Bilingualism has positive future in Saskatchewan

Jason
Jason Kerr
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Bilingualism is on the rise in Saskatchewan.

That’s the word from the French-Canadian Society of Prince Albert.  They say bilingualism is already common in most parts of the world, but it’s really starting to take root in Saskatchewan.

“Just based on various surveys and studies I’ve seen, not only in Prince Albert but on a larger scale here in Saskatchewan and across Canada, the demand for bilingualism is obviously up,” FCSPA president Michel Dubé says.

According to Statistics Canada, Prince Albert has more than 2,500 bilingual residents.  However, they also issued a report in 2011 noting that bilingual rates were slightly dropping on the Canadian prairies.  The FCSPA, though, says they’ve mostly noticed positive growth.

“I big part of that, I think, is the new generation,” FCSPA communications director Richard Grenier says.  “Kids travel way more than we used to when we were young, and they’re not necessarily going to grow or finish their days where they start their life.”

“We see that a lot in Europe and I think it’s coming up in Canada.  People speak more than one language,” he added.

While both Dubé and Grenier give credit to younger generations and their parents for the increase in french speakers, they say those aren’t the only trends.  Adults with no French background are starting to learn the language too, and the influx of immigrants from French-speaking countries around the world help boost numbers.

However, one of the most important aims, they say, is giving people who speak French as a second language a chance to use it.

“That’s were the challenge is for the parents who enroll their children in (French Immersion)-- to provide them with opportunities to be able to speak French outside of the classroom,” Dubé says.  “This is where we come into play, as a French-Canadian society, because we offer different activities in French.”

Those activities are many and varied.  They include everything from French language concerts and performances, to sports activities, to wine tasting, to language classes, like the one that run every Tuesday for the next six weeks.

“I think that for the next year that will have a real very good impact on people who want to learn French as a second language or just keep in touch with the French they learned at school,” Grenier says.

The class costs $30 and runs Tuesday evening starting at 6 p.m. at École Valois.  Grenier says they’ve worked hard to make the class more accessible, and even dropped the price, in a bid to help people learn or retain the language.

“Many people have their French immersion class until Grade 12,” he says.  “Then in their career or (university) they stop and they lose this contact with their French and five years later they don’t remember anything.”

Both Grenier and Dubé stress the practical applications of French.  They say there are obvious benefits to learning a second language for both work and travel purposes.  However, they also want people to appreciate French-Canadian culture.

“Saskatchewan is a fantastic province, and the French community, since the beginning, has had a big influence on what Saskatchewan is today,” Grenier says, noting the numerous communities that bear French names, even if their populations no longer speak the language.  “I think, for people who are curious, it’s a good way to get to know this heritage of the province.”

The FCSPA wants to enrich Canada’s English language culture, not replace it.  Grenier says they don’t promote French simply for the sake of French, but as a way to help people become more aware of the country.

“There’s, not only the French class but there’s a French community,” he says.  “What we try to do is let people have the opportunity to have fun in French as well.”

“There’s a whole whack of programs coming up across the province,” Dubé says.  “The number of children speaking French across the province is up.  People are working on a post-secondary language program at the University of Regina, and even in Saskatoon.  I think, generally speaking, it looks really positive.”

Organizations: French-Canadian Society of Prince Albert, Prince Albert, Statistics Canada University of Regina

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Europe Saskatoon

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  • Ian H.
    February 05, 2014 - 18:56

    There's also the phenomenon of "second wave" Immersion - parents who went through the FI program in the eighties and nineties are now choosing to put their own children in French because they see the benefits first-hand. Kudos to the French-Canadian Society for promoting positive second language use!