The Vancouver Communication Phenomenon

Canada has been described as a “cultural mosaic”. This is in contrast to the United States ideal of a “melting pot”. Canada encourages immigrants to keep their culture while living in Canada. The mosaic also encourages others to continue using their mother language. This creates communication issues between those that are multilingual and those that are not.


Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is remarkably small due to being situated between the oceans and several mountains. The city cannot expand further, so it becomes denser. Like many large city, as it became denser it developed clusters of people from shared cultural backgrounds. A phenomenon occurs in Vancouver due to the combination of these clusters of people and the drive to keep cultural heritage: entire areas operate in non-official languages.


The official languages of Canada are English and French. Beyond those many provinces and territories have other official languages, generally aboriginal dialects. However, the languages that dominate sections of Vancouver will not be found on a list of even regional official languages in Canada.


The fact that sections of the Vancouver area are operated in languages like Cantonese and Mandarin is a beautiful representation of Canada’s beliefs. It’s an excellent example of how Canada desires their citizens to embrace their own cultures. However, do regions like this cause communication issues? Or, are they seen as a bridge to promote trade with other countries that speak those languages?


Of course the situation creates communication problems for Canadian citizens, but it is also a great way to promote multilingualism. I have visited sections of Vancouver like this before and was completely lost. The businesses had no way of communicating with me or other English speaking potential customers what their offerings were. However, there is an increase in multilingualism with the second and third generations of the families that created these regions. These multilingual citizens are a boon to Canada.


The question still remains, though, how can communication be increased with these regions? Translation of company’s websites and information can help the flow of product information between these areas. Its important to note that communication is a two way process and that both English speakers and non-English speakers of the Vancouver area must make an effort. Endeavoring to communicate with others from their own regions may have ripple effects for companies. Once their information is available in multiple languages everyone who speaks that language is now a potential customer. For those English speaking companies in Vancouver that want to appeal to their Cantonese and Mandarin speaking neighbors by translating their information; they just increased their potential customers by about a billion.

David Hilborn

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