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Dossier : Les langues étrangères à la fac

Needs and Resources in International

Languages Programs: Perspectives of Canadian Teachers in Ontario
Laura Ambrosio
p. 131-151


Afin de mieux saisir la réalité de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage d’une troisième langue (L3) dans le contexte bilingue canadien, notre recherche a comme objectif une meilleure connaissance aussi bien des besoins des enseignants de langues étrangères (ou « internationales », pour reprendre l’appellation utilisée dans le contexte scolaire au Canada) œuvrant dans la province d’Ontario que des ressources à leur disposition. Des résultats préliminaires obtenus en 2009 et publiés en 2011 sont ici complétés par les résultats obtenus en 2010 dans le cadre d’une réplique de la collecte de données, enrichie par une analyse qualitative d’entretiens enregistrés dans le cadre de rencontres individuelles et de groupes de discussion. Les résultats préliminaires ont favorisé une meilleure compréhension des « programmes de langues internationales » de l’Ontario et préparé l’étude subséquente plus poussée auprès de divers conseils scolaires (entités responsables de l’éducation) ontariens.

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I would like to express my gratitude to the participants of the survey and focus group and to colleagues, in Canada and abroad, who took the time to read the manuscript giving me very constructive comments.
Thanks also to my family for their loving support.


1Learning, teaching and evaluation of second and foreign languages are key issues in the global political agenda for the promotion of multilingualism, as indicated by the rising number of papers, initiatives, and international conferences geared towards a better understanding of today’s multilingual reality (Byrnes, 2008; Coste, 1997; Little, 2006, 2007; Schwarzer & Petrón, 2005; Valdés, 1995, 2005).

2International Languages Programs (ILPs) are a major factor in the maintenance of the mother tongue by many immigrant communities in Canada (Ambrosio, 2011; Cummins, 2005; Noel, 2005). Being able to preserve and share their heritage is a key factor in the social and cultural integration of both newcomers to Canada and Canadians with roots in more than one country (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000a).

3Education in Canada is a matter of provincial – and not federal or central – jurisdiction, and each province is responsible for designing and implementing its own curriculum. ILPs were first introduced in Canada in 1977 by the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) to meet the demand for learning and teaching in languages other than English Second Language or French Second Language (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006). These programs, designed for people with no previous knowledge of an international language (IL) or a third language (L3), were also open to people who wished to build on a personal learning experience in an IL or a classical (Latin or Greek) language (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000b).

4Our research focuses on ILPs in the province of Ontario. To shed light on the impact of preserving and knowing an L3 in the bilingual Canadian context, it investigates the needs of, and resources available to, Ontario international language teachers.

5In many instances the ILPs are linked to the continuing education department of the local education authorities (called “school boards” – which number more than 70 in the province), in which case they are funded by the OME. When the OME established Ontario’s “Heritage Languages” program in 1977, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), one of the largest in the province, already had considerable experience in the field. As early as 1973, the Board, in cooperation with several community organizations, was piloting “Heritage Languages” classes for some 5,700 children in 14 schools offering German, Italian and Spanish to both native and non-native speakers of the IL.

6At the elementary level, the ILP (“ILP Elementary”) is usually provided outside school hours, unless the parents of at least 67% of the children in a school request an extension of the school day. Two and a half hours per week – that is, one half hour per day – can be provided on an extended-day basis only if at least 25 children are enrolled in a given language. The TCDSB has the largest ILP Elementary in the province: Italian, Spanish and Portuguese programs are offered on the extended-day basis at more than 40 schools. Various IL centers also offer classes during the regular school day, as well as outside regular school hours (mostly on Saturdays).

7At the secondary level, the ILP (“ILP Secondary”) is designed for students who have graduated from ILP Elementary and/or students who have no prior knowledge of the language. It should be noted that secondary school (or high school) is a four-year program in Ontario (grades 9 to 12, ages 14 to 17). In order to receive the Ontario high-school diploma (roughly equivalent to the end of lycée in Europe), students must earn 40 “credits” (one credit= 112 hours of learning), some of which are compulsory and others, optional. Four of the optional credits may be in ILs. A student can obtain four progressive credits in one particular language, but conceivably could obtain his/her four credits by taking four level-1 courses in different languages. ILP Secondary is integrated as part of the elective courses included by the OME in the curriculum under the section Classical Studies and International Languages (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000c).

8In the Toronto school boards, for example, high-school students can earn credits in any one of at least 14 different IL: Cantonese, Gaelic, German, Modern Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. More than 650 students are enrolled in the Classical Civilization studies, which include Latin and Ancient Greek.

