Language: A bridge between people

Posted on September 6, 2022

My mother tells me that my love of languages started in utero. While she was pregnant with me, she had a vivid dream that she was having a girl who would have a passion for languages. My parents then insisted that I should have a French name, and I was named for the actress Yvette Mimieux, whom my parents had recently seen in a movie.

My introduction to French and other languages

True to my mom’s intuition, I became an early and voracious reader, and I was quickly intrigued by the labels on the objects around me. I discovered that my Corn Flakes cereal box read flocons de maïs in French! I was also fascinated by the few French phrases that my mom remembered from high school that she loved to teach me (for example, Ferme la porte, bébé!). It wasn’t until I was in junior high school that I began to formally learn French, and then I became hooked! I continued to study French in high school and university, including doing a semester in France, and I never lost my appreciation for la belle langue. Along the way I studied German, Spanish and Russian, and picked up a little Japanese, Italian and Mandarin for tourists, which served me well during my travels.

Jamaican patois as a distinct language

What intrigues me about language is that it allows us to show respect for the cultures and people we encounter, and that it can be a living thing that evolves over time. My family is from Jamaica, where patois is commonly spoken and has developed over 400 years. “Patois” translates to “rough language” in French, and children weren’t allowed to speak it in school as it’s considered to be informal. But Jamaican patois is also part of the cultural fabric of the country, and it crosses age, ethnic background, gender and socioeconomic lines to unify Jamaicans. It originated in the 17th century, when enslaved people who were taken to Jamaica from Central Africa and West Africa incorporated words from African and other languages into English to form a secret way of communicating with each other. Now, because of the global impact of Jamaican music and culture, patois is being studied more closely, and sociolinguists are finding that patois has roots in Twi, Creole, Spanish, Hindi and other languages. So now, when I leave the house, instead of saying, “I’ll be back shortly,” I’ll say, “Soon come” in patois, and it makes me smile and feel closer to my family and to Jamaican tradition.

My language journey continues

More recently on my language journey, I discovered something new: linguistic insecurity. Yikes! It can happen when you’re new to learning a language or when you know that you don’t have a great ear for a certain language. Or, for me, the challenge is maintaining my French language skills here on the West Coast, where it’s so much more common to hear Mandarin or Cantonese or Punjabi while out and about in Vancouver. But I persevere, and I remain committed to maintaining my language proficiency, even if it has become more challenging than in my university years.

Meanwhile, I’m now in my second year as an employee at Public Services and Procurement Canada, and I'm thrilled to work in the federal government department that is home to the Translation Bureau. Aside from the fact that I once aspired to be an interpreter (inspired by the historical figure Mathieu Da Costa), I also consider it to be serendipitous to be in a department in which the culture supports and celebrates official languages. Even better, I came to learn that the Translation Bureau also offers translation into Indigenous languages, as well as American Sign Language (ASL) and Quebec sign language (LSQ) interpretation. This speaks to my personal values of inclusion, accessibility and cultural connection through language.

The latest challenge for me was to learn a few phrases of welcome in ASL for National Public Service Week. As always, it was humbling to be a new learner, but I was also excited to discover a wonderful new world of communication with my staff.

The message I hope to leave for readers of this blog post is that it’s never too late to start learning a language and that languages can open doors to a fascinating world, just waiting to be discovered! Which languages would you like to learn and why? Let me know in the comments!

This post was written as part of the Golden Quill initiative, which gives senior management within the federal public service the opportunity to write about an aspect of official languages that is important to them or to share their own personal experiences with language. Check out The Golden Quill: An initiative of the Our Languages blog (opens in new tab) to learn more about this annual tradition and to read blog posts written by past recipients of the Golden Quill.


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Yvette-Monique Gray

Yvette-Monique Gray

Yvette-Monique Gray

Yvette-Monique Gray was appointed Regional Director General (RDG), Pacific Region, effective May 17, 2021. She previously held the positions of Regional Director, Intelligence and Enforcement Division, at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Director, CBSA Operations, at the Vancouver International Airport.

As RDG, Yvette fosters a “One PSPC” approach by supporting integrated planning and risk management in the delivery of major projects and services in the Pacific Region.

Yvette was the recipient of the Peace Officer Exemplary Service Medal and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her service to Canadians.


