Archived - Notes for an address to the Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs at Simon Fraser University
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Vancouver, April 16, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you at the Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (OFFA) at Simon Fraser University. The work that OFFA does sets a great example and is regularly cited by the Office of the Commissioner when dealing with other official language minority communities in Canada.
I like Vancouver very much, and I am still very impressed by the vitality of British Columbia’s Francophone community, which is spread out across the province. That vitality was apparent three years ago during my first visit as Commissioner, just as it was when I came for the Olympic Games and, as your presence here demonstrates, it is still apparent today.
During my stay in Vancouver for the Olympic Games, the activities organized for the public by Francophone communities contributed to the festive atmosphere that prevailed at the Games. In Vancouver, as in Maillardville, thousands of people were able to discover the Francophone culture of the province and of the country. French was visible—and audible—in various ways at Olympic venues and in the streets.
I am very much interested by British Columbia’s approach to its Francophone community, which is founded on openness, collaboration and mutual respect. The relationship that exists between Anglophones and Francophones demonstrates the pride that you associate with learning our two official languages and, by extension, other languages too. You are looking for ways in which both cultures can contribute to the common good of the province and its citizens.
This is illustrated by the interest you show in people who come through French second-language programs, by the important role played by Francophones in the tourism industry and by the warm welcome you give various Francophone groups and organizations.
At the university level, Simon Fraser represents a model of how to support students coming through immersion and French second-language programs, as well as French-speaking students, so that they can all pursue their studies in French with the full backing of the university. Through the OFFA, the university has shown its commitment to the Francophone community, as well as the importance of raising awareness among all British Columbians of Francophone culture in Canada.
Last fall, the Office of the Commissioner published a study entitled Two languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada’s Universities. As a complement to this study, we have also launched an interactive map allowing students to see what options they have for second-language learning in Canadian universities at present. This map shows the courses offered to learn a second language, the courses offered in a second language, the support available, the opportunities for networking and the possibilities for exchanges.
Since the beginning of my mandate, I have taken a great interest in the role that universities can play in second–language learning. I believe that our universities must contribute and provide their students with the tools they need to access the job market. In many cases, this includes the ability to express oneself in our two official languages.
We already know a lot about second-language learning programs at the elementary and secondary levels but we have very little information regarding these types of programs at the university level. In order to ensure a learning continuum from primary school to the job market, we must focus on this issue and ensure that the necessary information is available to the public.
Knowledge of our two official languages is paramount to the success of our youth, particularly if we take into account the global knowledge-based economy and the intensification of international competition.
It is also just as important that more Canadians have the opportunity to learn English and French. This would show Canada’s commitment to linguistic duality. In the context of the public service renewal, it is also essential that our government have a larger pool of bilingual candidates to choose from.
Results of the study
In general, access to regular programs and courses that allow students to continue their second-language learning is good. However, opportunities for intensive learning in the second language (for example, the study of an academic subject in the second language) were limited. Currently, only a limited number of courses in a very limited range of subjects were offered in the second language.
Few universities have second-language policies or requirements. Those that do exist are minimal and generally apply to just a few courses offered in a language other than French in Quebec and other than English in the rest of the country.
Moreover, there is very little collaboration between English-language schools and French-language schools. These collaborations are, however, essential in order to offer students more opportunities for exchanges and better contact with the second language. Although many Canadian universities offer or facilitate exchanges with other countries, opportunities for exchanges between Canadian institutions are very limited.
What works and what needs to be improved
As part of our study, we made the following observations on how to improve second-language learning in our universities.
First, students we consulted told us that the instructor is the most important factor. They also told us that smaller classes are essential in order to allow increased interaction in the second language. They added that second-language courses based on content—including a cultural aspect or an aspect adapted to the field of study—make the experience far more stimulating.
University instructors and administrators who take part in the second-language programs felt that the leadership and commitment of senior management is essential. Universities must show that they value teaching in a second language. This includes planning, coordination and negotiation with other faculties and institutions. This also means additional costs for universities that cannot be fully met by using the funding system strictly based on the number of students in each university program.
Students, teachers, administrators, experts and government representatives are all in agreement that access to real opportunities to use and practice the second language, through exchanges or other means of creating interaction with native speakers, is absolutely essential. It is impossible to learn another language properly simply by taking a class; the language must be lived in order to be learned.
In order for universities to offer our young people the tools they need as part of the second-language learning continuum, governments have a major role to play. The federal government and the provincial governments must collaborate closely with universities to achieve this.
In order to do so, we have formulated a number of recommendations for the Government of Canada and Canadian universities. I will not go into all of these recommendations here today, but I would like to highlight a few of them.
