She’s a principal human resources consultant at Western Economic Diversification Canada in Edmonton, Alberta, and a 20 year veteran of the federal public service. She’s also dedicated to promoting linguistic duality, which is an important part of her identity.
Carolyn Veitch joined the federal public service in 2000 when she started working at the Public Service Commission of Canada in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Already fluently bilingual, she had no problems meeting the language requirements of the position.
Like many people in Western Canada, Veitch began learning French as a second language in high school. It was one of her favourite subjects: “I had teachers who’d come from all over the world, and they had some amazing stories to tell about their adventures within la Francophonie.” Her high school experience was all the more memorable for her having been chosen to participate in an Alberta-Quebec student exchange program: “I lived in Saint-Césaire, Quebec, for three months as a teenager, which was an incredible immersion experience.” She went on to study at CÉGEP de Jonquière for a summer as a young adult. “Learning my second official language truly opened the door for me to explore parts of the country that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to do and to meet so many incredible people.”
But her journey of discovery into the French language didn’t end there. “I continued my immersion experience in France, where I lived with a family as an au pair in Normandy for a year. In addition to learning the language with a new accent and from a new Normand perspective, I read lots of Caroline au Canada, ate more than my fair share of foie gras and fell in love with ‘Jazz sous les pommiers,’” she reminisced. Veitch returned to Canada to complete her studies in French language and literature at Campus Saint-Jean, the French-language faculty of the University of Alberta. She was truly charmed by the French language during her stays in Quebec and abroad. “My passion for the French language and for linguistic duality will always be an important part of my identity,” she said.
Today, this passion is reflected in her work at Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD). Veitch’s role within the organization goes well beyond her expertise in human resources. The Edmonton-based public servant is involved in a variety of interesting projects: “For example, I am WD’s Person Responsible for Official Languages, and I work closely with our Assistant Deputy Minister Champion for Official Languages and with our National Coordinator for Official Languages,” she explained. “At WD, there is a dynamic official languages team that collaborates closely to serve western official language minority communities, and team members actively share their passion for linguistic duality with their public service colleagues. In 2019, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, WD’s official languages team received the Collective Leadership Award of Excellence in Official Languages. I couldn’t be more proud.”
There is still a long way to go, however, and this is true for many federal institutions. Veitch still sometimes encounters people who are skeptical about recognizing the equal status of English and French. “My most challenging career moments, from an official languages perspective, stem from having to convince a colleague, usually in a leadership role, of the value of linguistic duality or of the critical importance of providing services to Canadians in the official language of their choice,” she explained. “Diversity and inclusiveness are fundamental values of mine, and I can get frustrated when I’m asked to build a business case to demonstrate their importance in the workplace, even in 2020!”
Fortunately, the importance of linguistic duality is a given in Veitch’s family life. Her children have been enrolled in French immersion programs since kindergarten, and her bilingualism enables her to support them at school: “I can help them do their homework or watch a video clip with them in either official language. I can engage with their school community and share in cultural experiences like Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie. I’m equally excited to read a recipe or a poem with them in either official language. And I’m a super proud mom when they take and pass the Diplôme d’études en langue française exams!”
According to Veitch, there is absolutely no downside to learning a second language at any time of life. “Is it hard work? Without a doubt, but it is absolutely worth it,” she said. “Learning a second language opens the door to so many rich opportunities: to start a conversation, to share a meal, to explore someone else’s land, culture and perspectives, and much more. Linguistic duality enriches our lives in so many ways.”
He started in the federal public service as a student in 1989 and landed his first full-time position there in 1991. Now he’s Director of Business Expertise at Service Canada’s Integrity and National Services branch in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jody Doyle didn’t know a lot of French when he started working for the federal government: “I had just a basic understanding of French from high school (and from ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ – Go Habs Go!)” In 2010, he was given the opportunity to take part in a full-time language learning pilot project. “I was one of the first six lucky participants,” he said. “We followed a mix of in-class, individual and self-directed learning, supplemented by field trips and a short immersion period in Quebec.”
His determination helped him obtain his second-language levels and, most importantly, opened up a world of opportunities. For example, he got to work on an awareness campaign with the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador (FFTNL). “The Executive Director of the FFTNL and I visited Francophone communities in various parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I conducted information sessions on Service Canada programs and services, such as Employment Insurance, Canada Pension, and grants and contributions,” said Doyle. “Thanks to my language learning, I was able to conduct the sessions, answer questions and provide information to community members directly—all in French. These efforts also served to further develop ties between my department and these Francophone communities.”
Although his position requires him to be bilingual, Doyle sees this requirement as an opportunity to expand his personal and professional network. “Also, given that I live and work in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the French-speaking population is relatively small, I’ve been able to positively demonstrate that you can learn and maintain French in any environment, provided the right supports are in place,” he added.
