Every since Kelly Lamrock lamented the state of French Immersion education in New Brunswick, there have been a slew of articles, editorials and, yes, even blogs about the subject. Mostly positive stuff but I think that Alec Bruce was on point when he said:
A crucial component of economic self-sufficiency in this province is a literate, bilingual workforce. It provides a competitive edge that few other jurisdictions in North America can boast.
He also made some commentary about the importance of maintaining your French.
That is where I come in.
As of the 2001 Census, only 8% of Anglophone New Brunswickers claimed to use French at the office (Work Language). I am not talking about exclusively speaking French – I am talking about occassionally speaking French at work. Only 8%. Greater Moncton, that bastion of bilingualism was only slightly better with 14% saying that they spoke both English and French at work. Somewhat troubling, almost 12% of Francophones said they only speak English at work.
Now, most people spend 40 hours + at work per week – almost as much time at work as sleeping. If we truly want to be a bilingual society, shouldn’t we encourage more bilingualism at work?
Think about it for a minute. If just the Anglophones in the civil service spoke French at work, you would double that 8% to 16% or more.
In a way, that’s what riles so many Anglos. You ‘must speak French’ to get this job or that job – and then you never speak French for a moment while at work.
In the little office where I work, it’s a model for bilingualism – at least in some sense – even though 95% of our clients are English only. Staff meetings flow in and out of English and French (and there are now three of us Anglos whose French is passable only) and everybody tries and is accommodating.
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight, gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds…
Ooops. I digress.
But my point is valid. If you want these kids in French Immersion to take bilingualism seriously then you should promote it. We should encourage its use at work.
And to all my Francophone friends who think it’s just easier to speak English than listen to me try and babble along like a first grader in French – stop and think. If you give in and don’t help foster a bilingual workforce, who will? You want the Albert Countians to champion the cause?
Bilingualism is not a natural state. It takes effort. You need to know two languages. That takes effort. But Alec Bruce is right. It’s the one thing that we have that very few others have. That’s a strategic differentiator.
So I’ll finish by tying this whole thing into economic development (of course).
We attract almost no French firms – Nova Scotia has more French investment than New Brunswick.
We attract almost no French (from France) immigrants. Manitoba attracts more. Cripes, over 10 years, we attracted 45 French immigrants out of 22,000 to Canada. Wow. Although, I think thanks to UdeM we are attracting an increasing number of French North African immigrants. Additional kudos to the university. One has to wonder where Moncton would without UdeM.
Cripes, we hardly attract any Quebec migrants. The last data I saw, we attracted less Quebeckers than any other province.
So, my point? Fostering bilingualism is more than just a new textbook in Grade 11. It’s about encouraging French immigration. It’s about encouraging bilingual workforces (not to the exclusion of unilingual English by the way – that would be a huge mistake). It’s about encouraging more real bilingual jobs (we have less French/English translators than four other provinces). Why aren’t we attracting more bilingual economic activity?
Oh, and by the way, a good place to start would be to have an English version of that school book history of Acadie that was published a couple of weeks ago in French only. You want Anglo kids to embrace French – have them embrace Acadie. It’s a part of our [NB Anglos] history too.