Dr. Alain Takam, professor in the department of modern languages and linguistics, is passionate about inspiring student minds and the learning lessons they share with him in return.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am originally from Cameroon which is, with Canada, the only two countries in the world that apply the French/English official language policy. That language policy certainly played a role in the choice of Canada as a country I wanted to emigrate to. I arrived in Canada in 2005 on a student visa to complete my PhD at Dalhousie University. I was very lucky because I received a decent graduate scholarship prior to my arrival, as well as a yearly French course to teach. I would mention that, before leaving Cameroon, I was a trained French/English bilingual teacher with five years of teaching experience.
Once at Dalhousie University, I worked very hard academically and obtained excellent grades as a result. Thanks to my decent grades, I was selected, a year later, to compete for the prestigious Killam Predoctoral Scholarship. I ended up receiving over $55,000 in funds for this scholarship. Thanks to that, I completed my PhD very fast and immediately got my first contract position at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay) as an Assistant Professor. Two years later, I got my second position at the University of Waterloo. It was still a contract position, but with a better future. My family and I left Thunder Bay and settled in Kitchener-Waterloo where we lived for two years before coming to Lethbridge, after being hired for my current position which was, unlike the two previous ones, a tenure-track position.
How long have you been at ULethbridge and what do you do here?
I debuted at ULethbridge on July 1, 2014. Therefore, I have been at ULethbridge for close to nine years. My children and I are happy here and so, we are not planning to leave any time soon.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job? It is hard to just choose one. But I would say that my most favourite part is the freedom that my job offers me to carry out my research. I love research very much. I love the fact that I can contribute something towards the advancement of science in my various fields of linguistics (applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, language policy and planning, etc.). I do not think there are many jobs out there that can match this level of intellectual freedom, and it is undoubtedly one of the perks of being a university professor. In addition, the working hours that academia offers are quite flexible, at least more than in most professions.
I also love teaching, of course. Needless to mention that I was trained as a teacher in the most prestigious school of education in Cameroon (Higher ENS Yaoundé) where I received an M.Ed. in language and literature pedagogy.
The beauty of teaching is that you are constantly learning. Teaching and learning are intertwined. It is probably the most rewarding form of humanism. It is all about generosity, “give and take,” “find and share.” Above all, it is so beautiful to inspire minds, to have this potential for changing students’ lives in a significant way. The ultimate outcome of teaching and learning at higher education, in my opinion, is being able to make students active members in their respective communities.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
It is hard to know exactly when the works ends. More seriously, outside of work, I play with my children in our basement in winter and in our yard in summer. I also take long walks across the many paths Lethbridge is blessed with. I easily walk 10 kilometres per day when it is beautiful outside. Finally, I watch sports and closely follow Canadian politics, both provincially and federally.
In recognition of Black History Month, the EDI department is asking three additional questions:
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month means a lot to me. It is important to celebrate the contributions and the many achievements of Black Canadians who have done so much to make Canada a culturally diverse country. I do not think most Canadians are aware of the many contributions of Black Canadians to our nation-building process. I lived in Nova Scotia where there is an important “Indigenous” Black community that has been living there for centuries. As can be seen in Province of Nova Scotia (2023), a government page, the first large group of immigrants to Canada “were the Black Loyalists who came as refugees after the American Revolution between 1782 and 1785. About 3,500 people settled throughout Nova Scotia […]. A group of 600 exiled Jamaican Maroons followed in 1796, settling in Preston Township. They helped build Government House, worked on new fortifications at the Halifax Citadel and served in the militia.” Many of those Black Loyalists, who were soldiers, even helped defend Upper Canada against American attacks in the War of 1812, just to name this contribution.
From today’s perspectives, about 1.5 million Canadians are of African ancestry. That is a non-negligible size of the country’s population. Many of them have helped shape Canadian heritage and identity. They have made, and continue to make, enormous contributions, in various fields, to the well-being and prosperity of Canada.
I like to say that most peoples in the world have been colonized at one point in their history, in one way or another. But the history of Black people is unique. They are the only people who have been enslaved, deported, and colonized for over four centuries. And yet, they have succeeded to move on and are now looking towards the future, for the most part.
We cannot change what happened in the past, but we can use that past to build a different dynamic, a more hopeful, humanizing, and sustainable future for all.
What does authentic Black inclusion look like?
Black inclusion, like any ethnic inclusion, should be part of a larger policy of structured diversity at all levels of public life in the country. Demographically, Canadians of African ancestry account for 3.5% of Canada’s total population. But what is their proportion in public service, including the prestigious services, bearing in mind that most of recent immigrants to Canada, from this ethnic group, are selected as skilled workers? That is a question to which I would love to hear a response from the powers that be.
What do you want people to know about you and your journey?
I do not generally like to talk about myself. That said, I consider myself as a lucky person. I know many brilliant people in my community who could have become excellent academics but have not had any opportunity to show their worth. The difference might probably be in the perseverance, and in the belief in oneself (not in what other people think about you).
I think that I am much more productive when I am out of the limelight. And yet, I am ready at any time to give my humble contribution to advance any initiative or group project I am part of.
More specifically, I am a humble and self-effacing person who does not generally like to draw attention to myself. I believe that my actions (achievements) should speak louder than my words. That has served me well throughout my journey that began in my native Cameroon, not only in academia, but in life in general.
Black History Month celebrates the resiliency, flourishing, and determination to work towards a more equitable, inclusive and diverse country. The University of Lethbridge celebrates Black History Month: Building a Culture of Authentic Black Inclusion: Moving from resistance to change.Learn more about what Black History Month means, why we celebrate, ways to get involved and access learning resources.