Winnipeg school to offer province's first Punjabi bilingual program next year

Jaspreet Hari's 11-year-old son is fluent in Punjabi, but he's still excited to be joining the bilingual program. (Joanne Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Jaspreet Hari's 11-year-old son is fluent in Punjabi, but he's still excited to be joining the bilingual program. (Joanne Roberts/CBC - image credit)

Manitoba's first Punjabi bilingual program will help bridge the gap between generations, Winnipeg parents say.

The program is for everyone who wants to learn the language, not only Punjabi speakers. It will be available at Amber Trails Community School, which is part of the Seven Oaks School Division.

The program will use Punjabi as the language of instruction for social studies, health and Punjabi literacy. Science, music, physical education and mathematics will be taught in English. The school is hosting an open house Tuesday evening for parents and families who are interested in learning more about the program.

It is a "much needed and much awaited program ... I appreciate Seven Oaks School Division for bringing this program into the school," said Jaspreet Hari.

Watch: Parents are excited for Punjabi program to start

Hari's family primarily speaks Punjabi at home. Even though her 11-year-old son, who already goes to the community school, is a fluent speaker and sometimes attends classes on Sunday at his Gurdwara, Hari plans to enrol him in the Punjabi bilingual program next year.

"Kids sometimes are hesitant. They are like, 'I don't wanna go, it's my weekend,'" Hari said.

While her son isn't always excited to go to Sunday lessons, she said he's very excited about joining the program.

"He's very excited ... He loves English as well as Punjabi, and he's proud that he can speak more languages," she said.

Winnipeg's South Asian community is experiencing rapid growth. According to Statistics Canada's 2016 census, just over 37,000 Winnipeggers identified as South Asian, and in 2021, that jumped to more than 62,000. The number of people in Winnipeg who consider Punjabi their mother tongue nearly doubled in the same period.

Hari said the program would be useful not only because the population is growing, but also to be able to bridge the gap between family generations. She said in some families, children don't speak Punjabi while other family members, like grandparents, don't speak English.

"There is a gap in both generations. So that gap will be filled if [children] know a little bit of Punjabi," Hari said.

When Bhupinder Busser first heard of the program, he said he was excited for his children to join.

"I was very interested to teach my own language to my kids ... so [they] can always be attached with the Punjab," Busser said.

Busser has two children: a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. He said it was important they learn the language so they can communicate with their grandparents, who do not speak English.

"The emotions that they can express in their own language and then in English is going to be different," he said.

Busser said he hopes the program attracts families who necessary know Punjabi already.

"It's always good to learn about different cultures," he said.

The open house is being held at Amber Trails Community School Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.