Things We Learned in the Pandemic – LAD22 Conference Recap

By: Cheryl

By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator

Last month, MCIS sponsored and co-hosted a virtual Language Advocacy Day 2022 Conference: Our Language Rights.

The event was the second time Language Advocacy Day was celebrated in Canada, as an effort to call for attention to the language barriers and information gaps, to advocate for implementing and popularizing professional language services in the public sector, and to address the urgent need of equity in the access to critical information, especially in a pandemic and post-pandemic era.

Language Advocacy Day was first established in 2021 as an online conference initiated by MCIS.  The event was designed to serve as a place where various non-profit agencies, social service providers, academia, government officials, language professionals, language enthusiasts, and artists working at the intersection of language and many different fields can gather and share their experiences and thoughts.

The conference consisted of four panels. A New Wave of Advocacy – Grassroots Perspectives talked about practical examples of language advocacy in 2019 and 2020. Indigenous Languages in Canada at A Turning Point discussed the protection and revival of Indigenous languages as many elder speakers are passing. My Mental Health Is Multilingual shared examples of how language can affect people’s mental health. Canada’s Hidden Languages was designed to bring attention to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, with live ASL and LSQ interpretation. During the Conference, our panelists shared invaluable insights on various aspects they learned during the pandemic through practice and works with communities they served  daily.

“Access to first language support is so critical”

This point that has been stressed on for countess (and still not enough) of times. Yet, cliché as it might sound, the lack of access to support in people’s first languages is still causing issues every day and in every aspect of life. Jeanie Godfrey from the Town of Banff gave an example: when newcomers were informed there was an “open house” being hosted, their first reaction was, “What party? Whose party?”

The example was so simple that it almost sounded hilarious and sad at the same time. Language barriers hinder access to services in the most unexpected ways that native English speakers couldn’t even imagine. Vocabularies and slang that is not taught in textbooks, even short and simple, are causing misunderstandings of messages.

Native English speakers need support too

Contrary to many of our assumptions, being a native English speaker doesn’t mean one doesn’t face a language barrier – a point raised by Erika Chang, who works at John Howard Society of York Region. When all their services were shifted online due to the lockdown, Chang’s team faced unexpected challenges: they needed to explain how everything was  functioning, including court and application for social assistance, in the simplest language possible, because not all recipients of their services are digitally literate. Expressions often taken for granted, including, “click on the link,” “making a Zoom call,” are still hard for some to comprehend. If we are to broaden the scope of this topic, some individuals need  assistance in financial literacy, health literacy, etc. Using simple language in public documents is the key to ensuring these people are not left out.

A language without certified professionals

Another major issue discussed at Panel I was the dilemma faced by Rohingya interpreters. According to Saifullah Muhammad from Rohingya Centre of Canada, about 1,000 Rohingya newcomers in Canada and about 600 live in the Waterloo Region. As a very young and fast-growing community, this is a group that needs every help they can get to establish itself. However, adequate language assistance is not yet in place. Furthermore, being such a new language introduced into Canada, the Rohingya language doesn’t yet have a mature training, testing and certifying system for its language professionals, which hindered Rohingya interpreters from  providing their services because proof of qualification is often required when interpreting for the government or health care.

At the Conference, MCIS announced the establishment of 10 Professional Interpretation Program scholarships to support future Rohingya interpreters. Funded by MCIS, these scholarships were established to help guide more Rohingya individuals who want to become language professionals to their dream career path. At the same time, MCIS is advocating for the creation of the MCIS Rohingya Cohort and ILSAT Test in hope to make professional recognition for Rohingya interpreters possible. More information can be found here.

Click to view the full LAD22 Conference: