Say “Oui” to Bilingualism
Featured / February 3, 2017
Language acquisition is an essential skill, which is why French schooling is so vital in Canadian education.
Learning a new language is empowering. It expands your ability to communicate with other people around the world, and it helps to hone your creativity and mental flexibility.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of watching the Canadian syndicated version of Sesame Street, sitting dumbly on the floor while a pastel-coloured puppet creature taught me that the French word for pineapple is “ananas.” While I’ve never been in a situation where that knowledge was crucial to my survival (fingers crossed), I’m happy that I learned it, and I chose to continue taking French classes up until I graduated from high school.
I believe that learning French in Canadian schools provides a unique and invaluable experience for students, and gives them a taste of what it’s like to live and think outside of the English-speaking hegemony of the Western world.
Many Canadians are resolute in their belief that cultural inclusivity is an important cornerstone of our national identity, and taking on new languages is usually one of the first steps toward engaging with other cultural communities outside our own. Being able to communicate with a wider variety of people exposes us to different perspectives that we might not have been able to appreciate otherwise, and incorporating these other ideas into our own worldview helps to foster a sense of empathy and understanding.
But there are other perks to picking up a new language. By talking with my francophone friends from Quebec, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn more about the wonderful, seemingly endless supply of French-Canadian profanities that exist. In fact, being able to curse loudly in public without having to face any significantly negative consequences might arguably be one of the absolute best aspects of language acquisition there is. Besides, English already contains so many appropriations of French phrases anyway, like déjà vu, RSVP, coup de grâce, c’est la vie, à la mode, carte blanche, film noir, vis-avis, bon voyage, raison d’être, en route… you get the point.
Knowing more than one language makes you more of an asset to employers, and gives you the tools to negotiate and collaborate with other people from around the world. This is an incredibly important skill to have in this age, as businesses are increasingly being expected to participate in previously inaccessible international markets. Knowing how to work with people outside of the Anglosphere is an indispensable part of navigating through the rising tides of globalization.
Of course, this also comes in handy if you ever decide to travel. My education in French, limited as it was, was still extremely valuable to me when I traveled to Paris and other parts of France, and it positively enhanced my experiences and ability to interact with and absorb the culture.
We should also take into consideration that if Canada wasn’t an officially bilingual country and French Canadian culture didn’t exist, poutine may never have been invented, and for me, that possibility alone is reason enough to support the continuation of French education in Canada.