With the release of the latest census data, there will be a great handwringing about the state of French-English bilingualism in Canada, and anti-immigration sentiment is likely to flourish despite our need for their skills, usually good work ethic, and their numbers. With only 17.5% officially reporting as being French-English bilingual, marking the continuing decline of French-Speaking Canada, a lot can be said about how the country is failing its heritage(1). There is, however, a large population that speak an official language and a non-official language, with the largest portions being Chinese, Punjabi, and Spanish, demonstrating successful immigration practices.
It is certain that both the Bloc Quebecois at the national level, and the Parti Quebecois (PQ) in Quebec will use the census results to bolster support for bills designed to bludgeon English-language institutions & immigrant families in Quebec. Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille wrote “French is in retreat in Quebec. IN the Montreal region, the situation is even more accentuated. Given this, no one can doubt the necessity for Quebec of protecting its national language”(2). The Bloc’s statement, echoed by the PQ, demonstrates one method that active separatists are planning to use to push their agenda forward. As James Clark recently stated, regardless of intentions, monolingual Canadians are unfortunately feeding the separatism issue instead of combatting it(3).
But the results of the census should encourage something beyond combative language entrenchment in Quebec. The results should cause Canadians to question how important it is that Canada be both French-English Bilingual, as well as a Multi-Cultural Nation. The two main colonial powers, planet-wide, were England and France. Much of Africa, which is experiencing a major surge in valuable tech jobs & entrepreneurs, primarily use French, making Canada one of the prime connections for those looking to train or expand into “the West”. Although not the economic giant that China has become, Africa is making some large in-roads and is dramatically improving its economic position against more entrenched economies. In order to be able to connect, share, and compete with these growing firms, Canadians need to continue to cherish & encourage the use of French.
It is important for us to grow bilingualism beyond the communities bordering Quebec, and to utilize it interchangably in our homes, schools and workplaces. Ontario may be pre-occupied with the USA, and both Alberta & BC may be pre-occupied with China, but both Africa & South America present huge opportunities of untapped markets for Canadian expansion and growth. As a Canadian and from a business standpoint, being fluent in both English and French, makes sense for long-term profitability. By extension, for job-seekers, possessing fluency in both of those languages is just as desireable. The way the language is taught in school however, causes it to be discarded by most learners as they are exposed to the language once or twice per week, for up to 45 minutes. To make learning the language even more difficult, schools (in Ontario) don’t start teaching French until Grade 4(5), missing out on a child’s best years for language learning.
Bilingualism is an integral part of the Canadian identity, and provides us with valuable skills that make the country appealing for business with many often-overlooked developing economies. Some may argue that learning a second language is difficult, but I would encourage them to look at Europe and Asia, where people often speak three or more languages. To continue and grow as an economic powerhouse, Canada will need to develop such that being English-French bilingual should be the starting point for all Canadians, and adding a third language should be the business advantage sought by job-seekers. For those looking to see how their area stacks up, Stats Canada has the full breakdown of the census results(6) and Metro News has a useful interactive map(7). The CBC has a handy chart of the top-10 non-official languages for those seeking to go beyond our nation’s heritage(8).
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