He owes his outlook in part to the challenges he’s had to overcome during his career, such as when he worked at Service Canada’s headquarters in Gatineau, Quebec. “At the time, I didn’t speak French, and even though I was in an English position, I always felt at a bit of a disadvantage when dealing with my co-workers,” he said. “I did do some part-time language learning through work and attended some night classes on my own, but I regret not having the opportunity to learn more French while living and working in Quebec,” explained Doyle. “Thankfully, I was able to become bilingual after my return to Newfoundland and Labrador and now interact regularly with French colleagues in all parts of the country.”
In addition to playing an important role his professional life, official languages are also part of Doyle’s heritage: his maternal grandfather was originally from the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Although he hasn’t had a chance to explore that part of his history yet, he now has a new sense of belonging. “Now that I can speak and write in both languages, I feel that a whole other world is open to me, and I’m excited to discover more about my roots in Saint-Pierre and in France.”
One of the things Doyle found most helpful as he was learning French was to find the French version of something he was passionate about. “I avidly watch hockey and am interested in political news,” he explained, “so I sought out those things in French and read and watched them regularly.” Learning a second language may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not as arduous when you have good tools and the right environment. “I won’t lie—language learning is challenging, and there are peaks and valleys in the language journey,” he admitted. “However, the rewards of learning a second language and of learning other cultural aspects of Canada are immense. Learning a second language also allowed me to tap into different ways of thinking and problem solving, which I still use on a regular basis.”
So, what would Doyle say to someone who’s not sure about learning a second language? “Quite simply, I’d say, ‘Do it!’”
In his 18 years in the federal public service, he’s often been seen as the resident Francophone on his team . . . except that he’s an Anglophone. He’s now a senior advisor to an assistant deputy minister in the National Capital Region.
Kevin Crombie puts it bluntly: “
I don’t have a particular knack for languages.” Yet this Shared Services Canada employee and native English speaker now speaks French with remarkable ease. How did he do it? “
It’s not complicated,” he explained. “
When you want to learn a language, you just have to put in the effort.”
Originally from Lindsay, Ontario, and now employed as senior advisor to an assistant deputy minister, Crombie started learning French in high school and continued taking courses a few years later at university. At the start of his career, working as a journalist for The Canadian Press, the basic knowledge he’d acquired a few years earlier came in very handy: “
Often I was the only journalist who could understand both of Canada’s official languages, which gave me a big advantage because I had a better grasp of the issues that were affecting the country’s two language communities.”
But the real turning point came when Crombie moved to Montréal in his mid-30s and realized that his French was limited. “
My meagre French might get me served in a restaurant,” he recounted, “
but it wasn’t good enough to get a job. So I put an ad in the paper offering to exchange English conversation for French conversation and got dozens of responses (and made several good friends).” He also insisted on being served in French wherever he went and took night classes in French at McGill University for a year and a half—at his own expense. Needless to say, he saw results fairly quickly. When he landed his first federal public service job at Transport Canada, he scored an “
E” on all of his second language evaluation tests, which meant that he’d become proficient enough to be exempted from any further testing.
Ever since then, Crombie’s bilingualism has been a distinct advantage in his professional life. At Transport Canada, he worked on a public education and outreach project, and because of his fluency in both official languages, he was the one who landed the plum assignment of being sent to trade shows across the country. French also takes centre stage in his personal life: from doctor’s appointments to watching television—everything happens in French. In fact, he’s been living with his Francophone partner for over 20 years. “
As an adult, I discovered a rich and fascinating culture that I could only access by speaking the other language,” he said.
The advantages of bilingualism are myriad, according to Crombie, who encourages anyone who wants to get started to just jump right in. “
There is no downside to knowing a second language. One thing that helped was realizing that while I might feel foolish and embarrassed when I struggled to say something, the people listening to me did not find me foolish or embarrassing. That was all in my head. No one thinks badly of you because you’re trying to learn.”
While there’s no magic formula for effortless learning, Crombie will tell you that the key to success is practice. Throughout his 18 years in the public service, he’s always made a point of speaking French to his Francophone colleagues and reading documents in French to stay current in his vocabulary. His advice to anyone who wants to improve is this: “
Practise, practise, practise. Take every opportunity. Casual conversation is best.”
Clearly, Crombie’s firm resolve is debunking the myths of having to have a special gift for languages or having to get an early start to become bilingual. His experience shows us that anyone can learn another language—and open up a world of possibilities—if they’re willing to put in the effort.
He joined the federal public service a little more than eight years ago and is now Chief of Federal Land Use and Transaction Approvals at the National Capital Commission. He has every reason to be proud: he learned English, his second language, all by himself after taking a basic course in high school.
Martin Barakengera is well versed in the benefits of bilingualism, both socially and intellectually. In addition to giving him access to a wider range of media and literature, being fluent in English and French means that he can interact comfortably with family members, friends and acquaintances who speak only one of Canada’s official languages. And that’s not all. “
With English and French, I have more job opportunities than people who only speak one language, and I have a lot of choices when it’s time to decide on my next travel destination,” he said.
And there’s no need to extol the virtues of bilingualism in the workplace to this manager. Barakengera, who works in the National Capital Region, uses his comprehension and oral skills in both official languages on a daily basis. It’s important for him as a leader to be able to explain complex problems, make persuasive arguments, resolve conflicts, give advice and supervise his team, regardless of the language preference of the person he’s speaking to.
