“A society isn’t made of one type of person doing the exact same thing. A society is a mosaic of multiple different people from different backgrounds and experiences. And by learning your language and your culture, it’s not that you’re becoming different or out. You’re gonna become a working piece of this huge puzzle machine that is society.” (MLD youth participant)
We can’t help keeping on celebrating Mother Language Day’s 20th anniversary with the young people and their teachers, parents, and guides! We heard three powerful young voices in Episode 96, and got a great overview and history with Antonella Cortese of the International Heritage Language Association (IHLA) and herself a founder and director of an Italian heritage langage and cultural school. (Check out all the information on these organizations and school on the posts from these two previous episodes!)
Check out, also the previous podcasts I refer to in my introduction to THIS podcast, in the transcript below, and, yes, I’ll write them again here, because it is so important, so critical, that we all understand, no matter where we live, that languages make us human, both individually and collectively. Every one of these (and so many more) of the podcasts over these 2 1/2 years of It’s About Language have addressed the specific experience of individuals being or becoming aware of their heritage language and culture and realizing that they needed to take steps to integrate this key, foundational identity with that of their lives in the majority culture that surrends them.
Heritage Language Month in episodes 60, 61, 62, 63, with my co-host and heritage leader extraordinaire, Joy Peyton. The panels for those four episodes shine light on the need for and impact of heritage programs and on the fact of such needs around the world, and the collaborative efforts already in place to support such international growth.
Don’t forget to listen to the podcast in which Joy Peyton is my guest all by herself, episode 81.
Celia Zamora, the certification and professional development leader for the national Organization ACTFL, is episode 70. She speaks movingly about her own and her husband’s experiences as heritage speakers. Celia also provides a beautiful and freeing image for all of us of what it means to be “a speaker of a language.”
Agnes Tounkara runs a program in NYC that welcomes and supports youth who have come into the US from Haiti and from French-speaking African countries. Her powerful podcast, episode 69, shows how these youth discovered their multilingual superpower, providing them a self-image far from that imposed on them upon their arrival in the U.S.
Amanda Seewald in episode 10 shares – with us and almost with herself at the same time – her heritage, discovering how language was the relatory experience of her family’s history and her own. Amanda served on the advocacy panel of the heritage month and, in her role as the Executive Director of the national advocacy organization JNCL-NCLIS, spoke to us in episode 88 of the importance of everyone speaking out on behalf of this important aspect of identity and hope for all.
In episode 84 with Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas, we hear how their research and the application of it in school systems prove the importance of heritage and immersive experiences. Do not miss this episode.
Finally, I invite you to listen (yet again, perhaps) to episode 67, where I share with you why and how language is the pathway to bringing peace to the spirit of individuals, especially the young, and from that, hope for our world, so often torn asunder by hate and violence.
All this heritage, and music, too, in this podcast! Have fun!
And I’ll help you find your way, again (though I ask you to go back to episodes 96 and 95 to learn more, follow links, and see resources! They’re worth it!
Access the Newsletter here: NEWSLETTER Winter 2023.pdf
And the program here! IHLA 20th MLD Programme.pdf
Enjoy the podcast.
Click to listen:
Scroll down for full transcript.
Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!
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0:00:05.7 Norah Jones: Well, I’m looking forward to you having fun with this particular podcast episode. We’re going to listen to children and young adults yet again as they have a chance to talk about why language and culture is so important to their identity and to their joy and to their relationships and their families and their communities and beyond. These are young people’s voices interspersed with their festival presentations from the Mother Language Day festivities at Edmonton Alberta, Canada, February, 2023, sponsored by the International Heritage Language Association. You heard in episode 95, I hope, the voice of Antonella Cortese, a member of the board of the International Heritage Language Association, and herself a director of a Heritage Language School of Italian, and one of the coordinators of the Mother Language Day.
