The bilingualism joke

Posted on October 19, 2007
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             New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada.

            What a joke!

            Again this week, I sat among a roomful of Anglophones, many of them a third my age, who had signed up for French second language training at New Brunswick Community College night school.

            Some of them will make it. I’m especially impressed by a bear of a man who has made great progress over the past three years. He works for a federal government department with mostly Francophone co-workers. He’s smart, determined and driven by necessity.

            Most of us older students can speak some French to each other but, when we hear a first language French person speak, we realize we are speaking only a pidgin version of the beautiful tongue. We aren’t immersed.

            It is almost four decades since the late Premier Richard Hatfield came to power and replaced “The Picture Province” with “Nouveau Brunswick” on our license plates. How can it take three cycles of students from grades one to 12 to arrive at a point where the great majority of graduates are still functionally unilingual?

            What a joke!

            Earlier this year, Justin Trudeau, federal Liberal nominee and son of the Rt. Hon. Pierre Trudeau, spoke to a convention of teachers in New Brunswick.

            He made the common sense observation that it would be more practical and unifying to have all of our students in one school system learning both English and French simultaneously.

            There wasn’t even any big uproar about it. Over the weekend the hoary old power structures of the teachers, bureaucrats, and his party moved as one to have federal party leader Stéphane Dion publicy spank Trudeau and force him to apologize for his egregious error.

            That’ll larn him to speak sense and tell the truth! He’ll never do that again! And we wonder why politicians aren’t honest. It’s fatal.

            What a joke!

            Now New Brunswick is in a big political and bureaucratic turmoil about the Post Secondary Education report and plan and the long-term self-sufficiency of the Province of New Brunswick itself.

            No one is discussing the obvious fact that the northeast is shriveling away partly due to emigration.

            As bilingualism becomes more and more a requirement in government and retailing and business generally, young people are leaving the province. Some leave because, being unilingual, there are few jobs and even less upward mobility in a nominally bilingual province.

            Others are leaving because, with fewer unilingual young people, there is less business to be done with the smaller population.

            Even in the parts of the province populated by primarily one language group or the other, upward mobility is limited by the requirement for a language that was never really made available to everyone.

What a joke!

            For several years I promoted the idea of one school system and bilingual instruction from grade one and earlier.

            The Francophone segregationists made it bluntly clear that that concept verges on sacrilege, blasphemy and sedition. They, sincerely I think, believe that that must lead to assimilation. They feel the French language and culture must be preserved as opposed to creating a new bilingual, bicultural New Brunswick society.

            Anglophone teachers and bureaucrats are almost as resistant. Many of them seem to have convinced themselves that late immersion second language training or even second language training as a course in a unilingual program can work. They’ll say, with straight faces, that early immersion in a second language damages first language skills.

            What a joke!

            There has been no formal instruction in English grammar in English schools in the province for 30 years now. Very few teachers, other than the English subject teachers, in the English system have any real command of the language. How would they? They were never taught.

            Any hint English students have of grammar and parts of speech comes from whatever exposure they have to French.

            That joke is actually funny in addition to being ironic.

            Time to regroup. If Justin Trudeau can be so easily demolished, what chance have I?

            So, now I no longer promote the idea of one bilingual and bicultural school system in New Brunswick.

            Now I propose that the English let the Francophone segregationists go their own way while Anglophones develop a totally bilingual system everywhere in the province including Hartland and Sussex.

            The advantages are plentiful and obvious. French is sexy and bilingualism is an advantage in every aspect of life.

            Consider for a moment, the ongoing question of recruiting doctors and specialists to New Brunswick. If the great majority of New Brunswickers spoke both English and French, it wouldn’t matter whether the doctor did or not, would it?

            Doctors might also consider it a bonus attraction to New Brunswick to know his or her children would attend a school that would make them fluently bilingual and bicultural in a global village.

            Who knows? Over time, the children of the Francophone segregationists might even be attracted to join a new society. Perhaps we’ll devise one post-secondary education program too and achieve self sufficiency.

            What a joke!

            Why can’t I laugh?

            Could it be because segregation never leads to unity?



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