less intelligent or less able than speakers of the dominant language... this is a question of power, with minority languages being de valued... the potential for speakers of a minority language being discriminated against and oppressed is very great indeed, (p. 74)

Drakeford and Morris (1998) use the Wales experience concerning social work and the use of Welsh to explore the profession's challenges and responsibilities toward minoritized languages. Kornbeck (2003) identifies the need for more attention to language in social work literature and in the curriculum of schools of social work, while Pugh (2003) offers an explanation of why the subject has not received the attention it merits:

[TJhroughout much of the Western world most social workers are fortunate enough to live in relatively stable and settled societies, and it is probably the case that those who enter social work education are largely drawn from the majority ethnic groups within their respective countries or regions. …

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