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  • Trygve Ringereide

Retaining and Promoting Heritage Languages in an 
 English – Dominant Environment

Left to right, Ingela Strömberg, Dr. Kristin Udjus Teitelbaum, Dr. Ian MacKay, Constantine Ioannou, and CNS President Dr. Karin Birnbaum (photo: Astrid Ahlgren)

As part of our Distinguished Speaker Series, Canadian Nordic Society members and guests were treated to a very illuminating and engaging discussion of Retaining and Promoting Heritage Languages in an English – Dominant Environment. The event took the form of a panel discussion, with Dr. Ian MacKay of the University of Ottawa serving as moderator. Joining Dr. MacKay in the discussion were Constantine Ioannou of the Ottawa-Carleton Education Network, Ingela Strömberg, founder of the Swedish Language School in Ottawa, and CNS Council member Dr. Kristin Udjus Teitelbaum.

Each participant offered their unique and interesting perspectives within the context of the importance of maintaining heritage languages while learning additional ones and promoting these ideas within schools and communities.

The presentation began with an overview by Dr. Ian MacKay of languages around the world and the social and cognitive benefits of learning multiple languages. Ingela Strömberg, offered an interesting account of the need perceived by her and her daughter to maintain Swedish language in their family. This was the genesis which led to her creation of the Swedish Language School in Ottawa, which was attended by her grandchildren, all of whom speak Swedish. Ingela outlined the various steps that were required to create the school, including the creation of the Swedish Club to satisfy the requirements of the Swedish education authorities for an organization responsible for curriculum materials and the processing of grants in support of the school.

Dr. Kristen Udjus gave a fascinating account of her family’s journey in preserving their heritage, language and culture over the years. All four of her children speak Norwegian as do most of her grandchildren. Kristin’s Canadian husband, a fluent speaker, is credited by Kristin with supporting her desire to preserve the culture and language of her homeland as part of her family’s heritage.

Constantine Ioannou gave a detailed and impassioned account of his personal history as a multilingual Greek Canadian and professional language educator and leader over thirty years. He referenced his own participation as a child in Greek school in London, Ontario and explored the sense that children get of their place in society if different from the dominant culture. Needless to say, he is grateful that he did learn Greek, which led him to learn other languages, including French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.

The challenges of funding and promoting language instruction are great but so are the rewards as we witnessed through a delightful video of young students talking about what made classes in their heritage classes so enjoyable and valuable to them as young Canadians from various communities. This very interesting evening concluded with audience comments and questions to the panelists.

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