9According to the OME, a total of 15 languages were offered under ILP Secondary throughout Ontario in 2006-2007 with an enrolment of 33,000. The following year, the number of languages offered in schools doubled, but enrolment remained relatively stable. The 30 languages offered under ILP Secondary were: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Dari, Finnish, Gaelic, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Pashto, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Somali, Spanish, Swedish, Tamazight, Tamil, Traditional Chinese (Mandarin), Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

10By providing a strong headstart in an IL or L3, ILP Secondary enables students to prepare for postsecondary studies in various fields such as business, trade, communication, music, or languages. It also aims to foster motivation in literacy, language learning, global world realities awareness, and understanding of different cultures.

11The aim of ILP Secondary is not only to increase the formal knowledge of an IL, but also to promote the culture associated with it in a relaxed and interesting context, where the abilities and the particular needs of the students are considered, while trying to keep abreast of the evolution of that language and culture in Canada and in the home country. As per OME requirements, the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – are, or should be, taught only in the target language, using spiral revision syllabi to ensure consolidation of structures covered previously while adding new progressive notions.

12Because ILP credits are optional, sufficient numbers of students may not be reached at a given level to meet minimum registration requirements (15 students per level) and levels may have to be combined. There may thus be multiple levels within the same class, especially at more advanced levels, for example level-3 and level-4 students in the same class. For this reason, the existing curriculum may need to be adjusted flexibly to reflect both OME requirements and the reality of the classroom.

13To fulfill course requirements, high-school students must attend the 112 hours of class time per 32-week course on a regular basis. They have to participate actively, to hand in on time the materials that are part of their portfolio, to take all the tests during the session, and to write the mid-term and final exams on the given dates. For more details on the course curriculum outlines and profiles, see Ontario Ministry of Education (2000a, 2000b).

In addition to students, the people involved in ILP include:

  • for general guidelines and assessment procedures, the OME curriculum designer, the Board administrator of the ILP, the Board curriculum resource teacher;

  • for implementation of the program, the actual teacher, the site administrator (or on-site principal of the ILP program for the given school board);

  • the community, parents, and cultural language associations, who will occasionally be asked to provide opportunities to enlarge the classroom horizons of the students.

14Also, various professional associations geared toward the development of resources and networking for second-language and IL teachers have an impact on ILP, notably the International Languages Educators and Administrators association (ILEA), the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers (CASLT), and the Ontario Modern Language Teachers Association (OMLTA).

Research context and objectives

15Preliminary results on the Ontario ILP were gathered in 2009 and published in 2011 and will now be complemented by results subsequently collected in 2010 from the replication of the survey and a qualitative analysis of recorded interviews.

16A short literature overview on the similarities and differences between undergraduate modern language learning programs, in Canada and the United States, with emphasis on various aspects of IL, was previously compiled (Ambrosio, 2011). It looked at the importance of competence in IL and the impact and recognition of proficiency (Cummins, 1981, 2005), at the political, theoretical and demographical context of IL teaching (Cummins, 1992; Duff, 2007; Kramsch, 2006; Kramsch et al., 2006), at the socio-psychological aspects (identity, motivation, attitude) of IL teaching (Noel, 2005; MacFarlane, 1997; Clément, 1984, 1986) and at the challenges associated with language learning and teaching in various contexts, especially in multilingual populations (Komorwoska, 2011; Kramsch & Whiteside, 2007; Valdés, 1995, 2005; Husseinali, 2006; Schwarzer & Petrón, 2005).

17Based on the previous literature review, Ambrosio (2011) conducted and analyzed a first survey conducted with a group of IL (or L3) teachers and analyzed their response looking at the following broader questions:

  • What are the opinions and needs of Ontario IL teachers, and what are the resources available to them?

  • What is their opinion on the vitality/benefit/impact of ILPs?
    The responses to the initial, paper-based survey carried out in the fall 2009 involved a small group of IL high-school teachers (20 received the survey and 15 replied). Those teachers all worked for a single Ontario school board offering an ILP. That group had been chosen for easy access and because their school board had a recognized and well-run ILP. The paper survey, on a 5-point Likert scale (“Strongly Disagree” – 1, to “Strongly Agree” – 5), included questions on teachers’ motivation, experience, challenges, and perception of student’s opinion of the ILP; asked for suggestions; and included two open questions on professional training opportunities. Detailed results of this first part of the survey can be found in Ambrosio (2011).

18The ground having been prepared for a more extensive exploration of the field with participation of other school boards within Ontario, more specific objectives are at the core of a 2010 replication of the 2009 paper survey, made available as an on-line survey, and complemented with group discussions and interviews. The scope remains the same, with a view to consolidating previous data by conducting a wider survey and providing the IL (or L3) teacher population (secondary and elementary levels) with an opportunity to express their opinions/concerns. In addition to fostering the sharing and comparing of professional concerns related to ILPs, this research allows us to better understand pedagogical challenges of IL, programs and teachers, and, in the long term, to better understand the impact of the vitality of L3 teaching in a bilingual country such as Canada.


