IS BILINGUALISM WORTH THE MONEY?

Canada, an officially bilingual country, is a world leader in the promotion of second language knowledge.  We should also note that Ottawa and the provinces spend more than $2-billion a year offering government services in both French and English.

Yet the actual ability of our population to speak both French and English remains stubbornly low.  While 35 per cent of francophones in Quebec speak English, only 7.4 per cent of anglophones outside speak French.

In the Unitd States 9 per cent of the population speaks two languages – to say nothing of the European Union where 56 per cent of citizens can hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue and nearly one-third have mastered a third language.

No fewer than one-third of people from British Columbia and Alberta think Spanish and Mandarin might be better choices as a second language than French.

Is there resentment in parts of the country at the push for French?  Mastering both of Canada’s official languages may be wrongly perceived as an historic anomaly, or an expensive government-imposed obligation.  The fact of the matter is there is no official requirement for anybody to learn French and English  except for public servants.

If  you don’t like French on your cereal box just turn it around.

Was there anything more ridiculous in the GOP than criticizing Romney for speaking French or Huntsman for speaking Mandarin?

Surely learning a second language should be viewed as a gift to society that confers significant global advantages and bridges cultural divides. Bilingual employees are more likely to be better paid, especially in Quebec, and in the public sector.

Canadians should feel blessed – not cursed – to be home to two of the world’s great languages.  Our bilingualism reflects our fundamental history.

Is bilingualism worth the money?

What do you think?

30 Comments »

  1. 1

    Yes, bilingualism is a HUGE waste of time and money… how many decades has Canada been wasting money on this failed project again?

    The government should not be in the language business – this artificial keeping-alive-of-french is not a good use of taxes. Think of how much better that money could be spent!

  2. 2

    After reading your blog, Neil, I went to the Calgary Herald to read the article about the Fraser Institute study on bilingualism in Canada.
    The cost of official bilingualism is well worth the money – from two points of view.
    For one, most government spending and a lot of private spending is on jobs – and we need to spend money to improve the employment situation in the country.
    More importantly, Bill 101 in Quebec, and the unofficial insistence that political party leaders be reasonably bilingual, have been very important in keeping Quebec as part of Canada, and Canada would be very much poorer and weaker without Quebec.

  3. 3
    Neil McKenty Says:

    I agree, Jan, and so do most of my friends. Paradoxical as it may seem, Bill 101 was largely instrumental in keeping Quebec in Canada and making Canada a greater country. I don’t know anyone with the slightest political credebility who wants to repeal the major provisions of the Charter of the French language.

  4. 4

    Jan: what a great, open minded approach you have taken.
    I don’t understand why we so steadfastly cling to old fashioned positions on education. I don’t think that learning anything is a waste of money. I feel richer because I speak and read another language and better understand another culture and my own. I wish that I had concentrated on Spanish studies, and could have learned Czech from my Mom. Those of us who are over 50 are somewhat “confined” to our past.
    The younger generation is better informed, and want to travel, work abroad, and learn many skills. (which in the end, will save their hides), unlike ours who are the authors of our own misfortune.
    Re: government expense: There is so much waste i.e: A new Defense building & dept. MP’s Pensions…too numerous to mention-
    Learning should be promoted, never discouraged!

  5. 5

    PS: One look at China and their focus on learning English should set the bar.
    I worked with China (importing) in 2000 & couldn’t understand their faxes & orders, but they tried hard and within two years, the same people were nearly perfect in English!

  6. 6

    littlepatti wrote: “I don’t think that learning anything is a waste of money.”

    It depends where the money comes from and how the money could have otherwise been used. Spending your ~own~ money to learn something – almost anything – is commendable. Having a federal gov’t pour billions of dollars into a project which decades later isn’t showing the slightest signs of working in not.

    littlepatti cont’d: “I feel richer because I speak and read another language and better understand another culture and my own.”

    I’m sure you ~are~ richer for it. Good for you!

    My issue is that there are finite resources and dollars to spend in this country and with such poor results coming from “official bilingualism” (meaning the number of bilingual Canadians is ~not~ going up) I can’t help but feel that it’s a waste of money/resources.

    And the fact that Quebec extorted the ROC into bending over backwards for it just makes me sick. Neil seems to think it kept Canada together – I’m not so sure calling their bluff wouldn’t have had a better result though. If you think Canada would be worse off without Quebec just imagine how much worse off Quebec would have been!!
    They were bluffing with their seperation and the ROC fell for it… spineless bunch.

  7. 7
    Neil McKenty Says:

    Official bilingualism has absolutely nothing to do with the numbeer of bilingual Canadians. It has evething to do with the federal government providing services in our two official languages.

  8. 8

    Spending $2billion+ per year when the number of Canadians outside of Quebec who need this service is ridiculously low (as you noted in the OP) is a HUGE waste of money! Do we really ~need~ bilingual services in the NWT? What a waste!

