Did you get a chance to use your second language on your vacation this summer?

Here are our readers’ answers to this question. We would like to thank everyone who took time to respond.

Your answers:

[This answer was originally sent in French. Below is our translation.]

I am Acadian and my first language is French. I live in Darthmouth, Nova Scotia. Every time I leave the house, I have to speak English, my second language. It is also difficult to speak my mother tongue while on vacation. But I am lucky; I’m going to France for two weeks in September. I will no doubt have some opportunities to speak English, like at the Halifax airport. But in France I will be able to enjoy speaking the language of Molière in the country of Rabelais, in Vienne and in Loire.

Ina, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

I certainly did…. I went to Nice, France for a two-week visit with my sister and was there from April lst to April 15. I did use my French very frequently over there. Also, while in Nice, I met some people who spoke Italian and spoke French with them.

I also met others who spoke Arabic and spoke French then as well.

Knowing languages facilitates your travel abroad as well as here in Canada, especially with the diverse number of people emigrating from the various parts of the world; it makes it easier to communicate. The more you know the better. In fact, I will be going back to school and continuing learning Spanish. This will be my fifth language.

Who knows, perhaps one day I will be able to work at the Airport or for Tourism Canada or Tourism Ontario, something I have dreamed about for quite some time.

Lucienne, Mississauga (Ontario)

Every day I have the opportunity to use nos deux langues officielles. It opens doors to so many opportunities and makes traveling easier, it is almost a must.... Broaden your horizons and learn how each language has its own history and culture. I am francophone and my second language is English.

Jocelyne, Gatineau (Québec)

I did not truly appreciate the value of speaking a second language until a few years ago, when I travelled by myself to Cambodia. One day, I sat by myself in a park, next to an elderly gentleman carving and selling his art. Intrigued, I watched him for a few minutes, and we exchanged a few friendly looks and gestures. When he suddenly saw the Canadian flag on my bag, he exclaimed, “Ah! Une canadienne! Parlez-vous français?

After having travelled for months on my own, I welcomed the opportunity for conversation beyond simple phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” At first I found the gentleman's accent a bit difficult to follow; it was different from what I had become accustomed to in Ottawa. However, I soon tuned my ear to his voice, and was able to listen to his fascinating story. He spent the next hour recounting the story of how he survived as an artist during the reign of the Khmer Rouge; living in caves, and soiling his hands to disguise himself as a farmer. Never before had history been so vividly brought to life for me.

I still look back to that memorable day and am so thankful that I learned to speak French.

Adrienne, Ottawa (Ontario)

[This answer was originally sent in French. Below is our translation.]

Having lived for a very long time in a very small Francophone minority community in Western Canada, I often have great difficulty determining what is my second language. I have even more difficulty using my mother tongue, French.

However, a recent trip to Acadia was a pleasant surprise. Angélina, a gracious hostess from the region, has learned how to prioritize the French language. You have to start the conversation by saying “hello” with a slight French accent, so it sounds like a French “allô”.

Jean-Marie, another excellent host, showed me how to politely ask for French menus from the waitress at Saint James Pub in Moncton, when we were given English menus by mistake.

The next morning, I asked for a taxi to take me to the airport. Looking in the Yellow Pages, the first thing I checked was if the company offered bilingual service. The night before, I called them and, in French, asked them to pick me up at 4:30. The driver arrived the next day at the scheduled time, but I was astonished to hear the driver respond to my “bonjour” with “I am sorry, I do not speak French.” A bit surprised, even disappointed, I sat in the passenger seat and asked the driver about his allegedly bilingual province. He replied that I should have specifically requested a “French-speaking” driver. After a prolonged silence, I noticed that his statements were in bad faith. I then asked, in English, why he was unable to respond to a simple “bonjour” from a client. He explained that, even if he could, he wouldn’t be able to continue the conversation. He added that he was from Stephenville, Newfoundland, and that you have to learn and use a language when you’re young. I’ve been to Stephenville on a previous vacation, and the surrounding area, the Port au Port Peninsula, used to be Francophone.