19Three respondents of the first 2009 survey accepted to take part in a face-to-face group discussion during February 2010. Following this, and in order to substantiate the data, a replica of the survey was sent on-line to 44 members of a Canadian professional association of IL teachers (secondary and elementary) and administrators during early fall 2010. Answers were received from 22 of those surveyed. Some did not complete all questions on line, 11 expressed interest in being part of another two-hour focus group, and only four actually participated in recorded conference-call interviews. Appendix 1 shows the paper/on-line questionnaire and summarizes the comparison of paper/on-line survey results.

20Participants in the face-to-face focus group and the conference call were all asked the same questions, which can be found in Appendix 2, along with the “Profile of the respondents.”

21The focus-group (Group 1) and the conference-call (Group 2) oral interviews were recorded live and a verbatim transcription of each intervention was subsequently prepared. Four main subject headings appeared in the question guide, i.e., resources, training, motivation, and principles of good teaching (see Appendix 2 for details).


22Before analyzing the recordings of the various interviews, we would like to share the results from the on-line survey (2010). Responses are fairly consistent between the initial paper survey and the identical on-line survey (see Appendix 1). If the data seem to indicate that most of the opinions expressed by the respondents of both groups are consistent, variation is greater for a few questions (see Appendix 1, questions Q2, Q7, Q9, Q17, and Q26).

23One reason for this could be that the second group included teachers teaching at the elementary level, with some respondents also having administrative responsibilities related to the program, whereas the group that had responded to the initial paper survey was composed exclusively of high-school teachers teaching a credit-level course. For instance, the difference in salary between the various respondents of the second group and the credit high-school teachers may account for the different response to a question such as financial advantages. Also, the elementary program is conducted for 2.5 hours per week, whereas the high-school teachers teach 3.5 hours per week. As regards the question on OME objectives and guidelines, the two levels were not always provided with the same type of indicators or guidelines, since the high-school program is credited toward the completion of the diploma, but not the elementary program. This also applies to the question on level of languages taught in class, as there are no formal levels in the elementary program.

24This difference in results also exists with respect to technological needs, which are felt more acutely in high-school classes. A similar consideration can also apply to the time at which classes are scheduled (Saturday for most of the ILPs; or up to half an hour per day in some elementary schools for ILP day extensions,), as well as the difference in competence levels within the same class, which is a challenge for many IL teachers.

25We will follow the main subject headings in the question guide. However, we should emphasize that the answers and discussions generated by the participants sometimes included more than one aspect, e.g., topics pertaining to motivation would overlap with principles of good teaching. Although the verbatim transcription is full of very interesting details and interventions (over 50 typed pages for some five hours of recording), we will report here the most important details of the various answers and indicate with brackets (“[…]”) that less relevant or previously mentioned information is being omitted.

The respondents confirmed the tendencies and opinions expressed in the survey. Of interest in the conversations were the different reasons for, or dimensions of, some of the concerns expressed.

26Firstly, as regards resources, one of the concerns expressed was the inadequacy or complete lack of permanent resources. One of the problems noted was that for many languages, pedagogical material is not available or does not exist in a format that can meet the requirements of teaching the language as a foreign language. Preparing material for class does not ensure that this material will be available to other teachers or other classes of the same language, unless there is a willingness to share resources and samples of teaching through accessible media.

27Also expressed was the need for quality resources, that would be up-to-date and appealing to students through the use of more visuals, videos, movies, documentaries, professional, history, geography, and other elements proper to the culture; such resources are often not available in Canada. Although internet can be a valid resource for the teacher and the student, many on-line resources require a major investment in monitoring and time to be suitable as teaching resources if the classroom environment provides no access to computers or other simpler but necessary technologies. (In the verbatim exerpts that will follow, the respondents – for whom English is a second or third language – are identified by the letter C and a number. See Appendix 2 for details.)

Most of the books come from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Which is great, but in order to make the class more interesting […] as a teacher I use personal stuff (C2). […] I have to search and I have to go through internet and book from abroad and to get my material and prepare it according to the international languages rules […] We try to do our best to teach the modern, […] at the same time […] the old language to be common for everyone (C3).

But it requires extra work from the teacher of course because you need to preview, you know you need to make sure the website is appropriate, some sort of an official website with valid material (C1). […]. But you know kids are very good with computers. But I mean in Chinese, most kids in my class they find it really hard to explore on the internet. […] I think for the main stream purpose for the ILP, they should organize a big event, IL teachers, and spring, teachers together in summer sometimes to produce files and things. Some exemplary, radios, movies and occasionally borrow them through the Ontario College of Teachers (C2).