  9. 9

    “I don’t know anyone with the slightest political credebility who wants to repeal the major provisions of the Charter of the French language.”

    Thanks Neil!

  10. 10

    I agree with both Jan and Neil that Bill 101 has helped keep Quebec within Canada。What I disagree with is that this is NOT a price worth paying to keep the country together。Bill 101 violates FUNDAMENTAL human rights and it is better that we have an independent Quebec that respected human rights than a Quebec wtihin Canada that doesn’t.

  11. 11

    Neil writes:

    “I don’t know anyone with the slightest political credebility who wants to repeal the major provisions of the Charter of the French language.”

    Obviously, Neil doesn’t believe I have any political credibility.

    And yet…and yet…whenever a public opinion poll is done, huge majorities of the Quebec anglo population are recorded as opposing virtually every major aspect of Bill 101. And in an historic poll of francophone Quebecers a few years ago, commissioned by the Gazette, 60% wanted freedom of choice in language of education for THEIR children. Language of education is, of course, the most major provision of Bill 101.

    So Neil dismissed a huge chunk of the population of Quebec, according to his own set of criteria. Neil’s stance on Bill 101 makes him an elitist who ...

  12. 12

    ...believes he knows best how people should live their lives and that they don't.

    People aren't sheep, Neil, and you aren't the high priest who gets to decide what thoughts people have and how they can live their lives.

    Bill 101 came after the advent of the Quiet Revolution where the priests of the Church were replaced by the academics and the politicians in controlling individuals' personal choices. Is this a throw-back to your days in the Seminar where you were told what to do, say, think, and act every minute of the day?

    Time for you to embrace the concept that all people are equal, Neil, and that they and they alone are capable of making their own choices in life; not the church and not government.  You are a dinosaur, a throwback to a time when slavery was the norm, not freedom.

  13. 13

    Joe Agnost writes:

    "And the fact that Quebec extorted the ROC into bending over backwards for it just makes me sick. Neil seems to think it kept Canada together – I’m not so sure calling their bluff wouldn’t have had a better result though."

    Wiser words were never uttered on this forum.

  14. 14
    Neil McKenty Says:

    I have made my choice, Tony. I support a united Canada.

  15. 15
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    You call this a united Canada? One in which we have segregation? Suppression of rights and freedoms by one ethnic group over the other?

    This is the kind of country you want to live in, Neil?

    Not me.

  16. 16

    Let me ask you this, Neil:

    Why do you want to prevent francophone Quebecers from learning English in the manner and way that they may want to, ie. choosing to send their children to English publicly funded schools?

    Why is it okay for YOU to have this choice and not for them?

  17. 17

    Tony: repeating the same mantra /dissertation over and over doesn’t make it more compelling or convincing. Can you get a new axe to grind?
    Even your computer is “talking back” :-)

  18. 18

    littlepatti asks me:

    “Tony: repeating the same mantra /dissertation over and over doesn’t make it more compelling or convincing. Can you get a new axe to grind?”

    No。

  19. 19
    Heidi Gulatee Says:

    Tony, I read your comments and they make me wonder where you would like to live if not in Canada?

  20. 20

    There is nothing inherently wrong in being bilingual. In fact, there are distinct advantages to being so. However, government-mandated and government-”managed” is not good. Ever.

    And it is extremely wasteful to print every single government document in both French and English! I don’t speak French, so why would I be interested in having reams of paper printed in a language I do not understand? And who thought it would be cost-effective to be so wasteful? Mind you, this is government I’m talking about — it thinks it has a bottomless money pit. But it’s a landfill nightmare!

    French is not as useful a language in BC as it is in Quebec or Ontario. More useful languages would be Spanish, Hindi, Punjabi, and even Swahili. Srsly.

  21. 21

    Having said that, it may be noted that Quebec & Ontario have most of the population.

  22. 22

    BTW: Reams of paper in 2 languages is not the fact.
    For example Income tax returns are printed in both languages, but in about a 50-1 except for Quebec where we have different tax returns than the rest of Canada. (We file a Federal form & a Provincial form). Mostly available in French but also in English in some locations. For most forms, many years ago, we simply asked for English (ie: bank statements etc.)
    It would be interesting if our Government offered our choice of a 2 nd language to learn, but as you said “it’s government here”>
    A truth: “never expect to see government and logic in the same sentence”.

  23. 23

    Patti, every governemnt document here is done in BOTH languages. Always. And even if they’re printed as separate documents, they are both sent/received. Always. Objections to the waste of time, money, ink, and paper are greeted by the bureaucracy with malevolent frowns, as if we’re trying to take their precious government jobs away from them!