0:01:04.3 Norah Jones: You heard in episode 96 a selection of a couple of the young adults that I wanted you to hear specifically because of the way that young people are able to articulate what language does for them, it strips away all of the… Well adults, sometimes… detail and confusion that might come around languages, especially when we consider it just part of the curriculum and part of an educational process that often unfortunately can be taken away with budget cuts or difficulties in finding staffing. When we hear the role that language and culture plays in the lives of young people who are beginning their journey into their adulthood, that’s where it hits strongly. I ask you to go back if you have not had a chance to listen to some of the podcasts that have brought these themes forward. By all means, please listen as… They’re not too many, but especially to the Heritage Language Month in episodes 60-63.
0:02:21.1 Norah Jones: With panelists from all over the world and my co-host, Joy Payton, listen to Joy Peyton’s own podcast, number 81, Celia Zamora, the certification and professional development leader for the national Organization ACTFL, episode 70, Agnes Tounkara, who was able to provide such a moving experience of listening to those who have in the past French colonial history and bringing their multiplicity of languages when they enter the United States. Listen to Amanda Seewald in episode 88 and the advocacy needed for language studies, and especially listen to understand the impact that language and cultural studies have on the very nature of the achievement of young people, of their skill sets, of what they’re able to do, the impact they’re able to have, what they’re able to earn, how they’re able to succeed when otherwise they might fail because of some other aspects of their background.
0:03:29.9 Norah Jones: Proven research by listening to episode 84 with Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas, their research proves the importance of what these young people, these children, and young adults that you’ll hear today know by experience. Language is life. Culture is the way we live together, and sharing those cultures helps us to see that all human beings enjoy their identity and enjoy sharing their identity, and that, that can happen in peace, that can happen in Joy. In my own episode 67, which I recorded after this, a series of horrifying tragedies of mass shootings, I pointed out that language and understanding how language and culture works down deep experientially can help to alleviate fear. Because fear leads to hate, hate can lead to violence, language and culture can help to calm those waters can help to open those hearts.
0:04:53.1 Norah Jones: So today, enjoy these children and young adults. Enjoy the sound of their festivities, celebrate with them, but also I invite you to think about how we’re going to learn more about making sure that these are not just little slots and stars places here and there, but an everyday part of our youths’ lives so that our world can be a world of hope for the future. Enjoy the podcast. What is your name, may I ask?
0:05:43.4 Speaker 2: [Child gives name]
0:05:44.6 Norah Jones: Do you have a favorite letter sound so far?
0:05:47.6 Speaker 2: Yeah.
0:05:47.8 Norah Jones: What’s your favorite letter sound so far?
0:05:54.3 Speaker 2: A A A A. That’s… That what I do in kinder.
0:07:14.5 Speaker 3: So we are here for… From celebrating all our mother languages here and I’m a part of Nepali language gurukul and I’m volunteered there. I volunteer as a dance teacher plus other thing there. We probably showed our dance there today and it’s all about how you feel when you remember all those childhood memory being home. Yeah.
0:07:43.1 Norah Jones: The dances were absolutely beautiful. Did you… Were you one of the dancers? Tell me about your experience of dancing.
0:07:49.9 Speaker 3: It was a great experience. I enjoyed performing for you guys today, and I thought it was just a wonderful experience in general.
0:07:58.0 Norah Jones: How about that school? Tell me about your experience of the school. How long have you been going to the Heritage School?
0:08:06.8 Speaker 3: I’ve been going for a few months now and I really love it. I’m learning so much and it has given me so much inspiration to learn more about my country.
0:08:14.5 Speaker 4: It’s few months for this session, it’s session-wise and we had online classes for COVID period, so it’s back to class. It’s a resume and it’s very exciting.
0:08:27.5 Norah Jones: That’s wonderful.
0:08:29.8 Speaker 4: Yeah.
0:08:30.2 Norah Jones: And would you invite other young people to learn the language?
0:08:32.9 Speaker 3: Yes, I would. It’s amazing language and I think it’s just amazing language.
0:08:38.9 Speaker 1: Do you think that it will help you in the future knowing not only the English that you speak, but also the heritage languages that you have?
0:08:46.3 Speaker 3: Absolutely. It would be a great way to help connect with our grandparents who maybe don’t know English and just in general teach younger students too. And yeah, it would help definitely.