[…] I don’t know if you have seen teachers arriving at on Saturday morning. We are essentially going on holidays for three months. [laugh]. No, really, we have three suitcases, and this and that. The teachers, the day teachers sometimes, they do give us space. I think if we would negotiate with the board to have one little cupboard that can be locked, in each classroom that is used Saturday. For instance, in the school that I am teaching at, we do have resource room on the second floor. But I tell you, with the time limit we have, and the weight…it is not easy to bring two boxes upstairs, up and down (C7).

The challenge connected with resources also means the ILP curriculum could need to be adapted:

I think there needs to be generic guidelines that show more up-to-date approaches to language teaching and learning. I think there needs to be resources that indicate good language teaching opportunities first – whether they’re in that target language or not – that could show, for example, how resources can be modified, or adjusted, or differentiated, and so on. I think the resources need to be varied. More and more I’m realizing that a textbook is not the right answer… […] I think more and more we need more resources that are Canadian content. We need a lot more teacher creative resources but we also need more resources that speak to the child growing up in Ontario (C6).

28As regards the second point, training, one respondent indicated that it is an important component of teachers’ desire to improve their use of available tools or techniques that can make them more efficient and interesting, either in the language they are teaching or in other languages within the scope of ILPs. Professional development days can be very valuable to exchange ideas on teaching and evaluation, but time and money are not always available. Also, some respondents said they are very conscious of the importance of mastering the language they teach, at least to a standard that is adequate for the class. However, they realized, on the one hand, that simply knowing the language is not enough to be qualified or certified and, on the other hand, that being certified as a teacher of geography or physics does not necessarily make them good teachers of a language, whether or not they master it well. Others pointed out that the philosophy of teaching in some countries and conveyed by some material does not correspond to the Canadian way of teaching.

It’s always good to have practical workshops on a regular basis. I find it may be interesting to also meet the teachers who teach credit courses within your own language and well depending on the size of the program, some teachers help their colleagues. But sometimes you only have one person teaching, so I think it would be useful for people to exchange information within the language. […] we feel isolated. We don’t get the chance of sharing or being together. We need […] within the language group do be able to gather more often or more than once a year (C2).

[…] just knowing the language is not enough. You know, and even all the resources, I have them and from abroad and it’s different from the curricular system. Because the curricular, the Canadian curricular system here it’s all about the student. It’s focused on the student, not the teacher, to give the information. And we do have a different way, like we have to rehearse, we have to memorize, we have that and we don’t have it in the Canadian curriculum. We need to combine both, the information from abroad and we have to fit them into the Canadian education system (C3).

[…] why not post a few small videos…of real teachers teaching in their classrooms that doesn’t matter, if it is Greek or if it is German, and I see how she talks to the kids, how she approaches this and that. That is better than studying 25 books (C3).

29These respondents also consider that obtaining recognized qualification for additional training can be an incentive to improve the success of the program, even if, for practical reasons, this training is given during the summer.

30Another point was the motivation of both students and teachers. One of the conclusions was that getting up early every Saturday to learn or teach a language that is not spoken in one’s country requires a firm commitment from students and teachers, as well as parents who, especially at the elementary level, insist that their children attend school on Saturday. Also, ILP teachers at various levels and of various languages as well as the various linguistic communities involved must share a mutual understanding of the requirements and motivation required for the ILPs to meet their stated objectives:

I don’t feel it helps our field in the whole when the programs just stay within their own language groups. It used to be the same thing I used to tell my communities when I was the manager. I used to say ‘Don’t come and talk to me just about […](a particular language)* schools. You have certain issues, that’s fine, but you can’t expect the field of IL to be better for you and every other school at this table, if you don’t work with each other’. The Ukrainian School should talk to the Arabic School, and to the Turkish School, and to the Estonian school, and they should be forming more alliances. The same thing happened in language teaching. There was a group of us who were at a teachers’ conference once, and we talked about these silos. That even in Canada, you have all the ESL teachers work over here, all the French and the Second Language teachers are over there, and all the International Language teachers work over there. And there are so few connections and partnerships. I know that it’s still different, because ESL is a different context, you know, but we still have to think of language educators as a collective unit. And right now, here, we’re not (C6).

31Often, some parents intend on preserving their language and culture and will send their children to ILPs, but may not be able or really willing to support their children’s language learning. In this context, one of the best ways of keeping up motivation is to provide an interesting way of delivering the program, which also means more funding, supervision and procedural permissions for special activities. The fact that ILPs are delivered on Saturdays is not necessarily a deterrent, if students can find a way of valuing their learning, either with their friends or through recognition in their academic progress, although:

Motivation it’s really a problem, […] most of the students, they come for to take a credit or their families pushed them but I think that Saturday is not a proper day to teach the language. […] To encourage kids, usually I have to motivate them, like I have many activities out of the school, and go to some places to practice their oral conversation. […] it’s difficult to imply, because we don’t have enough time (C3).

