Archived - Speaking Notes for the Immersion Scholarships Award Ceremony of the Molson Foundation
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Québec City, January 17, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
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Beginning of dialog
This is the fourth time I have been invited to celebrate your achievements as young English-speakers who want to pursue university studies in French.
It’s a great honour to be here with you once again.
I myself did not really begin learning French until I was a student at the University of Toronto.
One day I attended a concert by Gilles Vigneault, one of Quebec’s greatest singer-songwriters.
I had no idea what he was saying, but the sound of the words he was singing thrilled me and a desire formed within me to go and find out about that other Canadian culture.
My language learning journey began soon after, at an archaeological site on Île-aux-Noix, south of Montréal.
During that summer internship, I was immersed in a language that I struggled to understand and speak. But I did improve my ability, and this was to serve me well all my life.
It was in part due to my French skills that Maclean's magazine sent me to Montréal in 1976, with Quebec about to elect the Parti Québécois and send shock waves across the country.
I had an opportunity to explain what I was seeing and hearing to an audience that was partly French and partly English.
I remained in Quebec for many years, including a lengthy stay here in Québec City with my family when I was a journalist for the Montreal Gazette and The Globe and Mail.
Even today, as Commissioner of Official Languages, I am continuing to learn more and more about my second language.
Every day I see the important contribution made by our official language communities across the country.
I have a better understanding of the small differences between their cultures.
I have a better appreciation of the tireless efforts of people of all kinds, whether they are in politics or working in the cultural sphere or in community organizations.
A life-long journey involving French has been a common experience for journalists covering the national scene over the past several decades.
Numerous jurists, athletes, politicians, researchers and others have had this experience as well—people who are not language professionals but who now could not imagine themselves as unilingual.
I would like to stress the importance of the Molson Foundation and the scholarships it offers to very deserving students every year.
These scholarships showcase the private sector’s contribution to linguistic duality in our country.
The Foundation’s scholarship program also brings to light the importance of closer connections between Canada’s English- and French-speaking communities.
I’d be interested to hear about your French-language journey as students.
I’ve heard literally dozens of stories from immersion graduates, teachers of students advised to leave immersion, and even from students whose skills were not recognized for admission to university.
The gap that exists between high school French second-language programs and university programs must be addressed.
The cooperation that exists between the Molson Foundation and Université Laval is unfortunately the exception to the rule.
Too often, university French programs are non-existent, undervalued or under-promoted.
This is why, in 2009, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages conducted a study of second-language learning opportunities available in Canadian universities.
The report provides information on all Canadian universities that offer some form of second-language learning.
My office has also added an interactive tool to our website that maps out the location of all these universities, enabling future students to determine what is offered where in a user-friendly fashion.
We hope that such a tool will help students continue their studies in their second language, and also encourage universities that are not on the map to boost their second-language learning options.
Here at Université Laval, the oldest university in Canada, you will be in good hands and will have access to top-quality teaching and resources.
In the most recent Globe and Mail Canadian University Report, Université Laval was lauded for its small classes and the rapport between students and professors.
The report also recognized the university’s orientation towards research and international co-operation, its excellent libraries, the access it provides to teaching materials online, and its fine recreational facilities.
In addition, it is no exaggeration to say that Université Laval demonstrates excellent school spirit, particularly regarding its Vanier Cup champions, the Rouge et Or football team.
Given the challenges facing your generation, both nationally and internationally, I am reassured to see that so many young Canadians are bilingual and value our country’s linguistic duality.
I hope that your time at Université Laval will allow you to not only discover a rich and unique culture but also to ponder the meaning for you of learning French.
I wish you much success. Thank you.