Monday, December 03, 2007

Bernard Lord and the Bilingualism Policy Review

Today in Moncton, Stephen Harper appointed former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord to head a policy review on the Canadian government's official languages policies. It has been almost five years since the last major policy review produced a 5-year plan entitled The Next Act. Launched by Stephane Dion, it committed the government to a major reinvestment in official languages in order to increase services to official language minorities, and to promote bilingualism among the general Canadian youth population.

Something became clear to me when I read this announcement. On Friday morning, I received an invitation from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to a policy forum on official languages to be held in Toronto this coming Friday. I was wondering why I received such a late invitation to a major policy review - one that required some juggling of my fall exams and meetings. But it would seem that I'm going to get to talk language policy with Bernard Lord, which should prove to be very informative indeed.

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At 9:32 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did it go?

At 2:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you get to talk to Lord?

I personally find it appalling that government is still talking about spending millions to induce people to become bilingual. It will not work. Somehow the government has to try to make French more relevant, or at least more appealing to Anglos. (Let's face it the issue is Anglos learning French, since English is very relevant to Francophones).

Today we have the Internet. We do not need expensive schools and teachers. There is an abundance of content and language learning resources on the web for those who are interested. The question is how to interest people.

If I had a chance to speak to Lord here is what I would say.

Graham Fraser, Canada's commissioner for official languages, clearly showed in his book , Sorry I Don't Speak French, that the vast sums of public money spent on bilingual education, training of public servants etc. in French, even including French immersion, have not made Canada any more bilingual. Fraser is determined to do something about it, and even spoke about making French knowledge a condition of graduating from a Canadian university.

I have learned 10 languages. I know that the number one factor in language learning is not public money, schools, text books, but just the motivation of the learner. Without strong motivation, all the language programs, or forms of coercion, like denying Canadian students the right to graduate from university after completing their course of study, or denying public servants promotions they would otherwise deserve, all of these things are doomed to failure.

How can we make French more attractive in Canada? That is the fundamental question. I have a proposal. A national campaign called "Canadians speak up", or 'Les Canadiens se racontent" or something like that. Canadians of all walks of life would record themselves talking about their lives, their interests, their opinions or whatever. Maximum 10 minutes each. All of this would be transcribed and sound and text files would be posted on a website. The website would consist, amongst other things, of a map of Canada, and users could go to different locations to listen to people from there tell their story. This content could be supplemented by other content from CBC/Radio Canada. This would all be available for free download for self-study.

Also on the site would be language learning tips, a forum, online dictionaries, online grammars, access to volunteer tutors, or even tutors paid for by the learners or subsidized by government. The activities of the learners could be statistically tracked. Learners, who would very often also be people who had contributed their own voice to the project, would be profiled. Relationships would be formed. The whole thing could take on a life of its own.

In fact we have been working on a project like this at LingQ, The present site is aimed at language learning in general, but could be adapted to the needs of bilingualism in Canada. It would be effective and inexpensive. It might do some good. Registration at LingQ is free.

Steve Kaufmann
steve (at)


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