Being bilingual is also a big help when Barakengera needs to act quickly to resolve problems involving employees: “
It’s been my experience that in tense or conflict situations, people tend to ease off and let their guard down a little when I start talking to them in their preferred official language,” he explained. “
Reminds me of something former South African president Nelson Mandela once said: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.’”
Barakengera’s genuine regard for those around him comes as no surprise when you learn that “
building relationships and friendships inside and outside my organization” is one of the things he likes best about his job, along with coordinating his employees’ work to meet his organization’s corporate objectives and empowering his employees to give them every opportunity to meet their professional development goals.
In his eight years of working for the federal government, Barakengera has faced a number of professional challenges. Fortunately, he has many skills, including his fluency in both official languages. “
One time, I was responsible for reviewing a major infrastructure project for federal land use, design and land transaction approval purposes. The project involved many issues for the National Capital Region, and there was no precedent to guide me. There were also many stakeholders to meet, coordinate or discuss with, and the work was rather tedious,” he recounted. “
However, I was able to use my technical and personal skills—including my bilingualism—to resolve the vast majority of the issues and bring the project review to a successful conclusion with very good results.”
According to Barakengera, the social and professional benefits of speaking both of Canada’s official languages are well worth the effort, and he encourages others to learn their second official language: “
I learned my second official language mostly on my own, and it wasn’t an insurmountable challenge. Anyone who’s determined can do it.”
This border services officer at the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel, an international crossing that links Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, has proudly embraced her bilingualism since childhood.
Even before she was old enough to start working, LeeAnn Haché saw the benefits of being bilingual. “
When I was little, I saw how being able to speak both English and French was an advantage for my dad in his job in the mining industry,” she explained. “
I wanted to have that same advantage.”
This attitude helped her from the get-go. When she was looking for a summer job as a teenager, being bilingual not only made her stand out, but also helped her do her work more effectively. “
I liked being able to serve customers in the language of their choice and not having to find someone else to serve them,” she recounted.
How did Haché learn her second language? The 19-year veteran of the Canada Border Services Agency says she owes a great deal to her Québécois father and her British-born mother: “
I lived in Abitibi, a predominantly French-speaking region of Quebec, so my parents sent me to an English school so that I could communicate well in both of Canada’s official languages.”
It’s no secret that being bilingual has its share of advantages, and Haché has some first-hand experience. When she was 17 years old working at a car rental agency, her employer announced that one employee would have a chance to go to northern Quebec and work in Baie-James for two weeks. The catch? The lucky employee had to be bilingual in order to be able serve the town’s clientele. “
So I was given the opportunity to work there, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been able to speak both languages,” she said. Obviously, her ability to communicate effectively in English and French also helped her land her current position as a border services officer. Greeting tourists visiting Canada, especially the ones who’ve never been here before, is one of her favourite parts of the job, not to mention her duty to ensure the safety and well-being of Canadians.
Although she’s never questioned the importance of being bilingual, today Haché could not be prouder of her fluency in both official languages. Her bilingualism ensures that she can provide service to members of the public in the official language of their choice and make them feel welcome when they arrive at the Canadian border. It also helps her to deal with refugees and make them feel comfortable throughout the process of their immigration case in which she is involved.
Official languages are a big part of Haché’s personal life, too. “
I’m proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian,” she said, “
and I think it’s not just important but also necessary to be able to communicate in English and in French.” And so she has passed these values on to her 14-year-old son in the hope that he too will one day be able to benefit from bilingualism’s many advantages.
Second language teachers
She’s been a teacher for nearly 30 years and has spent more than half of those years teaching English as a second language, both in Canada and abroad. Empathetic and a great listener, she’s currently on staff at John Cabot Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario.
Why did Rhonda Fox become a teacher? Because she was passionate about languages. This passion led to a Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics and a Bachelor of Education degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and then to the start of a career as a high school English literature teacher.
Something was missing, however. “
Though I loved exploring literature with my students, I was always drawn to the mechanics of language and talking with students about both the nuances of English and the power of words,” said Fox. “
This passion was the catalyst for earning an ESL Specialist qualification from York University, a decision that changed the direction of my career and my life.”
Fox chose to dedicate herself to a profession that she deeply appreciates and that helps her grow every day: “
Being an English language teacher means that I welcome the world to my classroom daily, which is quite an honour.” In addition to learning from her students, she also gets to witness the unique exchanges of knowledge between them, “
as most of them have never lived in a place as culturally diverse as Mississauga. They are proud ambassadors of their birth countries.”
According to the educator, being a second language teacher means always being humbled and always being reminded of how lucky we are to live in a country like Canada. “
The paths that led many of my students to leave their homes and move to Ontario have been fraught with unimaginable challenges. Because of this, magic happens in an ESL classroom when students become each other’s support systems, as they are bonded by the tragedies and triumphs that eventually brought them to Canada. The ESL class is a safe space where they can take those daunting first steps into the English language and Canadian culture in the company of empathetic classmates.”