We have recommended to the Government of Canada and the governments of the provinces and territories that they create a new fund to provide financial aid to universities. Such a fund would allow universities to develop and implement new initiatives to improve second-language learning possibilities.
In the study, we also recommended that the Public Service Commission, in collaboration with universities, develop a framework of reference for language skills, like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, in order to establish equivalencies between exams administered by the public service and those used by the universities. The ultimate goal would be to confer on the universities the task of training students in the various language skills necessary to meet the requirements of a public service position. My office is currently involved in discussions with the Commission on this subject.
As for universities, they should adopt strategies and action plans to improve second-language learning opportunities based on their own situations and circumstances. I also encourage universities to gather more information on the desire and ability of instructors to provide courses in the other language, what students’ learning objectives are and the types of opportunities that students would like to have. Finally, I encourage universities to find new ways of recognizing the importance of second-language learning and demonstrating the value it has.
Simon Fraser University and the OFFA are at the head of the class in this respect and they remain a model for other Canadian universities, just as the Francophone community in British Columbia is a model for official language minority communities across the country.
Study of vitality indicators
Just yesterday, the Office of the Commissioner released a study of the vitality indicators for the British Columbia’s Francophone community. It is the third in a series of studies of this type. As part of this series, the Office of the Commissioner also chose to look at Calgary’s Francophone community as well as the small French-speaking communities in rural Saskatchewan.
We have undertaken these studies so that they may benefit both governments and communities. We also wanted these studies to support communities in identifying and evaluating the factors that have an influence on their vitality.
We have recognized the need to create tools to support federal institutions so that they can better meet the requirements of the Official Languages Act. This includes the notion of “positive measures” in Part VII of the Act. With this in mind, the studies of vitality indicators can provide ideas for federal institutions on how to support the development and vitality of official language minority communities.
In a context where accountability is increasingly important, these studies also aim to support communities by helping them show the concrete results of the funding received from federal institutions, while at the same time supporting communities in their efforts to assume responsibility for their own development.
For the Office of the Commissioner, it was also a chance to increase our knowledge of vitality and offer examples of community mobilization to other official language communities elsewhere in the country.
For this study, rather than focus on a single community or region in British Columbia, Francophone community leaders asked us to include all regions of the province. This approach enabled us to benefit from the participation of a large number of people working towards the development of their respective communities.
The resulting picture highlights the relatively self-reliant and self-sufficient communities, often organized around a community centre. The majority of Francophones were not born in the province and a significant proportion of them are newcomers to Canada, or second-generation Canadians. Recruitment and retention of new members of the community is an overall concern.
Moreover, the community recognizes the importance of collaboration with partners across the province. Organizations such as the OFFA and Canadian Parents for French remain models in the exchange and collaboration between the province’s Francophones and Francophiles.
This openness towards all cultures represented in the province shows through in the community’s activities. Among the cultural events, the Vancouver Summer Francophone Festival, the Nanaimo Maple Sugar Festival and Maillardville’s Festival du bois are perfect examples of success within the community. You have found a way to share Francophone culture with the rest of the population in a warm and friendly manner.
Of course, how can we forget the Place de la francophonie that was located on Granville Island during the Olympic Games this spring? This major project showcased Canada’s francophonie to the entire world while also demonstrating the importance given by British Columbians to Francophone culture in their province.
The West coast Francophone community has considerable potential. However, our study has identified significant challenges.
If the local communities are self-sufficient, they can sometimes suffer from isolation. The small size of the community can pose a significant challenge. In particular, the services within the community depend on a relatively limited number of people, and there is limited access to resources. Many have reported staff burnout within their organizations.
Despite the existence of real obstacles, I know that the Francophone community can count on the support of partners like the OFFA. Official language communities across the country are transforming and the organizations that support them must move in the same direction. Although our official language communities must all take responsibility for their own development, they should not have to do so alone. In British Columbia, the Francophone community must be able to count on the support of both the federal government and the provincial government. And these governments must remain open to the priorities established by these communities and work with them to achieve their fullest potential.
The Francophone community in British Columbia already benefits from solid strategic planning, which this study will enhance and support. The study proposes paths to explore and ways to measure the progress made. The study also serves as an excellent tool for dialogue between the community and its government partners.
Through its studies and its work with the community, the Office of the Commissioner provides support to all official languages communities across the country, including British Columbia’s Francophone community.
There will always be challenges to be overcome, but with its energy and enthusiasm, I know that this community will continue to leave its mark on British Columbia and that it will continue to serve as a model for other official language communities.