A brief reflection on ethnic relations in Canada reveals considerable discontent (see Bissoondath, 1994; Edwards, 1994): after several decades, interaction between French and English Canada still reflects ‘two solitudes’, the First Nations continue in their demands for redress for past and present transgressions, and other non-official ethnolinguistic groups press for increased representation in government and education. There has been a variety of attempts by the Canadian federal government to overcome these difficulties. Important here have been language education programmes promoting the harmonious and efficient interaction between citizens from diverse cultural backgrounds. The purpose of this chapter is, therefore, to examine how the socio-political climate influences language learning, directly and indirectly, through language education programmes and policies. By considering socio-educational policy and social psychological research in tandem, we hope to illustrate that not only does policy affect language programmes, language learning and related outcomes, but also that the research on the social psychology of language learning can inform policy and programmes.
Following this goal, the structure of this chapter is two-fold. The first part considers the ramifications of a policy of ‘multiculturalism in a bilingual framework’ for language education in Canada. It is argued that in addition to the traditional pedagogical concerns of developing language competence, this ideology supports an educational orientation relevant to intergroup relations (Diffey, 1995).