Interacting with these young people often results in memorable encounters.
I teach many students who once lived in conflict zones. Though I never ask them about their past experiences, I make them aware of the supports our school and community offer for them and their families, and let them know that I’m here for them when they need me,” said Fox. “
Last year, though, inspired by something we read in class, a student put pen to paper and for the first time shared her traumatic wartime experiences—not as an assignment but on her own initiative as part of her personal journey and healing process. More than 10 pages later, she brought me her composition, telling me that she may now be ready to begin telling her story. Her request was for me to help her edit it so that if she was ever ready to share it with others, her experiences would be clearly understood. By having the great honour of being trusted with this young girl’s story, I was granted a glimpse into the lives of many of the students who sit in front of me every day, something that has informed my teaching practice ever since.”
In an effort to meet the needs of her students, the Mississauga teacher has made it her mission to learn as much as possible about their realities by travelling the world. “
Teaching English in Mexico and China, for example, helped me better understand the challenges of navigating a country and culture when you don’t speak the language.” And her dedication doesn’t stop there. In order to gain a global perspective on education, Fox also took part in Project Overseas, an international program run by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation in conjunction with provincial teachers’ unions. This project was an invaluable professional development opportunity for her: “
In the past decade, I’ve been sent to Mongolia, Grenada, Dominica and Uganda to work in partnership with their national teachers’ unions to offer professional development to educators. . . . When you’re an ESL instructor, travel is an investment that makes you a better teacher and global citizen.”
Fox could not be prouder of how far her students have come, especially considering the challenges that some of them, who “
haven’t had the opportunity to develop the literacy and numeracy skills needed to aid in academic success,” have had to overcome. Of course, support and empathy from their teachers and the wider school community are also key factors in their success.
Her philosophy is simple: “
I always remind my students of how lucky they are that they all speak at least two languages because, for young Canadians, bilingualism means opportunity. More options will be available to them, both in Canada and internationally, because they took the time to learn another language. I also remind them that it pays to be bilingual—literally!”
Leah Marie Fornwald
A former student at Weyburn Comprehensive School in Saskatchewan, she’s come full circle and is now back in class at the same high school—but now in the essential role of French second language teacher.
Like many other teenagers, Leah Marie Fornwald wasn’t too enthusiastic about taking French classes in high school, so she simply chose not to, thinking that they’d never help her anyway. Ironically enough, she would become a French second language teacher a few years later. Fornwald fell in love with the profession because of her insatiable thirst for learning. “
Teaching is a lifelong learning experience,” she explained, “
and language teaching is a challenge that’s close to my heart. The world is a fascinating place, and languages help us to discover this world together.”
She got off to a bit of a rocky start, however, leaving teaching behind after two years to work as a border services officer. Fornwald returned to the classroom in 1998, “
with a greater appreciation for the teachers as teammates, for the students and for the happy chaos of school life.”
The Saskatchewan educator hasn’t looked back since. She enjoys every moment, no matter how ordinary, like waiting for her students at the classroom door when the bell rings. “
I see them and I think about how lucky I am to be able to learn along with these interesting and inquisitive people.”
Fornwald strives to give her students every means to succeed, including music, movies and stories. She glows with pride every time she sees a “
light bulb moment,” as she calls it, when one of her students makes a new discovery or changes the way they look at the world. Beyond the subject matter, she also teaches them strategies, including reading strategies that will help them to succeed throughout their studies, whether in history, English, French or math. Sometimes, however, despite the best intentions, the realities of her profession catch up with her. “
What’s challenging is that there are so many needs, and the days go by so quickly,” she said. “
We want to do everything for everyone, but it’s just not possible.”
Fornwald is determined to overcome these challenges and change the minds of young people who may doubt the importance of learning a second language, like she herself used to do. According to the educator, “
language learning is a way to build bridges so that we can share our experiences, our stories and our interests. As we share, we learn that, as Maya Angelou said in her poem Human Family, ‘we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.’ To me, that’s the key to life.”
With 13 years of experience in teaching English and French as second languages in Canada and abroad, he has an impressive track record.
In 2003, Stephen Hare went abroad to teach English to our French cousins in Paris. His hope was to pass on to his students his vision that bilingualism “
opens us up to the world around us.”
During his time there, however, Hare became increasingly aware of his love for the language of Molière. “
My French friends were very welcoming, and my pupils and students were so motivated to learn English,” he explained. “
So, I told myself that teaching French as a second language in Canada would make me feel the same way in my own country, and it did!”
For the past 12 years, Hare has been teaching French as a second language at Madeline Symonds Middle School in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. His profession inspires him every day, and he believes that “
teaching is a social act that requires a great deal of mindfulness.” Indeed, teachers never stop thinking about new ways to encourage and motivate their students to learn. Hare says he always starts his work day thinking about the 1993 movie Groundhog Day: “
Every day, you have the opportunity to improve on a few things from the day before, and that keeps me motivated.”
The middle school teacher also says that it’s the small, simple gestures of gratitude that warm his heart. “
This summer, I received an e-mail from a former student,” he recounted. “
She found that every time she thinks she can’t succeed, she tells herself that Mr. Hare believes in her . . . and that makes the difference.”