0:09:57.6 Speaker 5: We are from the Czech Heritage Language Society of Edmonton, but we call ourselves a Czech School. I’m one of the teachers. So my name’s Naomi [last name] and there’s three teachers in the Czech School and I’m one of them.
0:10:11.0 Norah Jones: So tell me about what it is that has happened…when the school was established? How many young adults you work with or age group and what are you especially proud of?
0:10:24.3 Speaker 5: So we… The Czech School started, interestingly, it was a lot of young moms, most of us came directly from Czech Republic. I say most of us ’cause I did not. But a lot of us were direct immigrants here in Edmonton, didn’t have family, and were worried about their kids growing up and not speaking the Czech language. And Czech is one of those cultures where you don’t always have that community. When you leave Czech, it’s hard to find other Czechs. It’s a very small country, not a lot of people. And so we were all shocked that there were so many young Czechs with young families in Edmonton. So I think this was around 2018 is when we had our first little meeting. But the school itself, I believe was established in 2019. And then throughout the pandemic we were able to follow the rules of schools. So we were able to meet in person sometimes, other times we weren’t, depending on what was going on in the world. But we had Zoom classes. And then over the years we’ve forged really good friendships. I would say what… We are the most proud of is that we have around anywhere between 10 to 15 kids.
0:11:31.4 Speaker 5: We have… Every year we’re growing. So we started off with two age groups. Now we have three age groups, so three to four. And then we have kindergartens and then we have young Elementary. This year we introduced another group and that is Advanced Speakers. So it’s kids who speak very well Czech. [laughter] And we’re always growing. And then we’re adding on to… Every year looks a little different. So first year it was just lessons and then we had cultural celebrations and then we had a Czech Camp and we started working with other groups in Edmonton. So we’re getting more integrated into the community. And we’re learning that there is actually a thriving Czech community, which is neat. So.
0:12:16.7 Norah Jones: Sounds like you’ve uncovered heritage understanding where it might not have been pursued?
0:12:22.9 Speaker 5: Yep. Definitely for me too, ’cause like I said, I’m from Ontario, my parents were Czech, so moving here, I didn’t know anyone and it was really nice not just to hear the language but help me not feel as homesick while I’m here. And I would say that through these activities and through working with these people and meeting new people and meeting new Czechs it’s supplemented my family so I don’t feel as unrooted because I have my roots here. Which is good.
0:12:53.8 Norah Jones: What kind of role do heritage language and culture schools play in Canadian society in general, do you think?
0:13:02.3 Speaker 5: I would say reflecting on my upbringing, I grew up in Ontario on a small family farm in a predominantly English-speaking area. There wasn’t a lot of multicultural groups in Dundalk, Ontario, which is where I came from. And so… We… and I speak, of myself and my siblings, often felt a little different ’cause we had different lunches, we spoke different languages and it was hard to integrate into the greater fabric, to the point where we maybe weren’t as proud as we were of our culture. One thing I really want for my daughter, and I think what a lot of parents want their, their kids who are… Attend these schools is to not feel so alone in it ’cause you’re living one foot in Canadian culture, and where at school there’s different norms and values and ways of speaking and… What’s cool here maybe isn’t what’s cool in Czech.
0:13:52.6 Speaker 5: And then in Czech it’s also a whole other thing and you’re kind of straddling both worlds, not really sure where your place is in it. And then you’re going through all the regular stuff you do as a kid and a teenager. And I’m glad that my daughter has… Knows a whole wack of other kids who are kind of in that same boat who are living in the two worlds. And I think that’s something that a lot of families, one of the reasons why families would bring their kids into that setting. Also as well, just because we don’t live in Czech, we have a lot of family there. So my partner, his mother doesn’t speak a lick of English. My grandma doesn’t speak a lick of English. So when we go there, it’s nice that they understand the language and they understand the songs and they’re able to interact with their grandparents. And I think that’s another reason why…
0:14:37.9 Norah Jones: [quiet word]
0:14:39.7 Speaker 5: Yeah. Yeah. And they can still have some relationship with them even though they don’t speak English.
