- Foreword / Préface
"Bilingualism in a plurilingual Canada", the theme chosen for the 2008 colloquium of the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI), is one that continues to be relevant today. It also relates to some of the priorities I have established for my mandate. The link between linguistic duality and cultural diversity is an essential part of social, economic and political development in Canada.
I feel particularly privileged to have been able towitness first-hand, from the very beginning, the progression of the duality and diversity issue. I was a university student in the 1960s when André Laurendeau, Davidson Dunton, Frank Scott and the other members of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism were examining the issue that would divide the country. As a journalist and author, I spent my career studying this particular aspect of Canadian identity. Today, as Commissioner, I continue to follow the issue closely. [End Page 677]
The research papers included in this special issue of The Canadian Modern Language Review, as well as all the others that were presented during OLBI's colloquium, contribute to our understanding of the evolution of the language issue and, notably, of how Canada became a leader in second-language learning. These papers also give us insight into how linguistic duality interacts with the new face of Canadian society and into the issues that result from this relationship.
As an officer of Parliament, I often witness the importance of research to properly support the work of federal institutions in the area of official languages. For some time now, the Office of the Commissioner has been studying the link that exists between linguistic duality and cultural diversity.
New immigrants continue to face challenges on their path to English–French bilingualism, including access to appropriate learning programs. However, I agree with Wendy Carr's conclusions that new immigrants whose first official language is English associate social and economic value with learning French. [End Page 678] Although children of new immigrants are often placed in an English as an additional language program at the primary level, when they participate in an intensive French program during this period, their level of success is comparable, and at times superior, to that of English-speaking Canadian children. I have seen this success in the classroom and in competitions.
Since the creation of French second-language programs, the number of students these programs attract has similarly increased. However, in order to ensure that these programs continue to evolve, our researchers must continue their work in the field of second-language learning and collaborate closely with representatives from the education community. Their work will contribute to developing innovative teaching approaches that will better respond to the changing needs of Canada's new demographic reality. Through such initiatives, Canadians–whether born in Canada or elsewhere–will better understand the importance of learning both official languages.
When I was younger, I did not have the option of [End Page 679] participating in an immersion program; this type of program did not exist yet. Rather, it was while attending the University of Toronto in the 1960s that I became better acquainted with the French language and its culture. In 1965, I spent a summer at Île-aux-Noix, near Montréal, working on an archaeological dig. With only limited French–high school and a first-year university literature course–the first days were awkward and difficult. However, such an exercise in communication allowed me to better appreciate the situation many Canadians – no matter their background – now find themselves in as they attempt to learn a second, a third, or even a fourth language.
At the time, we were far from the two million young Canadians who today are taking advantage of immersion and core French programs, but we were curious about Canada's French-speaking society that was so close and yet seemed so far. Such a curiosity is essential for all those who want to learn another language. For me, my immersion into Quebec culture was a turning point; it allowed me to understand [End Page 680] that knowing both official languages was essential for my job and to properly understand my...