Bilingualism is on the decline in Canada
Despite being a bilingual nation, the French language is being ignored
Canada is a bilingual country, at least on paper. But Statistics Canada shows that the percentage of citizens who speak both official languages make up only “17.5 percent of the population.”
Bilingualism in Anglophone Canada has stagnated. “Between 2001 and 2011, the lack of growth in bilingualism outside Quebec occurred as the non‑Francophone immigrant population was growing and the proportion of students in French-as-a-second-language (FSL) programs was shrinking.” Quebec, on the other hand increased the rate of bilingualism “from 40.8% to 42.6%.”
In fact, when you remove French-Canadian numbers “the rate of bilingualism went from 10.3% in 2001 to 9.7% in 2011.” according to Statistics Canada.
Jean-Francois Veilleux, Sovereignist and third year history student at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres says this “creates a rupture and separates English and French Canada.” He also says, “Bilingualism is very unequal and creates a case of linguistic discrimination. If an Anglophone goes to French-Canada they will be able to find someone who will speak French, however, if a francophone travels to English-Canada that is not the case.”
Quebecois artist and supporter of bilingualism, Jean Laprise, stressed the importance of bilingualism for “understanding and talking to the other. If we don’t understand the other, we create an attitude of suspicion and start to dig in. It can radicalize people.”
Laprise further mentioned that, “French-Canada is immersed in English culture. For example on the radio or the television, the music is mostly English, and you hear little of the French language. This creates the idea that our culture is not important and can persuade young people to produce English content. And this is not only in Quebec, but in Belgium, France and Switzerland as well.”
Veilleux stated that, “Quebec feels it has no voice on the international stage. Sovereignty is not just about bilingualism, it’s about being Quebec having a place on the world stage. The government needs to choose bilingual ministers, judges, saturate the primary schools with French to ensure it is not lost. The spread of American culture has aided bilingualism in Quebec but the French language has been declining. We saw this with the Olympic games, French was increasingly ignored, and this is part of the government’s official job, to create a bilingual country. Canada became bilingual in 1969 and it has a long way to go.”
Liberal official languages critic Stephane Dion, noted in a recent letter that, “Many ministers use almost only English in their Twitter communications.” He called upon Tony Clement, whose department is responsible for ensuring the language laws are followed, to ensure procedures are put in place.
And certain policies such as the cuts to the CBC’s “negatively and unequally affect French and minority language programs.” according to Hubert Lacroix, the CEO of the CBC.
Laprise noted that, “laws in Quebec make it hard to attend English speaking schools to help ensure young people attend French language schools, but I think many parents would choose to send their kids to English schools if they had the choice because they feel it offers more chances.”
The law Laprise refers to is the infamous Law 101, which is aimed at protecting French language in Quebec. Law 101’s aim as stated in the preamble is “to make French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.”
Law 101 creates controversy because it takes a very engaged approach to preserving the French language in Quebec. Under Law 101 access to English Language schools is restricted to people who have English heritage or can prove that they possess special circumstances, such as learning disabilities, that would make English education easier.
“Opponents bring up the economic cost of such a law.” Laprise says. “Companies like Future Shop tell us they should be allowed to operate in English, they will give us jobs. But we lose our language. Bilingualism is about respecting our history, our treasures that are unique to Canada and French-Canada. The French have to be careful and remain true to both languages.”
Student of political science at the University of Regina Luke Gilmore says, “Being bilingual is extremely important. We are a country based on two European peoples, the English and the French. One, yes, is much larger than the other, but both are just as important to the history and construction of this country. It would also be potentially beneficial that we add the study of a third language in Canadian classes, the study of an Aboriginal language.” He says that without bilingualism Canada loses “the ability to forge relationships – working or personal – with all Canadians. The more people that the government can get to speak French, the better our province and our country will become.”
Echoing the sentiments of Laprise, Gilmore noted the importance of economics saying that “We need to ensure there are economic benefits for speaking French or speaking French, English, and more languages.”