32For teachers, motivation often depends on the recognition they get from students and parents and from the satisfaction of having shared important aspects of their culture. Yet, money can be an incentive as an official recognition of the quality of teachers’ work and preparation time, although ILP wages do not fully compensate for the hours spent creating, planning, preparing and correcting material. Also, teachers can derive satisfaction from the fact that what they teach is used in some of their students’ activities or receives some form of recognition later on, during students’ academic development and progress after ILP Secondary (e.g., university):

For me the best motivation is the progress of my students and how they progress and improve on an ongoing basis and later on when they complete the credit. And they come back to take another credit and another credit. […] there should be a connection and an exchange of information between the credit course teachers and academic teachers (C1).

33Of importance is the contact established between the student and the teacher, who needs to be very clear in his/her expectations regarding program delivery, still being able to connect, program, culture and IL community, engaging the students in practical events (drama and music) and cultural celebrations.

34Cooperation among students also has to be strongly encouraged, because it does make up for possible gaps in motivation due to the fact that ILP students are not always from the same day schools, nor always at the same level. Therefore, individual and group projects, dynamic and diversified artistic projects focusing on culture, community and students’ interests have to be part of the planning.

Arabic is spoken by: Asian, middle eastern, north African, middle African, west African. They speak different languages and they come from different cultures and I think when we put multi cultures together and I make them talk about their country, we will be aware of different cultures together. […] Oh yes! They like it. They like when I make them do their own countries, cultural. They wear their own clothes and eat their own meals, they bring some food, some drinks and we celebrate all the time together. […] Oh it’s very lovely! […] Last week we had the Korean New-Year. They brought food, clothes, drink, music and dance. You don’t believe how beautiful it was (C3). […] Well, we were studying the history of the Greek language, I’m teaching Greek at the high school. So, I took them to the Greek church because the icons, in the church, they are Byzantine. So the writing is on the Byzantine era. So that was part of their Greek history language that they had to decipher and know what it means, and why it’s written that way. So anyways, they had a lot of fun (C7).

35As regards best practices, although interesting tasks ought to be part of the program, the monitoring of progress and student evaluations are taken very seriously, especially in the case of the credit high-school program, in which teachers are accountable to parents and the OME.

[…] We document everything, assessment and evaluation. We make portfolio we make even different kinds, […] self-evaluation […] peer evaluation. […] Usually my expectations are very high. This is what I believe. If you raise the bar, the kids will reach it. I believe that human brain can develop as much as you give them high expectations (C3).

[…] it is great to work in groups, showcasing what they have learnt in class, […] it is a wonderful experience. We’re also organizing an international cook-off and all the different language groups and contributing. So it gives them something material as well as the presentation, sharing with the other courses (C1).

36Although technology is a very powerful asset in education, and is to be used, promoted and shared as much as possible, with imagination and appropriate funding, it seems even overhead projectors are at times not available for ILP teaching. And not all students come to class technologically equipped, not even with mobile technology. However, technology should never replace the human factor, in spite of spreading social networking, new media and e-communities:

What they really value is personal contact. That cannot be replaced! And when they produce, it’s nice to see the checkmarks but sometimes to tell honestly like “look at this, this is nice.” They see the expression on your face and it’s priceless! Technology cannot replace it (C1).

37Finally, the discussion linked needs, ressources, motivation and best practices to a higher level, namely more efficient or better language policy. According to one source, languages and language learning are not given sufficient priority in educational agendas throughout Canada, in comparison to other countries where multilingualism seems to rank higher, and stakeholders in education should pay more attention to the value of multilingualism and multilingual policy in a plurilingual society. Also, there was a call for more involvement with associations whose responsibility and mandate is to represent the interest and professional development concerns of language teachers’ communities:

My view is that it hasn’t been given as big of a priority, as it might have been given in other parts of the world in the last couple decades I’d say here. In IL, you see that there are some boards that put in a lot more training opportunities for teachers and instructors in some areas, in some parts of the province. And usually, it’s because the people who are actively involved in the program are either trained in the area of language teaching and learning themselves, and have a passion for it, or they feel a very strong bond to the program. […] I think there are many parts of the province where the teachers really get no training. I think that you have a system that doesn’t put it as a very big priority and so therefore, when there isn’t enough attention paid by the school system, you’re not going to find many initiatives in the programming. I think the teacher training that’s been successful has usually been when you get more than one institution working cooperatively (C6).

38The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001) is mentioned and recognized as a very important milestone for the prioritization of languages in Europe, since its implementation more than 10 years ago:

[…] it doesn’t matter if you speak Hindu, or Greek or English. If you will be able to introduce yourself or talk about the things you did in the past, well it is not language specific, and that is why it works in Europe. So I think it’s a great tool that we could use here in Canada for all of these languages that are being taught (C7).

