Fact: In almost fifty years and with billions of dollars spent on French in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec, Canada’s bilingualism rate has only increased by 3%, from 7% in 1967 to 10% of the population now.
Yet, Canada’s official languages commissioner Graham Fraser recommends the Harper government spend even more money in order to “do more for bilingualism.” As the National Post editorial writer asks: Why?
Why indeed? Instead, why not propose some equity in this country and allow unilingual English speakers to work in the public service in areas of the country where only English is spoken or unilingual French speakers to work in the public service in communities where French is the primary language?
Look, people will only become fully bilingual when they have to. Without practice and opportunity to speak both official languages, bilingualism just can’t happen. For example, although I was born in Toronto, my family moved to Quebec when I was 10 years old and later to Ottawa (which is as officially bilingual as you can get in this country).
In Quebec, we lived in a bedroom community just off Montreal Island in Laval on a small, wonderful island called “Ile Bigras.” I went to Lake of Two Mountains High School in Saint-Eustache, an all-English school from the early grades right through to high school graduation. However, while the school was officially English, most of my classes were in French.
And, of course on Ile Bigras, my new friends were either French speaking or already bilingual. I was on the local baseball and swimming teams, for instance, where no English was spoken or heard.
So, out of necessity and opportunity, I learned to understand and speak French in less than a year. Reading in French, however, was always a challenge. Nevertheless, as a result of that “opportunity,” I became fluently bilingual.
However, trying to speak French today would be another story. And, therein lies the opportunity problem. I moved away from Ottawa in my thirties and have hardly spoken a word of French since. Oh sure, if I was plunked down in Quebec for a few weeks, it would likely come back.
But, my point is that this country will never be fully bilingual when English speakers do not have the opportunity to converse in French and vice versa, when French speakers in Quebec don’t have to speak English. T’is just human nature and the essence of learning — practice, practice, practice.
As the saying goes, use it or lose it! And, since most Canadians don’t have the opportunity to use a second official language, Canada is as bilingual as it is going to get. So, I agree with the NP’s conclusion, let’s disband Mr. Fraser’s office and let Canadians find their natural level for speaking French and/or English on their own.