French thing: redux

Just a quick follow up to my previous post. I got two calls today from two people with completely opposite views on this subject. So, I’ll clarify things.

It’s funny how we can easily look back to see how we got to here but have so much difficulty looking forward to see where we are going.

(profound, n’est-ce pas?)

Anyway, here’s the thing:

2/3 of all in-migrants to the Moncton CA from 1991-2001 were Anglophones.

Very few of us are working in bilingual work environments (per my previous blog).

An increasing number of the jobs created in Moncton are not bilingual jobs. For example, the bulk of all new call centre jobs are English only. As Greater Moncton becomes more globalized (i.e. not just a local service economy), the requirement for bilingual workers will decrease even more.

Okay, now digest those stats and consider this:

In the next 30 years, Greater Moncton could conceivably grow its population by 100,000 or more – particularly if Premier Graham gets his self-sufficiency wish. Where will those 100k come from?

There’s not much more to siphon off Northern New Brunswick. And even if there were, I don’t think that emptying out one region to benefit another is the best public policy.

We know from the data that Quebeckers and France emigrants don’t end up here.

So, it is likely that the vast majority of the new population needed to feed the Greater Moncton economy will be 80% Anglophone or more over the next 30 years.

Now, cycle back:

A lot of us think that bilingualism is a great feature of the Greater Moncton community. We think that the bi-cultural roots of Acadie and the various Anglo groups supplemented by immigrant groups (there’s now something like 14 native Brazilians living in Greater Moncton these days – samba on).

But in order to sustain this bilingualism into the next generation, policy makers and community leaders should think this through. We need a serious program to support the bilingual nature of our community. Not in a heavy handed way (like telling unilingual Anglos they aren’t welcome here). This would kill our growth potential faster than anything. We need IT workers to move here. We need doctors to move here. We need highly skilled and educated people to move here and we can’t assume that they all speak French.

However, we can do a few things to truly foster bilingualism in our community:

Have a serious immigration strategy that sets targets for Francophone immigrants. Say, 1/3 of all immigrants should be Francophone. Further, we should encourage immigrants to learn both English and French. Remember, 35% of people that live in Greater Moncton that have a non-official language as their mother tongue – claimed on the 2001 Census to speak both French and English. That’s a much higher rate of bilingualism (or would that be trilingualism?) than the Anglos.

Have a serious economic development strategy that leverages our strengths in French and English: translation and content localization firms, media production, digital media production, news, etc. – all of this stuff needs French language skills.

Focus on adult French language training. My brother tells me the Dept. of Defense spends $1,000/page to translate technical documents into French and no one uses them. DOD spends millions every year to teach Anglophones how to speak French – and then does very little to encourage bilingual work environments. I say don’t translate the technical documents into French, give the City of Moncton the millions of dollars and have them offer free French language lessons to everyone that wants to take it. Bilingualism is not about meeting some arbitrary threshold for document translation or hiring quotas. It’s about fostering an environment where people want and do speak both languages freely. In fact, many of the things done in the name of bilingualism end up balkanizing the two linguistic groups.

Get serious about French Immersion programs in school. Look it, my daughter is a straight A (almost) Grade 7 student in French Immersion. She attends classes in French all day and her homework is almost all in French. She speaks and writes French almost fluently. Yet when she gets together with the horde (9-10 friends all in French Immersion) on MSN or face-to-face – it’s all English.

We have to make French real to these kids. Not just an academic exercise. So while that does mean later on in their work environments it also also now in Grade 4 or 5 or 6.

I’m not going to argue for school integration but would it kill us to have the Edith Cavell French Immersion kids hook up for homework assignments with a French language middle school? How about an MSN study group in French with participants from both school districts?

And UNB and the community colleges are not off the hook. You can spend a week on the UNB campus in Freddy and never hear a word of French. So you got 30-40-70% of Anglo kids that are coming out of French Immersion and their dumped into an exclusively Anglo post-secondary education environment? Now that makes a lot of sense. Kids going to UNB or Mount Allison or NBCC Moncton should take a % of their courses in French – with full assignments and term papers en francais, s’il vous plait.

And the last point related to kids is this. We have to make Acadie and its history real to the Anglo kids. Learning French for Monctonian Anglos is not just about a ‘second language’. It’s about our shared history. The first store with bilingual signage in Canada was in Moncton in the late 19th century (it was a partnership between a Franco and an Anglo – read Resurgo sometime). Sure, sometimes we feel like not looking back because there is some crud back there. Maybe lots of crud. But guess what. There’s lots of great stuff too. I say put it all on the table. Not to stir up guilt or anger of frustration but to make history real. When my daughter is studying French it shouldn’t be so she can get a job at ACOA. It should be so she can be a better Monctonian. So, that is why I was so irked that the Anglo kids aren’t really taught the history of Acadie. It makes no sense.