39Although the Canadian framework for languages has been adopted by many language professionals, more needs to be done in harmonizing ILP promotion, funding and recognition, in spreading updated language teaching orientations, as well as fostering recognition of teachers’ training. The following three interventions summarize this situation:

[…] I think the big issue is making sure that school boards, and the people working in IL programs, consider themselves as part of a profession […] not only building a professional body to take pride in this field, but also to really start to develop an awareness about the importance of multilingualism, and to be looking at language to reignite the field of language teaching and learning. I, myself, since I became certified, to now, I’ve seen that there’s been a big decrease in a sort of recognition of the field of language teaching and learning (C6).

[…] Unless we convert the trustees and the superintendents and the Ministry of Education to give the language teachers the respect they need, the support they need, we really don’t go anywhere. […] And it’s very unfortunate because in some cases, like in xxxxxx (city) you know, they are doing very well. […] and some of other cities, the poor teachers you know, the only training they have, they have no training. They just speak the language. They don’t have a clue about lesson planning or anything. So, they are set to fail from the start. They need the support. They need the training (C5).

I was listening to you guys. So I want to tell you something. I have been here only 3 years. So I knew when I come here that, you know, some English, but not a lot. So I started ESL classes. I had a great teacher, who was teaching in English. So when I started to teach Turkish, I just used the guidelines from her, you know the style. […] Yeah, you know, because I mean she was trying to teach us the culture and languages together. She was relating you know, you’re either going to live here and … she loved it. So I was doing same thing. I mean, that’s helpful, but I think we need more training. I am really passionate about teaching. I used to teach in Turkish, but it’s so different teaching and language is older than here. So I find that we need more training. […] And when I was hired, so I was qualified, but according to what, you know? I mean they should give me some training (C4).

40According to the last source, it must be emphasized that any IL taught here in Canada is not really the same as the language spoken in the home country, which is more sophisticated, more literary, and simply different from the “Canadian version,” that is, closer to a different day-to-day reality and therefore linguistically and culturally different.

41In addition to emphasizing the responsibility of stakeholders in education, some respondents think that linguistic communities themselves should not look at language-education programs as vectors for cultural, religious or other ideological factors often associated with the language in the home country. These respondents believe that the focus should instead be strictly on the language-teaching component, in order to encourage educational stakeholders to give more support and recognition to ILPs, thereby leading to more training and better programs.

The culture component is just one component of the language class, but the focus, the main focus, it is the learning and it’s moved from the collective component of teaching the language. It really doesn’t help. So, we are ESL, we are French, Catholic, we are IL teachers, it’s all language skills that we are teaching (C5).

And a better recognized program would include a strategic review of the curriculum in order to enhance visibility for L3 learning through official added value for the students:

I would love to see that the high school diplomas demands one credit in a third language. Right now it says that you have to have at least one credit in a third language, OR an additional English, OR an additional social science, or something like that. I’d like to see it where we expect kids to go through with English and French and they have to at least have one credit, you know, at the high school level in a third language (C6).

42The discussion also briefly looked at what is happening in other Canadian provinces (as was mentioned earlier, education is under provincial jurisdiction), and another important issue was connecting ILPs not only from one Ontario city to another, but also across the different provinces.

43In a context of budget constraints and many priorities, the OME has revised its curriculum for the ILP Elementary. The new format will include a progressive and attractive on-line platform of resources that will serve as connecting point between teachers and students of different languages. This raised the matter of how other educational jurisdictions manage their ILPs and highlighted the various models existing in Canada, where, in some provinces, the heritage languages communities themselves are the backbone of ILPs and less involvement is mandated by government:

Saskatchewan has a bit more funding to offset costs like rent. So they’re kind of a little more progressive from the prairies but where Alberta has been progressive is the amount of language programs within the day school. Now again what’s different there is that French is not equal there as it is in Ontario. You know here, I mean […] in Ottawa, kids start from kindergarten, with core French. And then the majority of them that live in Ottawa take French immersion. But in Alberta, kids can be in many of them. In Alberta and BC, they have to take a language from Grade 5 but that could be French. So the only difference is that they might be able to be taking Mandarin or German or Spanish or whatever, Ukrainian, as one of their subjects in school. And there are many more bilingual programs beyond just English and French in Alberta in the regular day schools (C6).

