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French-language literacy in Canada's North: a snapshot of Alpha TNO

Marie-Claire Pître
National Adult Literacy Database

(The name of the National Adult Literacy Database [NALD] was changed to Copian on September 30, 2013.)


Alpha TNO, as its name implies, is located in the Northwest Territories (N.W.T. in English, and T.N.-O. in French). Most Francophones in the N.W.T.—770 people—live in the Yellowknife urban area. The remaining 300 or so live in the communities of Fort Smith, Inuvik, Hay River and Norman Wells.

In 2004, the Fédération franco-ténoise created the Service d'alphabétisation en français des Territoires du Nord-Ouest (N.W.T. French-language literacy service), more commonly known as SAFTNO. In 2006, the federation decided to rename SAFTNO in order to eliminate the acronym and to reach weak readers more easily. The name Alpha TNO was chosen to reflect the vitality and simplicity of the literacy service.

For those involved in adult literacy in French, literacy in Yellowknife has a face: Vicky Lyonnais, a Quebecker from Cabano, in Témiscouata, has been the coordinator of Alpha TNO since 2007. Having returned from maternity leave in July 2011, she is eager to undertake Alpha TNO's projects.

The Northwest Territories Literacy Council (NWT Literacy Council) also provides adult literacy services in the N.W.T. The Council offers services in the territory's 11 official languages, which include nine Aboriginal languages and both of Canada's official languages, English and French.

"We have always had a good relationship with the NWT Literacy Council. We hold joint activities during NWT Literacy Week and on Family Literacy Day," said Ms. Lyonnais.

Until recently, Alpha TNO mainly provided family literacy services. For a number of years, it offered Montre-moi (Show me), a kit the Fédération canadienne d'alphabétisation en français (FCAF) designed for children under 5 and their parents. To ensure that the kit was used properly, Alpha TNO visited parents at home to explain how it worked. Parents could also attend a series of workshops called J'apprends en famille developed by the Équipe d'alphabétisation de la Nouvelle-Écosse (a Nova Scotia French-language literacy organization). These two-hour-long family literacy workshops, which included storytelling, handicrafts and a workshop for parents, were held every Saturday in 2007-2008. Manitoba later adapted these workshops.

Alpha TNO also offered French for Parents workshops, French as a second language (FSL) courses for Anglophone parents. The course material was developed by Educacentre College in British Columbia. To avoid duplication with the Collège des TNO, which has also been offering continuing education courses in FSL since it opened in 2009, Alpha TNO has stopped offering the workshops.

While Vicky Lyonnais was on maternity leave, Alpha TNO's French literacy activities were reduced. Now that she's back at work, Ms. Lyonnais fully intends to put Alpha TNO back on track. To do so, she wants to set up an advisory committee to support the organization. "Alpha TNO now wants to focus on developing partnerships and raising awareness among organizations," explained Ms. Lyonnais. She also plans to re-establish a documentation centre at the Maison Bleue, where people can borrow French books and resources.

A study of literacy and basic skills needs in the N.W.T. commissioned by Alpha TNO and the Fédération franco-ténoise was published in June 2010. Titled Besoins en alphabétisation et compétences essentielles aux Territoires du Nord-Ouest (PDF Version Approx. 1.20 MB) (Help on File Formats), the study shows that Francophones in the N.W.T. have a high literacy rate, given that two-thirds of the territory's Francophones have a college diploma or university degree.

Jean Malavoy, the author of this study, raises the alarm:

After analyzing the available data, especially data from the 2006 census, we find that people living in the N.W.T. who report French as their mother tongue are just as likely as Aboriginal people to lose their language. The data show that 57% of Francophones, nearly 6 out of 10, speak English rather than French at home. And speaking a language at home is probably key to ensuring the survival of that language, since the language spoken in the home is also more likely to be passed on to future generations as the mother tongue. [Translation]

To meet the needs of Francophones in the N.W.T. and, especially, to reach the one-third of the population that might need Alpha TNO's services, the Fédération franco-ténoise proposed a project to the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills. "The project Les compétences des parents sont essentielles proposes adapting two mentoring models in the areas of reading, writing and math for the parent or other person of importance to the child. This project would also help Alpha TNO reach Francophones from the remote regions of Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik," explained Ms. Lyonnais.

In short, Alpha TNO is building an effective foundation and solid, constructive partnerships. In so doing, the organization hopes to link literacy to the development and promotion of the French language in the N. W. T. Vicky Lyonnais believes in this and dreams of the day when Alpha TNO will get ongoing funding and be recognized by the territorial government.

Sources: Malavoy, Jean. Besoins en alphabétisation et compétences essentielles dans les Territoires du Nord-Ouest - Rapport de recherche. Yellowknife: Fédération franco-ténoise and Alpha TNO, 2010, 66 p.