Opinion: Include anglos in efforts to boost French

It's time for francophones and anglophones to work more closely together on linguistic issues. Here's how.

CP-Web. Quebec Minister Responsible for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette announces a plan to modify the Quebec language law in the next session, during a news conference, Tuesday, November 24, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot ORG XMIT: jqb102

If the government of Quebec wants to strengthen the French language, it should do so in partnership with English-speaking Quebecers, not treat them as an opponent.

Anglophones know that French requires some form of protection and promotion by the governments of Quebec and Canada, given the language’s minority status in the country and, indeed, on the continent.

And yet, the tendency among some pundits and politicians is to assume that the fate of the French language doesn’t concern anglos at all. And, too often, they are antagonistic toward that community’s own minority-language concerns.

Why, for example, does Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec’s minister responsible for the French language, toy with the idea of limiting public services to the “historic”  anglophone community?

Why the backlash against English over polls commissioned by nationalist groups purporting to show the decline of French when, in fact, the data is more nuanced, especially if we take into account the language that is spoken at work or at home?

This is why French and English educational institutions should work together to find better ways to teach French. Schools could set up exchange programs between French and English students and teachers. This would allow students to gain a better knowledge of French and English and, more important, bring both communities closer together.

The government could encourage CEGEPs and universities to create bilingual degrees, where students would complete the first two years in French and then one or two more years in English. A robust knowledge of both languages would give Quebec students a real edge in today’s economy. These programs could recruit students not just from Quebec and the rest of Canada, but also from la Francophonie, the Commonwealth, the United States and all over the world.

MNA Greg Kelley’s proposal to ensure that all Quebecers have access to French lessons for free is a step in the right direction, and it is good to see indications that the Legault government might move toward implementing the idea in some form. Regardless of their age and background, anglos who wish to perfect their knowledge of French at any time during their professional career should be able to do so with government support.

Quebec should also reaffirm the well-established principle that providing access to services in English is a fundamental aspect of the relationship between Quebec society and the English-speaking community. If francophones receive services (in French) in English-speaking hospitals, anglos should receive services (in English) in French-speaking hospitals. The same principle should apply to seniors homes and other public services. This is especially important for anglophones who live outside of Montreal.

Instead of pitting francophones and anglophones against each other, both communities should work more closely together to develop common projects, notably on linguistic issues.

Bill 101 remains an important way to protect and promote the French language, but it won’t be enough to sustain it for the long term. There are still too many Quebecers who have difficulties reading and writing. According to the Literacy Foundation, 19 per cent of Quebecers are illiterate and 34.3 per cent have serious reading difficulties.

This doesn’t just hamper one’s ability to express and communicate thoughts; it  hampers one’s ability to work, which, in turn, affects productivity and the economy in general.

Regardless of the language spoken at home, we should all be able to read, write and communicate effectively in French. A strong proficiency in French is the best way for Quebecers to value and share a common attachment to the language.

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