Sylvie Roy and Albert Galiev
University of Calgary
Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers
While immigration has changed Canadian demographics, the discourse on official bilingualism focuses primarily on promoting bilingualism to Anglophones and Francophones (native speakers)—immigrants are often missing from the debate. The Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013 highlights the federal government's support for access to education in both official languages for all Canadians. In practice, however, little attention has been paid to immigrants in Anglophone provinces who would like to learn English and French at the same time 1. 2
Yet various surveys attest to the success of bilingualism. Parkin and Turcotte (2004) reported that immigrants are often more likely than Anglophones to support Canadian bilingualism and to see it as an integral part of the Canadian identity. Their study gathered the following views: "immigrants would like to learn French" (73% of immigrants and 61% of Anglophones surveyed agree); "living in a country with two official languages defines what it means to be Canadian" (68% of immigrants and 63% of Anglophones agree); and "learning French is a good way for Canadians to keep the country unified" (73% of immigrants and 64% of Anglophones agree). In our ethnographic research (Roy and Galiev, submitted), we also interviewed many immigrant and Anglophone parents who send their children to immersion because "This country has two languages and we need to speak both" (interview with a student). Immigrants therefore recognize the value of bilingualism despite the lack of clear or explicit language policies concerning them.
Immigrants understand that knowing many languages is key to entering the job market. They often have an extensive background in languages, and education is important to most of them. When they arrived in Canada, they opted for Canadian bilingualism. However, many immigrant parents feel that French immersion is not for their children. They have been told by some school authorities or individuals that they should learn English first. Moreover, since some immigrant parents had a hard time finding a job because they did not speak English, they worry about putting their children in immersion. Here is what one principal had to say:
He is Chinese [he works as a technician at that school] and has his son in Grade 1 French immersion, and he is not entirely sure it is the right idea…He is projecting some of his own struggles perhaps onto his son, because when he says he's worried about his son, I say, "Is your son having a hard time at school?" "No." "Is your son complaining?" "No." "Does the teacher say he is doing well at school?" "Yes." So, I think his concern is more his own, rather than because he sees his son in trouble.
Immigrants believe that bilingualism is important to Canada. For example, a student from Pakistan said, "I consider myself a little bit special…I speak both [English and French] so it is a little bit special for me." A teacher added the following:
[Translation] Many of these students in late and continued immersion are children of first- or second-generation immigrants to Canada. Therefore, French may be their second, third or even fourth language…They are more motivated to learn other languages; they are more tolerant towards other languages and cultures. Now that they are settled here, in Canada, they really want to live the dream of belonging to a bilingual country. So, they would very much like to see their children learn both languages.
Interestingly, immigrant students often view bilingualism as the ability to speak English and French. In fact, many of them are already bilingual since they speak their mother tongue and one of the official languages. Their notion of bilingualism stems from what they are taught about Canada's history, which presents bilingualism as the knowledge of both official languages.
Immigrants who send their children to French immersion believe in a bilingual Canada. While most language policies promote bilingualism, they often forget the role of immigrants in this political and official discourse.
In order to begin the dialogue on needed changes, we would like to make some recommendations:
Parkin, A. and Turcotte, A. (2004). Bilingualism: Part of our Past or Part of our Future? The CRIC Papers #13, Centre for Research and Information on Canada, Canadian Unity Council, Ottawa, Canada.
Roy, S. &. Galiev, A (submitted). Discourses on Bilingualism in the Canadian French Immersion Program. The Canadian Modern Language Review.