Integration is inextricably tied to language for immigrants. You will need to have the language skill when you read the road sign or ask for direction, when you go to get that library card, when you are doing your grocery, catching the transit, getting in the train, when you are getting the coffee, when you go to the doctor.
When you are thinking of moving to a new country one of the initial considerations is whether you understand and speak the local languages. In Canada, English and French are the official languages and a prospective immigrant has to take a language test in order to qualify for immigration.
But how important is language? Especially when it comes to learning a new one when you are well into adulthood, for the first-generation immigrants? Should you focus on English or French, which are typically not your first language? Would just knowing how to get-by in those languages be enough? The dialect is important for day-to-day pursuits of life as well as for job search. It is important. But how important? For one, because the language proficiency is essential you have to go through tests such as IELTS when one is going through the immigration process.
The world is becoming smaller and interconnected through technology and more people are moving from one corner to another in search of a better life or work, means that the learning of another language is becoming increasingly important. One of the primary recommendations of those who have been through the immigration and integration journey is to master the language of their new chosen home. This means being able to communicate, understand the local lingos and nuances of the language.
While a new immigrant usually chooses to settle in a place where they either know someone, have a community they identify with or speak the same language and eat similar food, or have other closeness, they need the language skill – English in most part of Canada and French in Quebec – to get through every day and build a life for themselves. Language and our ability to convey ourselves dictates and determines our immigration and integration journey and the kind of experiences we can attract.
English is one of Canada’s two official languages. According to the 2016 Canadian census, English is the mother tongue of approximately 19.5 million people, or 57 per cent of the population, and the first official language of about 26 million people, or 75 per cent of the Canadian population. The 2011 census found more than one in five Canadians speak a language other than English or French at home and with more immigrants choosing Canada that will likely change significantly in the days to come.
Why should you build your proficiency in the language spoken at the place of your choice?
To get by. The first step to build a new life in a new place is to get by every day. Integration is inextricably tied to language when it comes to immigrants. You will need to have the language skill when you read the road sign or ask for direction, when you go to get that library card, when you are doing your grocery, catching the transit, getting in the train, when you are getting the coffee, when you go to the doctor. You will need the language skill to communicate at every step of the way.
Finding a job: If you do not speak the language, finding a job can be really hard. The lack of language skills will limit your job prospects. Your knowledge of language will be essential for that job search, the cover letters, and interviews where you will need to articulate your thoughts and how you will fit in that new role. Your mother language is an asset to you, however, your ability to master the official language will be key as you rebuild your new life.
Creating a community: Most immigrants tend to stick to groups that they share commonality with. When you move to a new country, that definition of community should expand too which means you start interacting with people from other ethnicities and locals where you will need your language skills. This is an important step in integrating into your new country.
For immigrants, learning and mastering English (or French) can be the potential key to opening the doors to education, work and other opportunities and facilitates social and political participation.
Immigrants who fail to achieve adequate proficiency in the host country language generally fail to achieve economic and social integration. We have heard of stories of older generation immigrants who never learned the local language and were confined to their families and communities, though that could have been by choice.
Learning a new language and scoring in tests can be pretty straightforward but understanding the subtle undertones and colloquial terms and communicating coherently will require a lot of effort and practice.
The Immigrant Life shares some tips on how to master the language that is not inherently yours:
- Read. Read anything you can lay your eyes on. Newspapers, magazines, books, children’s books, social media posts anything and everything.
- Watch local TV – This will help you understand the local contexts and language that’s used in your vicinity.
- Enjoy the shows and movies. You can choose that subtitle menu to help you understand the language better.
- Write. Write to others. Write for yourself. Keep a journal. Use the language to express your feelings.
- Join the library language practice groups. Usually, most libraries host these sessions every week.
- Find out about them. Join the groups. This is a great way to know people outside of your circle and practice.
- Practice, practice and practice. Enough said. Practice your language skills at the store or the street.
- Use that new word you’ve learned in a sentence and show off to family and friends. What better way to learn a new language than using it?
If you are a new immigrant or someone who’s been in Canada long enough, join The Immigrant Life community and help us expand it. We will rise up by helping others rise!