Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Bilingualism Myth

Here's my latest column which appears in today's Windsor Star.

My point is that official biligingulism is one of those Trudeau -era ideals that nobody much cares about anymore -- except for federal bureaucrats.


John M Reynolds said...

After 30 years, official bilingualism has cost us plenty. The cost comes not only from the expense of producing material that people don't use and French class funding for schools, but also in the higher prices due to a lack of competition for products that companies deemed did not have a high enough demand to warrent the expense of redesigning their labels to make them English/French bilingual.

And now the use of French is on the decline? We were only able to get 16% of Canada to be bilingual after 30 years of pouring billions into the effort. I wonder. Does that say more about the policy or the educational system? Then again, I took "French" all the way through high school even after it was no longer compulsory. The first several years were in Southern Ontario where I learned book French. That is where we would read the French words as though they were English. To try to copy the teacher's accent would make you the joke of the class. I stopped that practice in the first week of my grade 6 french class seeing as how I was the only one trying out the nice accent. When I moved to Northern Ontario and took my last French course, I was laughed at because all the kids spoke with nice French accents. For some reason, no one wanted to speak French with me in the years since high school.

I now speak more Finnish than French. I did take a semester of Finnish, but I learned most of it from my wife and my inlaws. I am no where near fluent, but my Finn is still better than my French.

Miles Lunn said...

I think you miss the point here Gerry. One can be unilingual and still support bilingualism. I am unilingual as are most of my family members, yet myself and many (although not all) in my family do support bilingualism. The amount we spend on it is a lot, at the same time, I do believe that all Canadians should have access to their government, so services should be provided in both languages in any community where one linguistic group exceeds 10%, while the internet and parliament should be fully bilingual. Most European countries that have a group that represents 23% of the population, will provide services in that language. In Ireland, Irish Gaelic is only the mother tongue of 4% of the population yet all road signs and signs on government buildings include Irish Gaelic. In Wales, everything is bilingual in both Welsh and English. I was in Brussels last June, where the Dutch speaking population is only 15% compared to the French speaking population of 25% in Ottawa and all street signs like in Ottawa were in both Dutch and French just as they are in English and French in Ottawa.

I also believe learning another language is a good thing, especially in an increasingly globalized world. In fact Justin Trudeau (who I generally don't like) has argued, today Canadians should learn 3-4 languages instead of just two. Most educated Europeans speak 3 languages and in fact the EU recommends all its citizens learn two other languages beside their native one. Even in the United States, where unilingualism is encouraged, both the Democrats and Republicans have their websites in both English and Spanish and the Whitehouse website is translated into Spanish in most sections.

So yes, I am for streamlining and reducing the costs of bilingualism, but I am opposed to making Canada officially unilingual.

Anonymous said...

The only people who complain about having to learn French are the ones who are too lazy to simply learn another damn language. Consider it enrichment, people, and quitcher bitching! Knowing just one language in this age of globalization puts all Canadians at a disadvantage.

Miles Lunn said...

Anonymous - I fully agree. However, I would argue in the age of globalization speaking just English and French isn't enough, but we should also learn one more language too. In addition whenever I travel abroad, I always make an effort to speak the local language. On my most recent trip to Europe, I carried a German, Italian, and French phrasebook in my pocket and I used it everytime I spoke. Instead of looking silly, most locals greatly appreciated the fact I made an effort to speak their language.

Iain G. Foulds said...

... As always... it is a question of force vs. freedom.
... "Government is force"- is the first law of political philosophy.
... Though it may be enriching to speak two, or even ten languages; it really only makes sense to be forced to have one common language- the sole purpose of language being to communicate.

Miles Lunn said...

Iain g foulds - When it comes to the private sector, I think they should be free to do business in whatever language they wish. I would only require bilingual labeling in a limited number of cases such as cigarette warning labels and safety instructions, and this is more to done to avoid potential lawsuits if something ever were to happen.

However, when it comes to the government, I believe they should offer services in both official languages. While most countries have one common language, we in Canada do not. 98% of Canadians can speak either English or French, while only 31% can speak French, and 83% can speak English, so puttings things in English only means 17% of the population cannot get service in the language of their choice. It is standard in most Western countries to provide services in all languages that are spoken by more than 10% of the population. In most countries, only the dominate language exceeds 10%, in Canada, both English and French exceed 10% in terms of native speakers.

As for forcing one to learn another language, I wouldn't put it that way. It is no different really than forcing one to learn who to read, to write, or do arithmetic. Schools is compulsory and one is required to take all mandatory courses. Now whether one maintains the language after graduating or not, is ultimately the decision of the individual.

lutopium said...

I always thought that Gerry Nicholls promoted conservative values and agressive economic policies. I did not know that he was promoting hatred towards Quebec. You did not have to compare what's happening in Quebec with unacceptable rules in Sudan. You obviously don't know wah tyou're talking about. Again.