0:15:08.8 Norah Jones: You just made an interesting statement about Canada. Go for it.
0:15:11.9 Speaker 3: I like that Canada now and then is a bilingual blanket because every part of the blanket has one culture and we can be Canadian, but we can also follow our cultures and religions.
0:15:42.8 Speaker 6: So I’m [name given] I’m the principal of the Ukrainian Language Classes for Adults. We’re the only adult school in IHLA. And this year we have… 47 had registered in our school. And they come from all over Edmonton and surrounding communities and we have a display. And we were just talking about the bread that is in the center of the display, which is a kolach, it’s a braided bread, kolo is circle, and this bread is in the shape of a circle, a braided circle representing never-ending life. And Ukrainians have a ritual bread for every occasion, any… Weddings, there’s a ritual bread, greeting people, Easter, Christmas, there are all ritual breads because Ukraine is an agrarian society. It strikes me very interestingly that Alberta and, well, Canada, we respect peoples from all over the world, Canada had indigenous people, and all of us came from all over the world and into the fifth generation now or whatever, but the richness of bringing all these heritages together is, makes for a vibrant, interesting society, and because Canada is so immense, we have a lot of room for more immigration and the immigrants, people who come to this country bring with them their language, their culture, they open up restaurants… It just enriches our society.
0:17:43.7 Norah Jones: Thank you so much, appreciate it.
0:17:47.4 Speaker 6: Thank you.
0:17:50.8 Speaker 7: My name is [name given] and I am the principal of Eritrean Community Tigrinya School, and we’re here today to present our school.
0:18:04.8 Norah Jones: And help me to understand the role this school plays in your life as an adult and as a parent.
0:18:13.3 Speaker 7: Oh, it has a very big role because I have three kids and then two of them were born back home but one is here, and when they have… They came here, they have some conflict with the country and then with their self because they’re new, they don’t know anybody. And then… That’s why I start to work here in the school. I was a teacher back home, and then I start to teach and I start to bring my kids to school, and when they come to this school, they start to see that there are other people who looks like them who can speak this language, and then they start to feel confident, “Oh I belong somewhere.” So that’s why I start to continue I try to make them volunteer with me or. And then they… Before they don’t even want to speak the language at school or anywhere, but after that they start to communicate with me, they start to speak in my language at their school, everywhere, in the public and yeah it has a big role for me.
0:19:23.3 Norah Jones: You brought up the idea of languages belonging, making sure they belong to something that feels and reminds them of themselves. How does that affect the way that they feel that they belong then to the larger Canadian community in which they live?
0:19:46.8 Speaker 7: Before they were in between, I can say when they come here, they were in a very different culture and background and here and then everything is different, right? But now they’re like half Eritrean half Canadian, they belong here because they here for a long time of their lives, and then. So they belong everywhere now I can say… There to their culture and Canadian culture too.
0:20:14.1 Norah Jones: So the Eritrean culture and the Canadian cultures complement each other? Would you say that they are… That it is… They can live in both with comfort?
0:20:23.3 Speaker 7: Yes. Now they can live in both, with comfort because they were here, one of them were only ten years and the other one was only six years old, now they’re comfortable with both languages, but mostly the cultures and traditions I can say.
0:20:41.3 Norah Jones: As a parent, what can you say to those listeners who are parents, guardians, grandparents, about having the young adult in your life in such a school, should they consider that for their own children and grandchildren?
0:21:00.6 Speaker 7: Oh yeah, I would say it’s very, very important for them to know their background, to know their culture and to be confident on themselves on who they are, they have their own cultural background and everything, when they come here, they feel they’re lost. When we see them, they were lost when we here, because they don’t speak the language and everything. So it is very important for the kids to learn their language and their culture because it makes them confident and it helps them. It’s helps them very much so I suggest parents to teach their language.
0:21:36.2 Norah Jones: What are you especially proud of today, among the various things that happened at the demonstrations and the festivity here today?
0:21:47.8 Speaker 7: Oh, it’s very nice to see everybody coming together and then presenting, and when you see everybody’s face they try to explain what is it there, what is it represent for and everything. So it’s very good yeah.
