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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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Out of Print - Canadian Books Published pre-2000

This is a rather specialized rant about the state of Canadian publishing and bookselling. Every year around this time, professors across the country are selecting the books that they will assign to students in their courses. Many of them, like me, are pulling out their hair in frustration because the books they want are no longer available for purchase. My informal survey of books that I was considering seems to indicate that unless a) the book is a "classic" work in the field or b) it was published by a mainstream, as opposed to academic, publishing house, you have little chance of finding a book published prior to 2000, and no hope of one published pre-1995. Even if these two criteria are met, you may still be out of luck.

My current rant is prompted by efforts to select books for two courses: a second year introduction to Canadian studies course, for which I am picking books for a book review assignment; and a fourth-year seminar on nationalisms and identities in Canada.

Herewith, a sampler of some of the books that I can no longer obtain, in ascending order of egregiousness:

1) Ramsay Cook, Canada, Quebec and the Uses of Nationalism or The Maple Leaf Forever.
Cook's work on Nationalism in Quebec and Canada is great for an undergraduate course. There are more recent compilations of his work that have been published, but they don't quite capture the period that I'm interested in.

2) Jack Granatstein, Who Killed Canadian History?
The much maligned Granatstein's rant about the evils of social history and how Canadian history is in decline was a national phenomenon a few years ago. I was contemplating it as one perspective on the state of national unity and narratives of the Canadian nation. But it, alas, (or good riddance, depending on which historian you talk to) is out of print. Only one second-hand copy is even available from

3) Pierre Trudeau, Federalism and the French Canadians
I'm completely gobsmacked that this classic work by Trudeau has not been reprinted recently. Not only has my university library lost its copy, but apparently no Canadian publisher has seen fit to keep this classic alive. It used to be published by Macmillan, which is now defunct, but I'm surprised that no other publisher has picked it up. Fortunately, every few years, another publisher acquires the rights to George Grant's classic Lament for a Nation.

You could easily add on to this list dozens of monographs on Canadian history/political science that were published by academic presses, had their initial run, and then were not reprinted. Virtually every title older than 10 years old has suffered this fate, unless a second edition was released. An increasing number of academic titles also are released in hardcover only, primarily for a library market, and are thus too expensive to assign for a course assignment. Given the limited financial resources that these presses have, this is understandable, but frustrating from a pedagogical standpoint.

The lesson I'm learning from this? Buy new books as they are released, as you might never get another chance, or you'll pay through the nose at a second-hand bookstore.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Tidbits from Quebec - ESL, Boisclair, Private Schools and Cell Phone Bans

Herewith, a brief sampling of some of the stories that are making news in Quebec, as the main stories in the mainstream English-language news in the ROC (the foiled terrorist plan, al-Zarqawi's death) have been decidedly uninspiring for me in terms of posts. Being away from town for two weeks, basking in the wonders of the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle, probably hasn't helped with my enthusiasm for posting. Anyways, on with the post:

1) I can't believe that I missed this one until the end of my press scan, but it's important enough to me to be number one. Jean Charest has announced that as of this September, Quebec's francophone students will be taking English-as-a-second-language classes in Grades 1 and 2. Ever since the passage of Bill 101 under the PQ, second-language instruction in English has started in Grade 3 in Quebec. School boards that used to offer ESL as early as Grade 1, such as the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, were forced to revise their curriculum in accordance with this political directive. This is excellent news for parents who want their children to improve their second language skills - it's an axiom that the earlier you expose children to second-language learning, the more proficient they will become. Good on Charest for following through with this election promise.

2) PQ leader Andre Boisclair is finally going to make a run for elected office. And about time, I say. He passed over the last opportunity to run in Montreal's east end, but has apparently decided that the leader of the opposition should hold a seat in the legislature. Pointe-aux-Trembles should be an easy win for him. I haven't been following La Presse as closely as I should be, but I have noticed that Boisclair has been overshadowed by the Charest-Harper-Duceppe dance in the English-language press. He hasn't been figuring in any federal plans that I can see, and that has to be making him feel marginal. A year after Landry's resignation, La Presse, admittedly not the PQ's biggest fan, has not been overly impressed with how Boisclair is shaping up as a party leader.

3) The PQ will be debating a resolution this weekend about reducing government funding to private schools on a sliding scale proportionate with the degree of exclusivity of their selection criteria. This issue has apparently been part of the platform of the PQ since 1970, but to no real effect. So many issues are tied up in the Quebec private school system (including how they are used to skirt language laws) that I can't help thinking this is a Pandora's box not worth opening. But if they are going to deal with it, this "we'll fund some of you, but not all, depending on our criteria" is a recipe for disaster with the different communities these schools serve. Cutting off all funding to private schools is one thing, cutting off some funding to Chinese-language schools and Jewish schools, but not Montessori schools (to pick some completely arbitrary ones) would be toxic.

4) The Charest government is looking favourably at a ban on the use of cell phones while driving. After a weekend in Montreal, I am heartily in favour of this one. I'm frankly surprised that the McGuinty government in Ontario (which seems to have a strong bent to excessive nanny-statism) hasn't done this yet. A quick drive along the QEW in the west end highlights the need for this particular piece of legislation.

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