• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Heritage More Immigrants Keeping Mother Tongue

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

More immigrants keeping mother tongue

March 04, 2008
Camille Bains

VANCOUVER – Bimal Kular is busy ironing crisp, white napkins while eight other women scurry around preparing tantalizing sauces, homemade cheese and a sizzling oil, onion and cumin mixture before hungry diners arrive at one of Vancouver's most renowned restaurants.

Kular, 57, has felt right at home since she landed her laundry job six years ago through her sister-in-law, who's the kitchen supervisor.

Everyone around Kular speaks Punjabi, and that was the essential part of her short job hunt in Canada, where she became a citizen last year.

Even now, seven years after arriving at her adopted homeland from India, Kular doesn't speak English.

"I really wanted to learn English but once I got here I just became so busy," Kular says in Punjabi.

Punjabi is also the language Kular is surrounded by in her social circle and at home, where she lives with her husband, two sons, their wives and a total of four grandchildren.

The latest census figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada show a large number of Canada's new immigrants are working in a native tongue which is neither of the country's official languages.

The large rise in immigration over the past five years of people whose mother tongue is neither French nor English did not necessarily mean that more of them were using non-official languages in the workplace.

But in B.C. and Ontario, the provinces where most immigrants land, a large number reported using a language other than English or French at work. The proportion held steady at 30 per cent in B.C. over a five-year period and dipped only slightly to 20 per cent from 21 per cent in Ontario.

Kular says a major benefit of her three-days-a-week job is that it gives her time to look after her grandkids – ages eight, six, five and 18 months – and speak Punjabi with them so they learn the language.

On a Sunday afternoon, the three boys have cranked up the volume on the 24-hour cartoon channel to an ear-splitting level.

They speak some English, but it's clear that Punjabi rules in this home.
Kular's daughter-in-law, Sarbjit Kular, 27, says it's important that the kids know Punjabi because the language is integral to their culture.

Eight-year-old Simran Kular, who was born in Canada, takes English-As-A-Second Language classes in Grade 2.

His grandmother says she's glad the classes are offered to children who are being raised to speak their mother tongue at home.

But Kular, who's dependent on her family's English skills when Punjabi won't suffice, realizes the limitations of her Punjabi-only world.

"When I take the kids to school or pick them up it's hard," she says. "If I have to talk to the teachers I just stay silent. And when someone from my son's work calls I just say, `Not home."'

Hi, bye, good morning, good night, OK and thanks are some of the other words Kular knows, but it's clear that despite her insistence she understands English, she really doesn't.

"I'd like to learn English so I can talk to my neighbours," she says in a city where even Mayor Sam Sullivan, who is of European ancestry, is taking Punjabi lessons and gives speeches in the language at local Sikh temples. The Canadian-born Sullivan also speaks Cantonese.

Balwant Sanghera, who heads the Punjabi Language Education Association, says that while his group promotes Punjabi instruction in schools, colleges and universities, he doesn't think people should get stuck in their "ethnic enclaves."

"We need to get out of those enclaves and reach out to the broader community," he says.

"We should all try to learn at least one of the two official languages of Canada, either English and French. Then, I think we should learn our own language. The more languages we know the better."

Sanghera says the onus to learn English falls first on the individual, then the family, followed by the government, which needs to provide more community-based language centres.

Liza Yuen of Toronto says her lack of English skills 30 years after she arrived from Hong Kong is hardly a hindrance because she mostly deals only with people who speak Cantonese.

Whether she's grocery shopping, visiting the doctor or doing her banking, the Chinese community in Toronto is more than large enough to accommodate Yuen in her mother tongue.

"I don't have any problems using Cantonese as a daily language," she said through an interpreter.

Yuen says she has adapted to the Canadian way of life and that her deficiency in one of the country's two official languages is of little consequence.

"I am not less of a Canadian, because I am a Canadian citizen, but I will always remember my Chinese roots."

Yuen's children would prefer she speaks English to avoid communication problems but she uses Cantonese so they will learn the language.

When she can't speak Cantonese and the little English she does speak fails her, gestures usually help get the point across, says Yuen, a retired insurance saleswoman.

Don DeVoretz, an economist who specializes in citizenship issues at Burnaby, B.C.-based Simon Fraser University, says people like Kular and Yuen don't need to know any English to become Canadian citizens.

He says that instead of a written exam, judges allow would-be citizens to answer questions about Canada orally with the help of an interpreter if they feel language is a barrier.

"Nobody wants to go back to the situation in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, where in order to vote you had to prove that you were literate."

DeVoretz says 75 per cent of immigrants become citizens after five years and that 95 per cent apply for citizenship within 15 years of coming to Canada.
But he says people who don't speak English or French pay a hefty economic price.

"On average, people who don't speak English and are in the labour force earn considerably less money so it's a built-in penalty they're paying."

DeVoretz says requiring immigrants to know one of Canada's official languages was tried in 1999 when a legislative committee that travelled the country made 141 recommendations to revise the Immigration Act.

Only one of those recommendations failed to be widely accepted: that immigrants speak either English or French.

Chinese speakers were most incensed, saying they have a tough time learning English and that the requirement would make it difficult for them to enter Canada, DeVoretz says.

"There's nothing more volatile in this country than language. I'm not talking about English and French, I mean other people's language."

Once people enter Canada without English or French, DeVoretz says, most don't have time to learn either language in any formal setting despite the social and economic price they pay.

"Over the last few years I've interviewed about 900 people in Vancouver who are Chinese, because that's where all the studies are. I've said `What's your biggest problem in Canada, in Vancouver, (for) integrating?' And they say, `Language, language, language.' "

He says that while people without English or French don't have a problem getting a job, they don't advance to better employment.
📌 For all latest updates, follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Whatsapp Channel: