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MINISTER DION ASSERTS THAT ANGLOPHONE CANADIANS ARE BECOMING MORE AND MORE SUPPORTIVE OF FRENCH
PARIS, FRANCE, October 17, 2003 – Speaking at a symposium organized by the Observatoire international de la langue française on the influence of French in globalization, where participants included, among others, Mr. Pierre-André Wiltzer, the Minister delegate for Cooperation and Francophony of the French Republic, and Mr. Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of the International Organization of the Francophonie, the Honourable Stéphane Dion, President of the Privy Council and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, said today that the future of French in the world “hinges not only on preserving it where it has been spoken for a long time, but also, on its being learned where only yesterday it was unknown.” To support his assertion, the Minister used the example of the situation in Canada. He pointed out that the number of Canadians with French as a mother tongue is growing slowly, while the number of Canadians able to express themselves in French is growing steadily. “The expansion of the French fact in Canada is coming increasingly from our language being learned by Canadians with another mother tongue.”
Speaking to an international Francophone audience obviously concerned by the advance of English, the Minister stated that the question can be viewed from a different perspective: one which considers an Anglophone population as an ally of French, and thus as part of the solution rather than the problem.
The Minister applauded the revolution of attitudes in Canada in favour of official bilingualism, which is much more popular among young Anglophones than their elders. That empathy toward French is stronger among Anglophones who know the language, Mr. Dion indicated. He added that Canadian Francophones and Anglophones are increasingly intermarrying, and that the children of those couples are much more likely to learn French when the Anglophone spouse knows French. According to Mr. Dion, it is very important for the future of French in Canada that more Anglophone Canadians learn the language.
The Minister then stated that Canadian Anglophones, especially young people, have an interest in not remaining unilingual. Learning French as their second language, an international language and the mother tongue of nearly one quarter of their fellow citizens, is a logical choice for them.
Nevertheless, the Minister expressed his disappointment that, while bilingualism has advanced in Canada, our country’s performance is far from brilliant when measured with European criteria: “With 69% of its population unilingual, ‘Canada less Quebec’ has a higher rate of unilingualism than all European countries. It is small consolation that the United States and New Zealand, two other Anglophone countries, present a sorrier figure.”
What is the reason for this disappointing result? “Too few teaching hours are devoted to language learning. It is as simple as that,” Mr. Dion maintained. Second-language learning at the high-school level is not compulsory for students past the age of 15 in all provinces, except Quebec and New Brunswick, while in all European countries, learning at least one second language in secondary school is mandatory until age 18, the Minister indicated.
“Canada rests on its status as an officially bilingual country, not realizing that it is falling behind, vis-à-vis Europe in particular, in terms of effective language skills,” the Minister noted. “The governments of our federation must rectify the situation,” he added, before describing the Action Plan for Official Languages that the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, launched on March 12, 2003, to, among other goals, give “impressive momentum” to the teaching of our official languages.
Mr. Dion concluded by calling on the provinces and territories to redouble their efforts to respond to the demand of Canadians, the vast majority of whom, according to polls, want their children to become bilingual: “I am optimistic, for there is a whole new generation of Anglophone men and women politicians who have experienced French immersion schools or have children enrolled in them, and who realize the importance of this issue for Canada as a whole.”
The Minister finished by stating: “Canada needs to build on the international character of its two official languages more than ever. I am confident it will do so in a way that ensures that Canada will help the cause of French, and French will help the cause of Canada.”
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