Francophone identity and community support: Why they’re important!
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There’s a common misconception that a person can have only one mother tongue. But some people have two or even more languages that they learned simultaneously or successively in early childhood and that they speak perfectly, switching easily between them. And these people don’t lose their cultural identity as a result; in fact, they’re able to cultivate an open mind throughout their lives.
Some Francophone newcomers to Canada find themselves facing a dilemma: should my child go to an English-language school to better develop their English-language skills, or should they go to a French-language school to maintain their cultural identity? It’s a difficult decision for parents. They may be influenced by school counsellors, school staff or other members of the community who believe speaking English at home is better for kids, as it will help them feel more comfortable in the classroom and schoolyard, and help them integrate more easily here in Alberta. Sound familiar?
And when a family doesn’t live near other Francophone families or community centres, it can be particularly difficult for parents to support their children and help them develop their language skills at home. In these cases, support from both Francophone organizations and members of the Francophone minority community, and the promotion of the French language are essential.
The role of Francophone and bilingual organizations in French-language learning and retention
Here in Canada, English is clearly the majority language, but fortunately, young children can easily become bilingual. It’s important to note that bilingualism helps children develop better thinking skills and generally leads to better academic outcomes in the long term.
Though family is where it all begins, Francophone community organizations play an important role in promoting arts and culture, and, even more importantly, in supporting linguistic duality in Canada. Never has just one language been used in Canada; multiculturalism has always existed here.
I believe the primary role of these organizations is to ignite a passion in the hearts of Francophiles by offering them programs and services that encourage them to learn more about Francophone diversity and to immerse themselves and their children in a French-speaking environment. In addition, these organizations encourage Francophone newcomers to Canada to take pride in their identity as Francophones within a minority community.
Settlement agencies are also at the core of the community because they are the first place newcomers go after they land in Canada. They are the face of the community and the country. And it’s why Francophone organizations, such as the Portail de l’Immigrant Association (PIA), open their doors to every newcomer. Not only is it a safe space, it’s also a space where Francophones and Francophiles can gather and discuss openly; find refuge, support and friendship; and become an integral part of the diverse Francophone community.
Tell us in the comments about your experience with the Francophone organizations in your area.
The importance of maintaining one’s Francophone identity
In many cases, the first thing newcomers do is learn English or improve their English-language skills in order to integrate into the English-speaking mainstream in Alberta.
But language and culture are key elements in how we self-identify; they are what connect us to the community and give us a sense of belonging, which is vital. When we’re able to answer the question “Who am I?” we’re able to thrive and move forward while exploring the realms of our personality and realizing our true potential. And introducing the younger generation to family traditions in their mother tongue instills in children the importance of family relationships and values, and gives them a stronger connection to their ancestors and parents.
One of the best things you can do to maintain your Francophone identity, to pass on a love of the French language to your children and to continue to grow the Francophone community in your area is to read French or bilingual books to your children.
Your local public library or Francophone community centre surely has interesting, colourful storybooks with text printed in both languages.
Tell us in the comments what you think is the best book to get young people interested in learning French and immersing themselves in Canada’s Francophone culture.
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.
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