But Hare also admits having experienced a few setbacks in his career, like the first time he had to apologize to a student for being short with her. Addressing delicate situations like these “
can’t be learned in teacher training, but it’s a much-needed skill.” Seeing that the young student was very upset, Hare knew he was in the wrong, even though he had only wanted to push the student to make an effort that matched her abilities. “
After a sleepless night reflecting on what I did, I apologized sincerely. I’ll never forget how she replied with, ‘I respect that, Mr. Hare.’”
There’s nothing young people value more than authenticity,” he added. “
They know intuitively that everyone makes mistakes, and admitting to them makes us human in their eyes.”
If anyone has walked a mile in the shoes of French immersion students, she has. This elementary school teacher at École Campbelltown in Edmonton, Alberta, was in French immersion from kindergarten all the way through university.
Nicole Tryon was introduced to bilingualism at a very young age through her French immersion program and her parents’ positive attitude. She quickly grew to understand the intrinsic value that speaking a second language brings to our culture and identity. “
I wanted to be able to share that in my practice,” she said.
But Tryon didn’t choose her profession—her profession chose her. After years of being involved with army cadets and working with children and youth in YMCA summer camps, her path to the world of teaching was a natural one. She jumped into this adventure with both feet and is now starting her second year as a French second language teacher. “
I enjoy the unpredictability of students and how every day is different,” she explained. “
Not only do I get to watch them fall in love with the French language, but I also get to be a part of their journey into French.”
Tryon counts herself lucky that she can rely on conditions that are conducive to promoting French in an English-speaking environment, which not everyone can say. “
I am blessed to be working in an environment where everyone values, creates, nurtures and promotes bilingualism in all students,” she said.
As her parents once trusted second language teachers to help her become bilingual, now it’s her turn to support her students in learning a new language. Tryon takes pleasure in watching them progress during the sharing circles she organizes in her classroom every week. “
I had a student who would either participate only in English or blurt out ‘video games!’ when asked what they did the previous evening or weekend,” she recounted. “
A month and a half into this routine, with corrections and French word suggestions, the student smiled at me, then the class, and said, “
J’ai joué les jeux vidéo!” The entire class started clapping, and not only did that student smile for the rest of the day, they continued to use and improve their sentence until the end of the year.”
The Edmonton teacher also tries to give her students opportunities to showcase themselves through show-and-tell activities. For example, she once asked her students to present an object they had brought back from a family trip or an adventure outside Alberta. “
One student decided to create a video using music, photos and text they had written that floated across the screen. Not only was the text in French, but the student had narrated the video after looking up various French words beyond their immediate vocabulary. It truly made me so happy watching this student be passionate about sharing their journey with the class in French!” enthused Tryon.
Asked why bilingualism is so important, Tryon responded: “
As a Canadian, I believe that, beyond understanding and recognition, it’s specifically being appreciative and recognizing the value not only of our two official languages, but also of other languages and cultures, which is what I try to inspire in my students.”.
He’s no stranger to official languages. During the school year, he teaches French as a second language at Souris Regional School in Prince Edward Island, and in the summer, he teaches English as a second language at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown.
Stephen Ferguson is an experienced teacher who began his career in Chicoutimi, Quebec, in 1986 while learning the basics of French himself. Passionate about teaching English as a second language, he enrolled in the Teaching English as a Second Language program at Concordia University.
For Ferguson, teaching is not just about the language: “
What I liked most about ESL teaching was that I was teaching not only the mechanics of the language, but also subjects such as science, literature and social studies in the language.” And so he continued teaching English in Quebec for 10 years, while pursuing graduate studies in comparative Canadian literature in French.
Living in French and teaching in English in Quebec provided him with a unique perspective that enabled him to make the jump to teaching French and to teaching in French in English Canada. “
Living in one official language and teaching the other seemed like a natural fit, so when I moved to English Canada, I began to teach French classes as well as classes in French,” he explained.
What Ferguson enjoys most about his work is the spirit of cooperation. “
I have been fortunate to belong to very supportive communities of professional learning throughout my career,” he said. He went all the way to Yukon to study the neurolinguistic approach to second language teaching with renowned pedagogical consultant Pascal St-Laurent. Ferguson was able to put this new approach to the test when he worked with a great team at the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island, where his career continues to thrive at two local high schools.
The time he spent in Quebec teaching in French schools was filled with memorable moments. “
I was able to share my knowledge of the English language and English subjects while working in a French environment,” he said. “
For me, it was the perfect marriage of both worlds. As a professional, I felt valued for my knowledge and expertise, and as an individual, I felt complete by being able to participate as an equal in my adopted language and culture.”
