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Speech by His Majesty the King - University of Ottawa

13 March 2018

Speech by His Majesty the King of the Belgians

at the Academic-Scientific Seminar on Multilingual Education and Language Learning

University of Ottawa, Tuesday 13 March 2018

Mr President, Ministers, Professors and Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be able to join you this morning at the opening of your scientific seminar on language learning. Our two countries have a great deal in common in terms of cultural diversity, and the use of languages is crucial in this. So a discussion of the subject during our State Visit is highly appropriate.

Both our countries enjoy the undeniable asset of having multiple communities, each with its own language. Unlike our unilingual neighbours, our two countries unquestionably have the good fortune of being able to learn each other's languages without difficulty. There is enormous potential in Canada and Belgium for learning the second national language. We have native speakers just  a stone's throw away. Our students have ready access to the benefits of a linguistic apprenticeship in their daily lives. As a result, we have gained pre-eminent scientific experience and understanding of multilingualism and all its benefits.

Learning a language is synonymous with self-development. It involves delving into the cultural universe that predates us, and which shapes us. Above all, it means giving ourselves the opportunity to know ourselves better. Although it is essential to deepen and master our native tongue, learning a foreign language adds an extra dimension to our personal enlightenment. It is not just that, as Goethe put it, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.” But immersing ourselves in a foreign language is learning to see the world through different eyes. It complements our vision of the world.

Delving into another language makes it infinitely easier to meet and understand the people for whom it is their native tongue. If we need to work or live with someone from a different linguistic environment, being able to speak to them in their own language can only enhance the relationship. Such encounters introduce us to values of which we were previously unaware, and they can be a source of new creativity. As such, learning a language becomes a pledge of peace, a vector for a better future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Universities are the ideal places for our minds to expand. By adding the profusion of languages to the melting pot of ideas, as you do here at the University of Ottawa, you are preparing your students to better understand the world.  The longstanding presence of people with a wealth of different mother tongues is not only a unique opportunity to discover and appreciate a wide range of different cultures, but also to forge a multitude of invaluable economic connections with countless countries around the world. In this way, multiculturalism, or the simple juxtaposition of cultures, can make way for interculturalism, in which cultures enrich each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”. With this quote of Nelson Mandela, I wish you all a very productive symposium. May these exchanges have a positive impact within your teams, may they lead to highly rewarding collaborations between Canadian and Belgian researchers, on both a human and a professional level.