‘A gift for their future’

Considering having your child learn a language – other than English and French? Here’s why you should go for it


There are so many reasons why language programming for children is important,” says Sarah Graham, marketing administrator for continuing education with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.


As she explains, “In Canada, we recognize that all languages are important and that multiculturalism is an invaluable resource. Learning a language can help to foster understanding, empathy, and an appreciation for our differences. When children learn their mother language, they gain pride in their own cultural background and have a better understanding of other cultures. The maintenance of these heritage languages in our communities is crucial for the social cohesion within Canadian society, and for the development of global perspectives among its citizens.”


In her role as marketing administrator, Graham promotes the variety of programs they offer in Ottawa. As she explains, in addition to International and Indigenous Languages, they also offer English as a Second Language, Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada, and many more.


“You can really see the direct impact that these programs have on people’s lives in our community and that’s a wonderful thing to be a part of,” she says.


Of interest, the continuing education department offers a variety of language programming to children and youth in Ottawa that many parents may not know exists.

As part of Ontario government’s International and Indigenous Languages Program, students are afforded the opportunity to learn languages “other than the official ones in Canada and to develop an appreciation for diversity and cultural understanding,” says Graham. Specifically, more than 38 languages are offered to elementary students (junior kindergarten to Grade 8). These classes occur at 20 schools around Ottawa on Saturdays as well as eight schools on weekdays. Also offered are secondary credit courses in 17 different languages to high school students.

Ten different locations throughout Ottawa offer summer language classes and in addition, immersive Spanish, Chinese and Arabic summer camps are available to children from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. In these camps, the children can learn or maintain a language other than English. As Graham outlines, “The focus of these camps and classes is to further develop language skills and explore the culture through engaging activities, field trips, arts-based learning, games, crafts, group projects and more.” The camps are both full and half-day and before and after childcare is available.

In terms of special projects, Graham notes that “Ottawa is the third-largest population gathering of Canadian Arabs in a Canadian city (according to the Canadian Arab Institute statistics). This summer for the first time we are offering Arabic Summer Camp to students from JK to Grade 8.

“Our hope is that this program offers Arabic youth the opportunity to foster a connection to their language and heritage, and for non-Arabic children to develop an appreciation for the culture and language as well.”

For those that are interested in improving their English skills, the NSL Camps is an additional option in Ottawa.

Sharen Craig is the founder and director of the National School of Languages, now known as NSL Camps. After spending over 20 years abroad teaching in Iran and then in France, Craig returned to Canada and started the National School of Languages in 1998. Since 2010, the focus has been on offering top quality English as a Second Language camp and immersion programs to children and youth. In addition to teaching English, activities and excursions are part of the program.

As Craig explains, “We offer two basic programs both teaching English as a second language to youth 8 to 19 years of age. The first program is English camp which consists of 20 weekly lessons in the mornings and then cultural, touristic and sports activities in the afternoons. The English camp is open to all ages and levels. The second program is English Immersion with Leadership which is geared to youth 13 years and older and to those who have an intermediate level of English… Our goal is to help our students feel comfortable speaking the language and interacting in real life situations. With up to 30 different nationalities attending each summer, our young students are highly motivated to communicate with one another. They go home not only having improved their English but having made many international friends.”

As part of these camps, the students also partake in a variety of museum and other cultural visits in Ottawa. There are also weekend field trips to such areas as Upper Canada Village and Niagara Falls. Many of the students get the special experience of living with host families while they attend camp. As Craig describes, “this once in a lifetime experience helps them to learn about life in a typical Canadian family and is another way for them to practice their English after class.”

Craig believes that language programming for children and youth is “extremely important”. As she says: “Learning a new language and culture, opens doors and most importantly it opens people’s minds. For these children, a youth from a remote village in Gaspésie, in Quebec, meets a lad or young girl from Saudi Arabia or Russia or Mexico or Uzbekistan. They become friends, learn bits and pieces of each others’ languages and many of them keep in touch for years later. Some actually visit the countries of the friends they make when they get older.”

And as Graham notes regarding the benefits of learning languages, “research has shown that learning a different language can have massive benefits for developing brains as they learn to recognize, navigate and communicate with different language systems. It can help with problem solving, improve test scores and lead to higher paying jobs in the future. Since new languages are most easily learned as a child, giving your child the opportunity to learn or maintain an additional language other than their mother tongue is like giving them a gift for their future.”




Fact box

For more information

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board – Continuing Education



NSL Camps