First Multilingual Week celebrates SFU’s diversity of languages and those who speak them

February 04, 2022

For many members of the Simon Fraser University community, English is not their native language. It may not even be their second language.

English is the primary language of instruction at SFU, but with a diverse population of students, faculty and staff comes a diversity of language. With this in mind, SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE) partnered with Student Services, the Student Learning Commons, World Languages and Literature and Fraser International College to launch the inaugural Multilingual SFU week, a series of events and activities designed to highlight and celebrate multilingual speakers at SFU.

“There’s a notion that SFU doesn’t quite yet see multilingualism as an asset,” says Fiona Shaw, CEE’s associate director of English as an Additional Language (EAL) initiatives. “We have such a rich linguistic diversity on our three campuses—it’s something we should have the chance to celebrate, and interrogate a little bit.”

All students attending SFU are required to demonstrate competence in listening, reading, speaking and writing prior to admission. But the activities during Multilingual SFU Week will explore how multilingualism enriches our community, within our classrooms and beyond.

Through a series of presentations and panels, CEE invites instructors to learn new ways to integrate multilingualism into their teaching and academic activities.

“Multilingual SFU Week hopes to raise awareness of multilingualism as an asset model,” says Eilidh Singh, a CEE EAL consultant. “We want to counter the feeling of deficit for being multilingual.”

The idea for Multilingual SFU Week came out of a university scan conducted by CEE, examining the needs and gaps for EAL students at SFU.

“At SFU there are limited opportunities for folks with a diverse linguistic repertoire to draw upon it in their personal, academic and professional lives,” says Shaw.

While Shaw and Singh originally planned to host a single standalone event, overwhelming support for the idea lead them to quickly expand to a weeklong celebration.

“People really took to heart the idea of who our target audience was–which is everyone. Our partners really wanted to participate as much as possible,” says Singh. “When we sought out one workshop, they offered two or they offered a workshop and an in-person event.”

Multilingual SFU Week’s events will cover topics such as how to support multilingual students in finding their academic writing voice, techniques to embrace diverse cultural backgrounds in the classroom, and how cultural revitalization through language improves the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples, to name a few.

CEE also hopes to surface and model initiatives embracing a diversity of languages, such as the new plurilingual category in the Student Learning Common’s annual writing competition and a new CEE series about linguistically responsive classrooms.

The intention is not for instructors to feel the need to teach in multiple languages, but to consider evaluation models that aren’t dependent on English, explains Singh. “We want to show that you can assess if students have understood the content of your class in ways that are inclusive, equal, and celebrate diversity. We can focus on understanding the transmission of the content without a punitive aspect due to language.”

Says Shaw, “We want to put that question into people’s minds – does English have to be the only way that we do this?”

Multilingual SFU Week takes place February 7-11, 2022. For individual event details, visit the Centre for Educational Excellence page.

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