The origins of the language calendars 

The idea of the language calendar goes way back to a summer course given by Stanley Aléong in the then Department of Second Language Education in the Faculty of Education of McGill University. Stanley had been teaching  anthropological linguistics  at the Université de Montréal when he received a call from Jacques Rebuffot, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Education, looking for an instructor to give a class on the social aspects of language acquisition.

The class looked at methods and strategies of adult second language acquisition inside and outside the classroom from an anthropological perspective.  One of the general observations was that whereas classroom instruction often had mediocre results, many people outside the classroom acquired second languages spontaneously or through independent study. 

Looking at very successful language learners, it became evident that the most important predictors of success were immersion in the language and a personal relationship or engagement with the language. 

At a more technical level, we also observed, as has been widely confirmed in the literature, that mimicry, good memory,  perception of verbal patterns, good sense of observation and ability to associate language to context were important success factors. 

What was also striking in successful learners was the emphasis on working with whole utterances and not isolated words in acquiring verbal fluency.

Although he eventually left the world of academic linguistics for computer science, Stanley always maintained a strong personal interest in language learning. Somewhat of a closet polyglot, he is comfortable in four languages (English, French, Spanish and Wolof) and has dabbled to various levels of proficiency in German, Russian and Italian. 

The idea for the calendar came as Stanley was looking at a poster of the Russian alphabet and some Post-its that he had been using to write down words in Russian. Why not combine the power of a constant visual reminder with an array of useful phrases?

The first calendars were printed in 2003, 2004 and 2005. They consisted of  Beginning French, Beginning Spanish and a curious  bilingual hybrid Advanced French and Advanced English calendar. 

This last one was strange indeed. Half the pages were in French and half in English. Only in Canada.

The calendars were a critical success, but since they were real calendars with dates, it was burdensome to have to update the calendars every year. The project then lapsed until late 2009 when a group of people decided to revive the idea, this time with a perpetual calendar, i.e. no dates.

There were a number of technical changes, but the idea has remained fundamentally the same: the language calendar as a visual aid for memorization. 

Although we are strong believers in  the printed calendar hanging from a wall, we recognize that the world is going digital and that the days of the paper calendar may be nearly over. We shall see.


 Many people have been involved in the project over the years. Thanks to Gerry L'orange, Henry Muñoz, Francisco Gomes, Véronique St-Laurent, Michel Jodoin, Michel Vaïs among others.