There are 36 languages spoken or heard in the homes of Upper Canada College students, according to a survey of parents conducted last year.
That linguistic diversity was recognized during the school’s “World Languages Week” from Jan. 23 to 27, which was organized by Grade 12 students Loic Martin, Samuel Morin, Ian Pepin and Vladimir Chindea with support from UCC language teachers.
“We decided to change the name from ‘International Languages’ to ‘World Languages,” says French teacher and chair of classical and modern languages Sophia Berezowsky. “We are celebrating all languages, including international ones.
“The latter are languages associated with former empires that through colonization imposed their culture upon others. There are only about 20 international languages. However, we celebrate all languages, which are up to 3,000.”
Traditional teacher, mentor and healer Cat Criger was a guest speaker at both the Prep and Upper School assemblies on Jan. 23, representing Canada’s Aboriginal languages. He did a land acknowledgment in Ojibway and then spoke about his culture, language and ways of living.
The Spanish Club invited dancers from Colombia for a concert in the student centre that included indigenous dances from Venezuela and Colombia that were presented for the first time in Canada.
“We are happy to have been involved in a great initiative that brings attention to indigenous issues not only in Canada but in South America also,” says Berezowsky.
The French Club showed the 2006 Canadian film Bon Cop Bad Cop, which features dialogue in English and French, on Jan. 25. The dark comedy/thriller, about a police officer from Ontario who reluctantly joins forces with a partner from Quebec, revolves around the concept of mixed cultures and languages.
The Chinese new year was highlighted at a Jan. 27 assembly.
“In the morning we learned how to create a ‘Lion Dance’ with drums, gongs, symbols and, of course, a lion costume,” says Foundation Year student Rodney Chan.
“We then presented it at assembly and everyone loved it. I thought it was an amazing way to learn about Chinese culture.”
A Quebecois song titled “Gens du pays” was performed to the accompaniment of Peter Merrick’s organ playing in the same assembly. French teachers taught the song to students ahead of time and explained its importance to Québécois culture. Martin, a boarding student from Montreal whose English wasn’t very strong when he arrived at UCC, introduced the song in a speech about French-English relations in Canada.
“Today, I am proud to be bilingual,” he said. “But the path towards bilingualism has had its challenges.
“I was surprised by the stereotypes and mockeries that circulated around the school concerning Quebecers. We often get referred to as Frenchies. Even though it might not sound offensive, the idea that we are differentiated just because of the language we speak is still confusing to me. Just as you, I was born and raised with the same Canadian values, under the same flag, and singing the same national anthem. And today I am standing here in Laidlaw Hall as a proud Canadian.”
You can watch Martin’s speech and hear some of “Gens du pays” here.
Later that afternoon, 34 UCC boys went to Havergal College to celebrate Chinese new year with female Mandarin students through playing games, singing Chinese songs and making dumplings.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, those 36 languages mentioned in the first sentence are Arabic, Bengali, Burushaski, Cantonese, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Greek, Gujerati, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Katchi, Korean, Mandarin, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Shanghainese, Shina, Slovak, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese and Yoruba.