Stephenville was used as a US military base and contributed greatly to the anglicization of Western Newfoundland. The taxi driver told me that his parents were Francophone, but they forbade their children to speak French in the house, so that they could have a “better future.” Gabriel, the taxi driver, would probably have agreed if I had said that French, rather than bilingualism, deserves to be better promoted among its speakers. This is what I forced myself to do the next morning in my modest role as ambassador of the North American Francophone community. We understood each other despite everything!

Réjean, Vancouver, British Columbia

Yes. My friend and I had booked a timeshare in New Hampshire, but to get there we decided to tour around the Eastern Townships. We stopped at the Tourisme Québec office, just across the border from Ontario. I used my French there to get information and to book a hotel for the night in Magog. I used my French at the Outlet Motel and later at the Pub du Pont to order supper.

The next day we visited Waterloo, Quebec (I am from Waterloo, Ontario), Lake Brôme and other places around Estrie. We then went to Sherbrooke. We went first to the tourist office and got brochures on the unique murals around the city. After lunch (I again ordered in French), we headed for the States – following a lot of back roads until we finally crossed into Vermont.

After our holiday, we headed back to Southern Ontario via Lake Placid in New York State. I was surprised to see the number of French signs in New York State.

Dave, Waterloo (Ontario)

Yes indeed, and much more than that! This summer, I went on my first motorcycle trip, a grand voyage which took me through all the Atlantic provinces, the Gaspé Peninsula, as far as Quebec City, returning along the north shore of the St. Lawrence and then through Labrador. I logged 7255 kilometres in 19 days, 12 days of which I was able to immerse myself in French.

Since finishing language training, it is absolutely necessary for me to continue practicing my second language. Normally, I try to practice everyday by watching TV and reading the news. But it is not always easy, and it is often cursory. The most efficient and stimulating way to practice is to live in a French environment for several days, if possible.

Practicing French was not my primary goal for this trip, but it turned out to be a huge side benefit. What I found interesting was that after the first day of immersion, it was much easier to “think directly in French” rather than translate my thoughts from English to French. Also interesting is the subtle variety of French culture in Eastern Canada—for example, the different dialects in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Gaspé and the Lower North Shore, and some very interesting local cuisine in a few of those places.

Someone once told me that when you travel solo, especially on a motorcycle, the locals are more likely to engage you in conversation. I found this to be very true. Forcing myself not to be shy in my second language, I would engage people as much as possible, which often led to very useful local information (best restaurants, sites to see, etc.), and I soon lost all inhibitions to speak French. When conversing in English, if I detected a French accent, I would switch immediately to French. Engaging people in French became a game; you never knew what kind of information you would learn.

During the early stages of my trip, I met a person in an Eco-campground on the northern tip of Nova Scotia (see attached picture). Guylaine April lives in New Brunswick, close to Moncton. Once we started conversing, I switched to French and discovered that she worked for the Canada School of Public Service in the area of French-language training. Even more of a coincidence was the fact that she knew only one person living in Newfoundland, a colleague also involved with French-language training, and that I happened to know the same person!

To summarize, this trip was about being open to the unknown—I did not know if I could manage a solo trip on motorcycle and I did not know how well I would manage in French. With every trip, you are able to learn more about the world, and perhaps yourself, and this trip was no different.

Dan, Gander (Newfoundland and Labrador)

During my vacation this year I went to Florida. I had the chance to use my second language, which is English, but was really surprised to use my first official language, French, at different locations, for example in stores. My sister and I were shopping for groceries and looking for an item and discussing in French, a man approached us and spoke to us in French. It was really amazing, he told us that his mother was French Canadian and moved to the States and forced him to talk French only in the house, which is how he learned and retained his French in the USA. He is now doing the same thing with his children.

Jeannine, Embrun (Ontario)

Published on Thursday, October 14, 2010

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