0:22:01.6 Norah Jones: Thank you so much.
0:23:27.1 Norah Jones: I want you to introduce yourself, your name and what particular cultural group you’re with.
0:23:34.6 Speaker 8: My name is [name]. I am from Ukraine, from the Capital City, Kyiv, and, I came to Canada, 11 months ago. The school in Canada are totally different than in Ukraine. I am studying now in Canada, in school Austin O’Brien, and that’s pretty interesting, but totally different. And sometimes it can be hard for me and I like this city because there is a lot of interesting places and, I like to find more information about culture of other countries and Canada, really super bilingual country, and a lot of different cultures here from all over the world.
0:24:30.9 Norah Jones: I have to ask: was the conflict, the war, the rationale for you being here 11 months ago?
0:24:41.8 Speaker 8: Actually that’s was problem of my mom because she was super scared about the situation and, I wanted to stay in Ukraine with my friends, but she was too scared for that so I came to Canada because here is, her sister, she lives here like 22 years.
0:25:13.5 Norah Jones: So you have someone that’s in the Canadian experience here in the family. You are… You’ve come today to this heritage festival. And what role did you play here and what do you think that you might do, if anything, ongoing with this Heritage Language and Culture group?
0:25:33.8 Speaker 8: I’m here to show the Ukrainian culture for other people and show how kindful we are because Ukraine is a very beautiful country and, we want to be friends with other.
0:25:52.8 Norah Jones: What kind of difference do you think Heritage schools play for, especially, young adults?
0:26:06.3 Speaker 8: They’re making a lot of help to share the nationality and, history of the culture of different countries, and people from Ukraine and other countries on this heritage festival, shown their cultures and the schools from there help them to know their history.
0:26:37.4 Norah Jones: What do you think will be the impact on your life now that you are in Canada, but connected to the Ukrainian community here?
0:26:51.7 Speaker 8: The Canadian community, how I said before, very bilingual. So there is not a really big problem. I know a lot of people from Ukraine here, so I’m not feeling lonely. [chuckle]
0:27:16.0 Speaker 9: My name is Josephine Ballard. I am one of the last members of the founding group. The rest are all gone. [laughter]
0:27:24.4 Norah Jones: Thank you for founding it. When you watch today, when you listen today, what does it tell you? What do you see?
0:27:32.8 Speaker 9: The first reason why we started Heritage Language back in 1977 was because we wanted our children to be able to connect with their grandparents back home in our language. And then it evolved into something that’s not just talking to grandma, but it’s now a heritage being really accepted by our younger generation. And I really love that because that was just our goal at that time. And now look at what happened. And I just received a note from my daughter that Vancouver, British Columbia, the Department of Education has proclaimed Filipino language to be part of their curriculum, so that was something else that was wonderful, yeah.
0:28:23.4 Norah Jones: Wonderful. Wonderful.
0:28:25.7 Norah Jones: What kind of strengthening do you see for Canada, for Alberta, by this heritage language work?
0:28:36.0 Speaker 9: That is one of the goals to be able to combat racism because if people will try to understand who you are, not just color when they say you are Black, you are White, you are yellow, that’s not true. But when they hear that we have our own heritage, just like the North American heritage or the European, they would say, “Oh, they’re human beings like us.” So I think letting them know that language is able to make them really advocates of what you call inclusivity.
0:29:09.9 Norah Jones: Thank you very much.
0:29:11.3 Speaker 9: You are most welcome Norah. And it was a beautiful speech you’ve given, the voice.
0:29:36.8 Norah Jones: Thank you for listening to this podcast today, and I hope you will check out some of those podcasts that I mentioned in the introduction. I also hope that you will take a look on my website fluency.consulting to see the podcasts that are available to access the transcripts and access the information, resources, and links that have been provided by all of my guests. These tools for you, for your organization, for your school, for your business, for your life. They’re all made available to you because it’s important to me that you and I live in a world of peace based on what we know is the key to human joy,language, and culture. Until the next time.