However, one of his most unforgettable moments came when he was teaching in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, which is called Auyuittuq in Inuktitut, meaning “
place that never thaws.” There, late spring brings both hunting season and year-end exams. That year, a herd of Peary caribou had ventured near the village, which is a rare occurrence. The students planned to set off on a hunting adventure as soon as they finished their ESL exams. Earlier, Ferguson had read a magazine article about what had happened to a herd of Peary caribou in Resolute Bay, where over-enthusiastic locals had unfortunately hunted every last one of them. Since the Peary caribou is not a native species, no hunting quota has been established. Ferguson took the opportunity to incorporate the issue into the final exam by asking, “
Do you believe in the importance of passing on the tradition of caribou hunting to your children and grandchildren? If so, how do you plan to go about this if there are no caribou left?”
After the exam, the students went hunting. When they got back, one of them confided in the teacher. “
One of the Grade 12 students came to see me and said, ‘I thought about what was on the exam, and we didn’t kill all of the caribou.’ That student is now a conservation officer in Nunavut,” recounted Ferguson.
Eager for new adventures, Ferguson took himself off to South Korea for 12 years to teach English. When he got back to Yukon, he dedicated himself to teaching French French as a second language at the elementary school level, which came with its share of challenges. Teaching methods and students’ needs had changed dramatically. “
I quickly immersed myself in professional development with a focus on resource-based and project-based learning, along with learning how to best connect to students’ socio-emotive needs. It was not a quick transition, though.” Fortunately, armed with new social-emotional needs-based skills and support from his colleagues, he was soon able to establish and build relationships with his students.
Over the years, Ferguson has helped thousands of young Canadians learn a second language. But what does bilingualism mean for them? “
In my opinion, bilingualism allows young Canadians opportunities to open doors both outward to a larger Canadian and global community and inward where they can discover new passions and new aspects of their own identity through another language.” He believes that by going the extra mile to learn a second language, young people gain confidence. According to Ferguson, “
mastering another language and immersing ourselves in another culture helps us to see the world through a different lens, which, in turn, promotes tolerance and the acceptance of diversity.”
She’s a sought-after speaker with a passion for technology. She’s also an English second language teacher and a techno-pedagogical advisor at Jonquière CEGEP in Saguenay, Quebec, where she has been teaching since 1996. For the past six years, she has been participating in virtual exchanges with colleagues from other regions, countries and continents.
Where are you from?” Deguire often asks her students this question to make them aware of their own history and culture. The answer, paradoxically, is not so clear-cut for the teacher—an English-speaking Quebecer who is from . . . all over!
Deguire was born in Quebec into a linguistically mixed (English-French) family and considers herself in many ways to be a product of Canada’s official languages policy. The daughter of a military family, she “
grew up in a home that valued and practiced not only both official languages, but also the language and culture of the places we were posted to.” She was educated in English on armed forces bases across Canada and abroad, and she learned German at a young age, as well. “
In recent virtual exchanges with students and teachers overseas,” she added, “
I’ve been trying to better my knowledge of Spanish and Hebrew, and I’m still learning and improving my French. In some way I wished to return the favour, give back what I was receiving.”
After years spent living abroad and being educated in English, Lisa Deguire felt that she hadn’t become fluent enough in her second official language to be able to work in it, so she decided to use her English skills, her true strength, to help others learn a second language. “
I was proud of my bilingual heritage and wanted to share it.”
In her view, language learning and teaching are inclusive—they help people understand one another better. However, language teaching is also a science, an art and a skill. “
It’s a science in that educators need to stay abreast of cognitive research and best practices to better support students in their learning process. It’s an art in that we communicate our passions and our history through words, painting pictures and creating connections. It’s a skill in that we must be able not only to adapt to the needs of our students, but also to vary our teaching strategies,” she explained.
What Lisa Deguire enjoys most about her job is learning from her students, even if that may seem a bit cliché. She sees language teaching as being multidimensional: “
Our profession is a complex array of interactions, communication, words, ideas, cultures, rules and—more importantly—people.” Passionate about “
the design, development and efficient integration of technology in teaching and learning,” Lisa Deguire started teaching just as the Internet was starting to be introduced into classrooms. Today, she says, technology influences not only “
how we teach, but more and more what we teach our students.”
Deguire recently received an Honourable Mention award from the Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale for her contributions to teaching. She said it was one of the most rewarding and challenging things she has experienced. “
On the one hand, I’m grateful for the recognition of my efforts, but on the other, I can think of so many colleagues who deserve this as much, if not more!” She said she felt that she was representing “
everyone in our English department in accepting the honour, since none of us can succeed without inspiring colleagues. None of us does the job alone; we build on each other’s experience and creativity.”
However, despite the awards and distinctions, Deguire still considers teaching English as a second language in Quebec to be a challenge. She believes that, in a predominantly French-speaking province, teachers of Canada’s majority official language must have a very clear idea of what their goals are: “
We may choose as educators to ignore partisan politics, but the truth is that we are implementing government policies and are therefore part of the system.”
As a language teacher and as a bilingual person, Deguire supports the right of every minority to protect and promote their language and culture. In recent years, this right has been extended to Indigenous languages, which she is pleased about.
When asked what bilingualism means for young Quebecers, Deguire said she prefers to focus on the positive aspects of the question: “
More than 50% of Quebec youth are bilingual. This shows how open young Quebecers are. In our global economy, they are very aware of the importance of respecting and recognizing all languages and cultures. They often know more about their second language than a native speaker. After all, language is the essence of any one person’s identity.”
