Infographic: Understanding Linguistic Insecurity
Text version: Understanding Linguistic Insecurity
We need to build more linguistic security in Canadian society. That means building more acceptance and acknowledgement of the diverse varieties of English and French in Canada and of people’s efforts to learn our official languages, both within the public service and in wider society.
Who is Affected by Linguistic Insecurity? Everyone!
Linguistic insecurity in English or French is the idea that people aren’t comfortable using these languages in situations where they should be able to, whether it’s using their first official language or their second official language.
Linguistic Insecurity in the Public Service of Canada
Public servants have a lot to say…
Our survey of linguistic insecurity in bilingual language of work regions within the public service got a lot of attention: nearly 11,000 employees who work in these areas responded, and over 4,000 employees outside these areas also wanted to share their views. *
* Survey conducted in March 2019; non-probability sample
National Capital Region and New Brunswick: Areas that are bilingual for language of work purposes and employees may serve the public in both official languages.
Ontario and Quebec: Areas that include some localities that are bilingual for language of work purposes and where employees may serve the public in both official languages.
Other provinces and territories: Areas that are not bilingual for language of work purposes but employees may serve the public in both official languages.
French language insecurity was the most significant challenge overall for both Francophones and Anglophones, especially for speaking French, but also for writing and when asking to be supervised in French.
- Experienced unease in French: 44% of Francophones; 39% of Anglophones.
- Experienced unease in English: 15% of Anglophones (32% in QC, outside the National Capital Region); 11% of Francophones (18% in QC, outside the National Capital Region).
- Many Anglophones and Francophones wanted more opportunities to use French at work. Some wanted more opportunities to use English at work in areas where French is the majority language.
- Public servants who felt uncomfortable using their first official language were often concerned about inconveniencing others.
- Public servants who felt uncomfortable using their second official language were often concerned about being judged.
- Both Anglophones and Francophones reported a stronger ability to understand their second official language compared with their ability to speak or write it.
Reasons Why Public Servants Don’t Always Feel Comfortable Using English or French at Work
- “My supervisor/colleagues aren’t comfortable enough in my preferred official language.”
- “People will judge my accent and grammar.”
- “There is no budget for training and my workload is too heavy to maintain my second language.”
- “When I try practising my second official language, my colleagues just switch to my first official language.”
- “If I use my first official language, people will think I’m a troublemaker.”
- “The language isn’t often used where I work.”
- “I’m out of practice.”
Linguistic Insecurity: A Vicious Cycle
The unequal use of English and French in the workplace can cause employees to lose confidence in the lesser-used language and thus to lose their skills. Employees lose, and the public service as a whole loses.
A vicious cycle: linguistic Insecurity, loss of confidence in using official languages, loss of official languages skills, workplace culture where official languages are not used equally
Building Linguistic Security: A Virtuous Circle
By encouraging the equal use of both official languages, the public service can build a linguistically inclusive workplace, where employees feel free to use their first and second official languages and can build and maintain their skills. It’s a win/win situation!
A virtuous cycle: linguistic security, increased confidence in using official languages, building and maintaining official languages skills, workplace culture that encourages the equal use of both official languages
What Does It Take To Build Linguistic Security?
- Respect for employees’ language-of-work rights and for employees’ efforts to use their second official language
- Awareness of employees’ abilities to understand their second official language and their desire to use their skills in their first and second official language
- Encouragement of employees’ willingness to take linguistic risks whether by actively practising in their second official language or using their first official language
- A Modernized Official Languages Act that will ensure respect for employees’ language rights in the changing 21st-century workplace, including virtual teams and employees who telework