    Oh…wait…

  24. 24
    Jim Says:

    There was once a more gentler kinder time. A time when we were urged by our parents to learn a second language, preferably French, to round ourselves out to fit into high society. The ladies took composure lessons involving poise which included plunking tomes on their melons and then they had to do a balancing act..Today it’s a Pod of some sort in lieu of books. The ladies also wore the same hair-do, named the Traf look (Named after the Trafalger School for the up and coming young ladies). Yes, and then the piano and voice lessons. Non of this was mandated by the government. We just have to look at the UK where the old traditions still stand. Would you believe, that in the UK, 23% of the citizens speak French, which, by the way, happens to be the language of diplomacy. Somehow or other methinks that having French around gives us one step up on the crass USers.

  25. 25

    Heidi asks me:

    “Tony, I read your comments and they make me wonder where you would like to live if not in Canada?”

    My choice would be to live in an independent Quebec in which human rights and minority rights were respected. Alas, with an independent Quebec dividing what was left of Canada, Canada would soon disintegrate.

    For more information on my vision of an independent Quebec, please click on my name.

  26. 26

    William Shaw, a Member of the National Assembly back in the ‘70s said the following regarding bilingualism。It is most cogent thing I’ve ever heard regarding bilingualism and,in a sense,is a Zen Koan。When you understand it,you understand pretty much all you need to regarding bilingualism and what it is supposed to mean in the Canadian context:

    “What’s the point of bilingualism if everyone is?”

  27. 27

    I sent my daughter to Traf. It wasn’t her dream…but mine, I admit it, but she looks back at those years with fondness. At the time she thought it was hard work…and it was. The standards were very high as was the tuition!
    When I was young we took “elocution” lessons from a stodgy old doll with a bun. But we learned manners and how to set a table, wear a girdle and white gloves and introduce friends to each other. (and to sit up straight!) Funny enough, it was interesting and I still remember most of it.

  28. 28

    OMG: After all that, Tony, you are a separatist! I should have guessed.
    Any respect I had for your occasional lucid comments…gone! Join the ranks of the other fanatics: Parizeau, Landry, Bouchard, Marois, Duceppe, Harel, Beaudoin, I won’t be “bantering” with your nonsense any longer. Lights out!

  29. 29

    How Bilingualism evolved constitutionally in Canada:

    According to the BNA Act — our first constitution — bilingualism was only supposed to be for the federal government and Quebec. Here is how section 133 of the BNA Act read:

    ”133. Either the English or the French Language may be used by any Person in the Debates of the Houses of the Parliament of Canada and of the Houses of the Legislature of Quebec; and both those Languages shall be used in the respective Records and Journals of those Houses; and either of those Languages may be used by any Person or in any Pleading or Process in or issuing from any Court of Canada established under this Act, and in or from all or any of the Courts of Quebec.

    “The Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both those Languages。”

    With the advent of Bills 22 (1974)and 101 (1977),English as an official language of Quebec was stripped to the bare minimum,only providing English according to a strict interpretation of Section 133. Indeed,the Government of Quebec did not even respect those provisions, requiring several Supreme Court cases, such as Blaikie I and II, in order to get the Constitution respected.

    In the meantime, in the ’50s and ’60s, laws were passed on the federal level giving French much greater status than required in the BNA Act (eg, simultaneous translation in Parliament and written debates in both languages, something Quebec does NOT provide) as well as additional bilingual provisions in the patriation of 1982 (eg, New Brunswick becoming officially bilingual).

    At the time of Confederation when the BNA Act was written, government played very little impact in our daily lives, not like it is today where both the federal and provincial government have their sticky little fingers in every aspect of our lives. But, at the time, those important areas of government influence — the courts, legislatures, and schools — these were all given official French and English status in Quebec. So the original intent of Canada when it came into being was that English was supposed to have equal status in Quebec。That has been abdicated and we’ve been screwed。。。not only in terms of what government is supposed to provide us in Quebec but in the private sphere as well。To put it in the vernacular of the street,Quebec anglos have been fucked。

    Enough。The country either must end or Quebec must start respecting both individual and minority rights. Stop appeasing Quebec in order to keep her in Confederation。As Joe said above (which I reproduced in post #13)we would have had much better result if we had just called their bluff 40 years ago。

  30. 30

    littlepati writes:

    “OMG: After all that, Tony, you are a separatist! I should have guessed.”

    You didn’t have to “guess”,littepatti。We’ve both been participating on this forum for numerous years now。All you had to do was click on my name which would have directed you to my online book where I say very clearly from the outset that I am a separatist.

    But as for who and who isn’t a “fanatic”, I would suggest to you that those who put appeasement before indivudual rights and xenophobia before minority rights are the fanatics. It is up to you to decide which camp I fall into and where you yourself are.

    Please ask yourself: what is more important: Canada? Or individual rights and freedoms? It is a matter of priority and I have made my choice.


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