She’s dedicated, enthusiastic and open minded, and she teaches French as a second language at Smithers Secondary School in the vibrant small town of Smithers, which lies in the heart of the Bulkley Valley in northern British Columbia.
Robichaud’s passion for her profession ignited during a trip to Europe at the end of high school. She was impressed by the ease with which Europeans speak several languages. “
My childhood home was unilingual, where English was the only language used,” she recounted. “
I realized that I wanted that European quality—to be able to move between different languages with fluidity.”
When she returned to Canada, Robichaud started looking at her options: “
I began to investigate all the incredible programs we have here to help someone learn one of our official languages.” She ended up choosing Université Laval in Québec City, where she completed a four-year bachelor’s degree to improve her French skills. “
My years in Quebec are some of my most cherished memories. Speaking French and being bilingual is a lifelong learning journey for me,” said Robichaud. In addition to confirming her desire to become a teacher, her time in Québec City helped her make an important observation. “
I think what I initially saw as a European quality is an important Canadian quality too: bilingualism.”
Robichaud has been teaching French as a second language for 20 years, now—two decades of showing young people that bilingualism is an opportunity for them “
to grow as individuals, to gain a greater understanding of their maternal language, and to become better learners of their second language.” Even more importantly, “
with bilingualism, there’s this constant engagement of comparing and contrasting the structure of language and expression of ideas,” she added. “
For example, how is this idea represented in English and how is it represented in French? It’s fun to explore.”
Even after all these years, this educator’s enthusiasm is still burning bright. “
I enjoy helping students see the possibilities that learning French can provide, and how speaking French goes beyond the classroom,” she explained. “
I help students realize that being bilingual can be a reality for them, too, no matter how old they are or which program they started French in: immersion or core.” And Robichaud’s class doesn’t focus too much on performance. For her, “
learning French . . . is about creating an experience that enables the student to develop and deepen their language and cultural awareness.”
This is exactly the idea behind a French cooking class that she developed, which she describes as a creative way to “
provide students with an individualized experience of learning one of our official languages and a format for creating a relationship with the language.”. Robichaud admitted, however, that it is difficult to encourage young people to continue their education in their second language. “
This has been a particular challenge, especially at the senior high school levels. And so, I’m trying to encourage students to think about something they love to do and then explore it in French. I love to cook and bake, so I improve and maintain my language skills by engaging in an activity I already enjoy doing.”
Putting it mildly, bilingualism is a big part of Robichaud’s life. “
One of my favorite quotes about bilingualism is from psycholinguist Frank Smith, who said, ‘One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.’”
Her 20 years of experience teaching English as a second language have allowed her to explore many aspects of her profession. She has been teaching at a French-language high school in Quebec’s Outaouais region for the past eight years, and her passion and versatility have not gone unnoticed.
When she started university, Guezen figured she would become an English teacher. However, her career took an unexpected turn when she landed a contract as a second-language teacher at a French school. Luckily, she has never been one to back down from a challenge. “
It was three days before the school year began, and I was thrown into the deep end. I loved it. Not to say it wasn’t difficult—it was—but also worth it,” she said. “
I’ve never looked back. I’ve stayed in the French system, every day trying to show my students how important and fun English can be.”
The versatile educator also grabs every professional development opportunity that comes her way, whether it’s connecting with high school students of all ages; teaching in other cities, like Saint-Jérôme, Lachute and Outremont, and even other countries, like Japan; or switching from a regular to an enriched program. Said Guezen, “
I’ve become, as many of us do, a jack-of-all-levels. One of the only aspects of this profession that I have yet to attempt—and would so like to—is to have a student teacher to work with.”.
Beyond the variability of her profession, Guezen takes advantage of being able to discuss things she is passionate about with young people who have their own opinions, and of having the creative freedom to design her own lesson plans. “
Each new year is a clean slate with limitless potential,” she explained, adding, “
I love the debating, the instruction, the sharing and building of trust. I enjoy the moments when the students finally believe they can do it; when they speak in complete sentences or recite a poem they wrote. I love that I can open doors for them by teaching them this language.”
When asked about the challenges she has faced during her career, Guezen admitted that “
the one that vexes me most is one that’s always present: the pushback to learning English.” She can’t abide “
the perspective that learning English isn’t necessary,” or even useful. “
I’ve fought against this my entire career.”
And that’s not all she has to deal with. The diversity of classrooms today is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing second-language teachers. “
I’ve had students who couldn’t understand a word that was coming out of my mouth sitting beside bilingual children ready for their next Tolkien novel. Trying to keep every one of these types of students engaged is a daily challenge. I remember years where I felt like I was teaching three different classes in one.”
Guezen believes that bilingualism is an essential part of Canada’s identity, however, hence her hard work. As she puts it, “
when you know another language, it means you don’t expect everyone to conform to you. You have the capacity to accommodate others. It balances ego and allows students to realize their place in Canada. In Europe, many students learn three languages, so in order to fit in with our global community, you have to at least learn a second language.”