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Submitted by Lucie Seguin on September 6, 2022, at 14:36

Merci pour ce superbe billet de blogue Yvette-Monique. I enjoyed learning about your family and early interest for languages. And because of your blog, I will do some digging on Jamaican Patois... Thank you for accepting to be the recipient of the Golden Quill in 2022... you killed it!

Submitted by Yvette-Monique Gray on September 30, 2022, at 15:28

Quelle belle expérience! I`ve had so many fascinating conversations about culture and language as a result of the blog. Thank you so much for inviting me to hold the Quill. Looking forward to hearing from the Golden Quill Blogger 2023!

Submitted by Raymond Frank on September 6, 2022, at 19:37

So many fascinating nuggets of information, skillfully woven into such a short but interesting piece. Big up yourself, Yvette. Walk good. (Meaning: Congratulations. Best wishes).

Submitted by Yvette-Monique Gray on September 30, 2022, at 15:35

LOL - Thanks for your comments, Raymond, and for sharing a little more patois with the Our Languages community. Love it! Walk good too.

Submitted by Ricknold Shaw on September 7, 2022, at 14:48

Congratulations Yvette-Monique! Yuh a duh big tings, nuff respect and bless-up yuh self! (Translation: You are doing big things, respect and blessings!).
I have an interest in learning Spanish as it was the second language taught in Jamaica. I also have an interest in learning French as well. Maybe there's hope for me yet. We share a similar background, and it was inspiring to read your post. Thank you for sharing!

Submitted by Yvette-Monique Gray on September 30, 2022, at 15:48

Hi Ricknold, thanks for your note. That would be brilliant if my blog inspires you to learn a few French and Spanish words and phrases. And I love that you've shared a few more patois phrases here. C'est super! :-)

Submitted by Matthew Ball on September 7, 2022, at 16:42

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post Yvette-Monique. Welcome to the PSPC family! I was happy to see how you appreciate our work at the Translation Bureau. Je fait partie de l'équipe qui fournit l'interprétation en langues officielles, étrangères, autochtones et en langues de signes, et je vais encourager les interprètes à lire votre billet, surtout étant donné que vous avez déjà aspirez à devenir interprète! Thanks for sharing your story of life and love of languages.

Submitted by Clarene Haynes on September 9, 2022, at 8:58

This is amazing, Yvette! I have a hobby of learning a few words in many languages, which works out to be a great ice-breaker when I meet new people! I am so impressed that you can carry on conversations in many! Thank you for sharing! Votre blogue est un rappel inspirant de la valeur de l'apprentissage et de la motivation à inclure tous les Canadiens dans la conversation !

Submitted by Yvette-Monique Gray on September 30, 2022, at 16:03

Thanks for commenting, Clarene. J'aime ton approche d'utiliser la langue pour briser la glace avec les gens. And I love that this blog served as an ice-breaker about language too. What a pleasure to have sparked such a great conversation!

Submitted by Yvette-Monique Gray on September 30, 2022, at 15:53

Merci pour vos commentaires, Matthew. Yes, I'm definitely a fangirl when it comes to the Translation Bureau! :-) Looking forward to continuing to follow the Bureau's evolving work with languages.

Submitted by Ambica Menon on November 8, 2022, at 11:56

Loved your blog about your language journey. learning languages and gaining proficiency in multiple languages is like a calling. Envy (in a good way) polyglots. I am all for offering and promoting multiple languages for kids in school, it can only enhance their capacities (memory, listening, etc) life, and world experience. Maybe someday we can have a chat in Russian...

Submitted by Martinez Christina on November 8, 2022, at 12:43

Wow, loved your blog and your journey! Merci

Submitted by Margaret Hamlin on November 9, 2022, at 7:28

I loved reading your blog Yvette-Monique. The stories of language and culture were beautifully woven together. I too, as a young Jamaican, fell in love with languages and have on my bucket list to relearn Spanish and hope to add a few more. Thanks for your inspiring blog. "Ya mom, it was irie!" (Meaning: yes "man", it was good".)

Submitted by Violet on March 9, 2023, at 11:44

This is a wonderful article. You remind me of me! I am a life-long lover of languages too. I learned Polish at home and have studied French, German, Russian and some Italian, Spanish Greek and Hawaiian. I had a look at Arabic. That looks challenging. If time and money were not an issue, I would happily learn every language!