44Other issues were raised during the discussions on the final open questions to the focus groups. One matter, which is related to language policy, concerned the beneficial effects of language learning. For instance, one respondent mentioned the need for more information on, and understanding of, the cognitive benefits in a situation of multilingualism, which is perceived to be not only a positive trigger of cerebral activities, but also an asset for more career possibilities involving languages:

I work now with foreign affairs, we have student when they go to mission outside, they have to learn Chinese, they have to learn, Japanese, Korean, Arabic. If we offer this at schools it will help a lot the government later on to engage their own people and when they get older you know, learn the language is become difficult. Why we don’t open these doors to our youngest? Learn as much language as they could and use them in the future (C3).

45Although there was little time for these matters, the discussion did address the important issue of the advantages that students engaged in language learning at a young age can have over other students who either will never be exposed to L3 learning or will have more difficulties to learn a third language at a later stage of life.

Discussion and conclusion

46The research objectives of this paper were to gather descriptive data from actual components of the Ontario ILP, collect the opinions of IL teachers (secondary and elementary levels), gain a better grasp of the pedagogical challenges of ILPs, and better understand the impact of the vitality of L3 language teaching in a bilingual country such as Canada.

47The Ontario ILP courses, as they exist on paper, offer students opportunities to enhance their L3 communication skills through increasingly sophisticated language activities that should enable them to speak and write with more clarity and accuracy at the elementary and high-school levels.

48In accordance with OME suggestions, IL students are exposed, resources permitting, to the study and understanding of different topics, and engaged in discussions and projects on diverse collected materials, retrieved through different type of media, radio, TV, computer or formal language textbooks. According to the overall goals and specific objectives stated in the OME curriculum, students’ interests and needs have to be carefully taken into account, since the program, designed for age-specific groups, should help develop intrinsic motivation to continue to learn and study ILs. Ideally, grade-11 and grade-12 (the final level) Ontario students have a better idea of the direction in which they want to steer their studies and should potentially be prepared to continue using the IL they are learning. And, if the overall aim is to give students a reason to continue developing the use and study of an IL, as it has been emphasized during the focus groups, it is very important to keep the program as close as possible to the students’ real needs, something which the passionate teachers who participated in this research all expressed to varying degrees.

49The rationale underlying the overall curriculum is that the acquisition of the language will happen if the right conditions are present, if the content is rich, authentic and meaningful, and if the environment provides support for learning. Although the ILP appears to be fundamentally well designed and thoroughly planned, as indicated by the enthusiasm of the survey respondents and other comments gathered in this research, there is still room for improvement in important areas of the program. In order to successfully implement valuable ILP concepts, teachers agree that more resources should be made available and shared, with attention to actual and focused objectives harmoniously matching the Canadian context.

50According to respondents, OME indications and support material are in place and on-line, and newer and recent editions of the IL curriculum are being made accessible for elementary levels in the near future, thanks to vast consultation with the teachers and administrators. However, there is still a need for workshops for teachers both within a language and across the ILP in order to ensure that teachers’ needs are well understood and that procedures to assist all the various Ontario school board populations are implemented. The following opportunities are needed: professional development days, where teachers meet during a day or more of conferences and various workshops; in-service periods with on-site training sessions at the respective schools; and workshops with related certification. This training must take into account the need to develop teaching strategies and classroom management practices in the particular setting of the Saturday program.

51Also, more resources and instruction should be provided as regards the proper use of technology. This should not be a one-time affair, and the equipment required to make effective use of this technology must be provided, with proper access to laboratories or wireless spaces.

52In order to foster motivation, the integration of field trips needs to be encouraged, with adequate support (both financial and procedural) and indications regarding possible funding and fundraising to help take advantage of such opportunities to really connect with the cultural learning content. This is not only valid for the students but also for the teachers. For instance, “week-long training retreats” on the use of the Common European Framework could encourage less-experienced teachers to try new evaluation and assessment methods. Focusing for longer periods or more than once a year on available tools and ressources, either technological, or pedagogical, which are often presented too quickly, should be part of individual professional development.

53From a broader perspective, additional qualification in foreign languages should be more accessible and offered to a greater extent by universities, with the same recognition as other “teachable” subjects for the elementary and high-school levels. Part of these qualifications could be generic, that is, for all foreign languages, but room should be left for specific language components that would improve or upgrade teachers’ competence in individual languages.

54Although summer sessions are given abroad, especially in Europe, to upgrade language abilities of teachers who no longer live in their home country and who suffer from language erosion, this option is not financially accessible to many. A summer bursary program just for IL teachers could be created; it could be accessed once every 5 to 10 years and provide recognized certification.

55Is the idea, put forward by a participant, that students should take at least one L3 course as part of their high-school requirements in order to become “aware” of L3 realities and training, far-fetched? Or the notion of developing recognition of L3 acquisition in school for undergraduate university programs admission?