Kristie St Croix
She’s been promoting bilingualism among young people for nearly 18 years. How? By teaching French as a second language. After a six-year stint in Calgary, Alberta, she’s now a teacher at Elizabeth Park Elementary School in Paradise, Newfoundland and Labrador.
St Croix’s love affair with bilingualism started early. When she was 12, she was in a late French immersion program where she not only learned a second language, but also—and, more importantly—met inspiring teachers: “teachers who left me wanting to learn more, discover and experience culture, beyond what a classroom could offer,” she explained.
After completing high school, St Croix still wanted more. Living in a variety of French-speaking communities during her post-secondary studies, including Montréal, was an eye-opening experience for her. “
I began to realize how important my Canadian identity was to me and what being Canadian meant,” said St Croix. “
I began to realize how much I identified as a citizen of this beautiful country, and being able to communicate in both of its official languages was very important to my journey.” This isn’t at all surprising since, as she says, “
bilingualism is a treasured gift of opportunity, one that offers many adventures and meaningful life experiences.”
St Croix said that as she gets older, bilingualism is playing an increasingly significant role in her life. It has opened many doors for her, both personally and professionally, from making new friends to better understanding those around her. For this passionate teacher, bilingualism is, even today, much more than the ability to communicate in two different languages. “
It’s about the path one takes to acquire that language and all of the things one learns along that path,” she explained. “
It’s about taking risks, living and experiencing different cultures, and gaining an understanding and appreciation that we are all different—and that is beautiful.”
The desire to pass these values on and to guide children on their academic path was a driving force behind St Croix’s decision to become a second language teacher—in the hope that one day, these children “
will connect with others and understand tolerance and embrace all differences among us, as global citizens.” Her experience quickly taught her that young people, regardless of age, are curious and eager to learn. This is why she tries to instill in them “
the confidence of knowing that they can learn and do new things as long as they’re willing to work hard and love what they’re doing!”
The Newfoundland and Labrador teacher is always ready to help her students, and one in particular had a profound impact on her. “
There was this one boy who had many challenges. He had difficulty making connections with others and also needed a lot of support in the classroom. He was a boy who was seeking friendship and acceptance and was looking for reassurance.” St Croix worked with him for many hours to develop his confidence and curiosity. As he began feeling supported by his peers, the young boy started to initiate his own learning projects, improve his grades and make meaningful friendships. “
I was moved by his determination to succeed and make progress. His hard work and positive attitude were inspirational to all of those around him. Even when things were very difficult for him, he was willing to try and never got discouraged.”
St Croix described one of the most important lessons from her career to date: “
I believe that a teacher always has the opportunity to learn and that sometimes the greatest opportunity to learn is from the students who surround us.”
She grew up in an academic environment and quickly fell in love with teaching. Currently on staff at Sainte-Lucie Elementary School in Val-d’Or, Quebec, she has been teaching English as a second language for nearly 30 years.
With teaching being a bit of a family business—her mother was a remedial teacher and her aunts were teachers—Jetté knew from the beginning that the profession could be an interesting option for her. Although she hesitated briefly between being a teacher and a translator, it was her “
need to interact with people” that finally tipped the balance.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education, Jetté started her career as a homeroom teacher. Two years later, she was offered a job teaching English as a second language (ESL) in an elementary school. Little did she know that she would end up being able to combine her twin passions for language and education. “
I accepted the job, figuring I would do it for a year or so. But then I caught the bug . . . big time. So I got my ESL teaching certificate, and the rest, as they say, is history!” explained the teacher who’s been working at the same school for over 20 years.
Jetté’s career has been studded with unforgettable moments, like her experience as a teacher in Quebec’s new ESL pilot program for grades one and two. “
For two years, our small team of teachers—there were just five of us across the province that first year—validated the program, with the support of the Ministry of Education.”
The Val-D’Or educator has a distinguished track record. In 2013, she won the SPEAQ award from the Société pour le perfectionnement de l’enseignement de l’anglais, langue seconde, au Québec. According to Jetté, “
receiving this honour from my peers was incredibly fulfilling and encouraging.” In 2016, her work garnered her the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers’ H.H. Stern Award, given annually to a second language teacher in recognition of their innovative teaching practices.
Being a second language teacher is not all fun and awards, though. “
It’s not easy being a specialist and having to work in several schools. You have to be very organized,” cautioned Jetté. However, “
You have to treat changes as challenges,” she advised. “
Yes, there are changes that are more demanding, like when reforms bring new programs, but being part of a strong team makes all the difference.” Jetté counts herself lucky to teach alongside colleagues who energize and motivate her, and to work with administrators who believe in what she’s doing.
This inspiring teacher loves the variety she finds in her profession and is very proud of what she does. “
Being able to watch a student grow and develop from Grade 1 to Grade 6 . . . that’s priceless,” Jetté enthused. “
Learning a language is a cultural thing for me. It helps us to understand and appreciate our own culture and to make us more open to others. It’s a little like adding extra windows to how we see the world.”