Monday, June 12, 2006

The Bilingual Shortfall

It seems fitting that my 100th post should be on bilingualism in Canada. It's a coincidence, however, that the Globe and Mail chose to run an editorial today about Canada's bilingualism policy, endorsing, as so many other have, the conclusions of Graham Fraser's book Sorry, I Don't Speak French.

As someone who works on language policy in a university setting, I'm thrilled that Fraser has received so much attention for his book (and somewhat envious of the high profile that his work has attained, as columnists fall over themselves to read his book and critique it), because he raises some very pertinent critiques of Canada's bilingualism policy, which has some serious shortcomings after almost forty years in operation.

The Globe editorialist points to some of the challenges facing Canadian bilingualism:

Until French becomes something more than another foreign-language option in high schools and universities, until curriculums are overhauled and teaching is improved so that students have the opportunity to develop their language skills, and until exchange programs and other means of facilitating conversations between the two solitudes become commonplace, bilingualism will not become a fact of Canadian life.

I don't think these proposals go nearly far enough, however. These pedagogical changes are all needed. But the key factor in education, in my opinion, is the motivation of parents and students. Until Canadians (of all ages) internalize the belief that the ability to speak at least two languages is a substantial asset, all the tinkering in the world will not substantially improve Canada's rates of bilingualism. A majority of Quebec anglophones are bilingual because they believe that they have to be to live and work in the provice, and this is why Quebec anglophone parents send their children to immersion programs. Canadians in the rest of the country need to see the economic and social benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism if they are going to start personally investing in language learning, and calling for their governments to make the necessary improvements to the system.

And with that, my one-hundredth post, I'm off to Galway, Ireland to speak about the development of Canadian language policy at a conference. After that, I'll be on vacation for a couple of weeks. See you again in July!

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At 10:06 am, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Enjoy the conference!

It strikes me that you and I have quite a few professional interests in common, and may actually end up at the same conference someday. We should keep an eye out and make sure we get to have lunch if and when we do.

At 10:26 am, Blogger Matt said...


That sounds like a good idea to try to keep tabs on each other's conferencing. I suspect that we were both in Toronto during Congress (or at least close by since you were in the Waterloo area), although I only briefly swung through the Canadian Historical Association conference this year. I normally attend it though. How does Saskatoon next May/June sound to you?

At 6:52 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a related note, do you think perhaps Graham Fraser could be Canada's next Commissioner of Official Languages?

At 4:16 pm, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I wasn't in Toronto for the Congress, though as you note, I was in Waterloo. I'm afraid to say that I actually avoid the Congress whenever I can come up with an excuse (read: whenever it's not in Edmonton) because I rarely get anything out of it. Huge, way too cluttered conferences aren't really my bag; I didn't care for the Modern Language Association annual conference back when I lived in the U.S., either.

I wouldn't go to the Canadian Historical Association conference because I'm, well, a sociolinguist, not a historian! But I do have an interest in language policy issues, and it's there that I think our conference attendance might intersect.

I'm thinking about using pieces of your book for my language planning graduate seminar in the winter, by the way. I'll let you know. :-)


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