Monday, June 20, 2005

Rebranding bilingualism

As much fun as it is to play web-pundit, it is still very exciting to be quoted in the hard-copy press.

To wit, there is a Canadian Press piece in the online edition of today's Globe and Mail as well as the print edition of the Montreal Gazette and a few other dailies in which yours truly ponders the future of bilingualism in Canada.

It appears that the Commissioner of Official Languages is starting a rebranding effort to try to encourage more Ontarians to study French. Such an initiative is long overdue, since high school enrolments are stagnating. Even in the peak years of the separatist scare in the late 1970s, high school students were reluctant to take French. The fact is that national unity is not the strongest motivator for your average high school student to study French, although it works for some (myself included). In a period where all the humanities are seen as of secondary importance to the sciences and maths, second language learning takes a back seat.

If more students are going to take language courses, they need to see that this has a practical value. Part of that can be demonstrated through the job requirements for government (and private sector) jobs. But I think that students also need to look at French as their first second language, and that the skills acquired from learning French will carry over to learning other languages. In a global economy, this can be a selling point.

Of course, the problem that rebranding will not solve is the pedagogic problems with the teaching of FSL (also known as Core French) in this country. While some provinces (with New Brunswick in the lead) have finally moved towards a FSL curriculum that provides for an adequate number of hours spent on language learning, there are still many jurisdictions using 20-minute-per-day programs. These programs were criticized by Keith Spicer (the first Commissioner of Official Languages) and a plethora of educational specialists for producing more frustration in students than actual language learning, because they were unable to make substantive progress. Those reports were in the 1970s! Unless educational jurisdictions change their pedagogical approaches to make real language learning possible, no rebranding effort in the world will help.

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