I still think we haven’t had the proper discussion about french immersion in the schools and about bilingualism in general. For the past 40 years or so, bilingualism in New Brunswick has meant a serious effort to ensure there are services, infrastructure and institutions for the French speaking population. While there is certainly room for improvement I think that enormous strides have been made.
But this is not about bilingualism – it is about ensuring services, infrastructure and institutions in English and French.
We do not have bilingual radio stations, newspapers, cultural institutions (very few), schools, etc and we aren’t making much effort to encourage bilngualism.
My kids are all in French Immersion and they all speak French quite well but unless we force them they never speak French in a social situation – ever. We live in Moncton and they never interact with Francophones and never engage French language media, institutions, etc.
In fact, it seems that the only reason to learn French for English kids in this province is the threat that the best jobs will be closed to them without it.
And that is not – by far – a healthy reason to learn a second language.
Our kids need to celebrate the historical development of two languages in this province and the important role that the Acadians have played here in our evolution as a province.
It is amazing to me that the Grand Dérangement is not taught in English schools in this province and Acadian history in general is hardly mentioned.
Particularly in Moncton but in the province as a whole we need to get beyond a conception of bilingualism as a legal and human rights issue and evolve to bilingualism as essence of community. I’m not naive. I realize that the english language is pervasive and efforts need to be undertaken to protect the minority language.
But as I have said before the best way to protect French is to encourage its use more widely in society. Over 2/3 of the people moving into Greater Moncton are anglophones or non-French speaking immigrants. No matter how draconian our language ‘laws’ we will have far less French spoken in Moncton (and New Brunswick) in 30 years without an effort to get more anglophones and immigrants speaking French – not as some sword of damocles handing over their head if they want a good job – but as a social and community communication tool.
I say open it up. Have kids from French and English school districts submit joint assignments in French. I say set up project teams where middle and high school kids interact (in French). I say make watching French language TV programming and reading French media part of the curriculum. I say offer French language training (maybe Web-based as a start) to all English speaking people in the province for free. I say we encourage our English language institutions to foster the use of French – slowly over time this could have an effect. I still chuckle when I think about that group of old timers at the Baptist church learning French once a week in the church basement. We need more of that.