56The 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act aims in part at recognizing the richness of various incoming cultures and languages and has been the Canadian model for immigration scripts that other Western countries have or are increasingly experiencing. Given the importance of education as a base for an integrative society such as Canada, ILPs can be a strong starting point. Teachers could be among the first to instill in children international awareness and the L3 literacy standards requested for promoting multiculturalism and pluriculturalism. ILPs, with the support of the OME (in Ontario, and with the support of the respective ministries of Education in the other provinces), can, in the same way as the European Center for Modern Languages under the auspices of the Council of Europe, be a “catalyst” for the promotion of better teaching and learning of languages and even better, “through languages,” to refer to the new long term plan of the Council of Europe.

57The next step in this research will be a wider survey to be designed in 2013-2014 comprising broader quantitative/qualitative data collection to reinforce the current data. It will possibly be based on a broader population and carried out in collaboration with other researchers, taking stock of the most recent research in Canada and abroad (Turcotte, 2006; Cenoz, 2009; Komorwoska, 2011; Lasaabaster & Huguet, 2007; Martiniuk, 2011). In the long term, this research could then foster a possible comparison with similar program objectives of other Canadian provinces or European countries where the teaching and promotion of multilingualism or the adoption of plurilingual approaches are at stake in the curriculum agendas.

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Appendix 1: ILP Survey 2009 and 2010, comparison of paper/online survey results (4-5 Likert Partly & Strongly Agree Combined values only)

Paper Survey

N = 15

Online Survey

N = 22


Importance of spreading multilingualism

80 %

95 %

Financial advantages for teachers

80 %

44 %

Strong sense of belonging to a different community

74 %

78 %

A passion for the language and culture

90 %

100 %


ILP serves communication

100 %

100 %

ILP serves culture

93 %

100 %

When I plan my ILP teaching, the MEO objectives and guidelines are useful

80 %

40 %

I often use the course profiles available on line to prepare my ILP units

60 %

50 %

The language levels taught in my class correspond very closely to the four-level proficiency program of the MEO

74 %

57 %

Students’ language improved proficiency is important

100 %

100 %

Students’ language awareness is important

100 %

100 %

Students’ culture awareness and pride is important

100 %

100 %


Disparity of proficiency level in the same class

80 %

73 %

Lack of books and exercises

80 %

73 %

Lack of technological resources

86 %

75 %

Classroom setting, being in other schools

50 %

66 %

Classroom timing (number of hours, days of the week)

67 %

88 %

Discipline issues

20 %

20 %

Negative Perceptions of the students

The inability to relate ILP to real life

46 %

50 %

The disparity of levels in one class

73 %

60 %

The need to have a part-time job on Saturday

40 %

20 %


Aim for higher language structure elements (grammar, syntax)

60 %

50 %

Aim for vocabulary and real communication opportunity

86 %

93 %

Aim for technology in ILP classroom

87 %

74 %

Integrate culture and Field trips

86 %

92 %

Integrate more meetings with members of the ILP community

60 %

86 %

Integrate experiential learning in the community

67 %

86 %

Link and recognize high school ILP for language evaluation in university or college credit program

87 %

100 %

Appendix 2: ILP Survey 2009 and 2010, Interview questions and participants’ profiles

©Laura Ambrosio 2009-2010 – ILP - Language Teaching and Learning Survey

Focus Groups/Interviews Guide


Candidate N.


In your experience, what are particular needs to be answered in your IL program?


What type of resources do you feel are more appropriate for the IL Program?


What could be done to improve the resources available to the IL program?



How do you consider teacher training in the field of IL program?


What are the factors that would improve success of the program?



What are the factors that would improve students’ motivation toward the IL program?


What are the factors that would improve teachers’ motivation toward the IL program?

Principles of good teaching


How to encourage good contact between students and IL teachers?


Why in IL is cooperation between students an important factor?


What type of activities represents good active IL learning?


How quickly should feedback in IL learning be given to the students?


How can time spent on IL task be monitored?


How do we communicate high expectations in IL learning?


How can IL contribute to the development of diverse talents?


How much can technology contribute to the success of IL learning and teaching?

Profile of the focus Group 1 and 2 (conference call) participants

Focus Group 1 – In-person interviews - (~ 4 hours) Feb. 2010]

Candidate 1

Candidate 2

Candidate 3







Focus Group 2 – Conference call (~ 2.5 hours) [Nov. 2010]

Candidate 4

Candidate 5

Candidate 6

Candidate 7


Junior Kindergarten – to grade 4
(4-11 years old)

2 years experience (Saturday)


Administrator of ILP for 16 years and then Italian teacher and FSL for many years at the elementary level

German/Spanish /Greek/ some Swedish/FSL/ESL

Elementary/High-school credit/ Adult

Administrator, IL professional association administrator, director in the past 20 years




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Laura Ambrosio

Professeure de langue à l’Institut des langues officielles et du bilinguisme de l’Université d’Ottawa, Canada

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