Bilingualism in Canada: a debate
// Colin Spensley & Julian Legere


Canada is supposedly a bilingual nation. However, the only officially bilingual province is New Brunswick, which prints all government forms in French and English. The farther west from the capital one travels in Canada, the less bilingual the provinces become. British Columbia's French standards have dropped far below the national level with a large portion of students choosing to opt out of French classes after the grade eight prerequisite has been filled. If Canada wants to promote itself as a bilingual nation, then why not set a federal standard for French education? If a regulated education model is not something that Canadians would want, then please, take the French off my cereal box.


Of all the complaints I’ve heard about government spending, education doesn’t seem to be something most people put in the category of “excessive”. The importance of education is something we can all get behind, and the benefits of bilingualism have been persuasively documented. 

According to studies conducted by Statistics Canada, students in French immersion programs consistently perform higher in reading assessments than their non-immersion peers in every province except Manitoba, where achievement is equal. Even taking into account factors that contribute to the likelihood of being in immersion, such as socio-economic background and education level of parents, French immersion is seen to provide an advantage for students.

In another study on the advantages of bilingualism, performed by the University of Calgary’s Language Research centre, concluded that learning a second language improves “language skills” in the first language (reading, writing, vocabulary, etc.) as well as “non-linguistic skills” such as “divergent thinking, metalinguistic skills, attitudes toward others, [and] mathematics scores and skills.” An investment in bilingual education is an investment is every aspect of education.

It is unfortunately true that most of Canada is not truly bilingual, which means Colin is absolutely right that there should be a federal standard for French education. So, what are we waiting for, Canada?


Studying any language other than your mother tongue would be beneficial to your linguistic skills in school. That being said, with only 35 per cent of francophones speaking English fluently and 7.4 per cent of non-Quebecers being fluent in either the Acadian or French Canadian dialects, the numbers seem to speak for themselves. One must not ask whether or not bilingualism is important in Canada, because the facts stated earlier would lead one to believe it is a great advantage to the youth learning that second language. No, we must examine the importance of French being that second language.

Canada’s Federal Government spends upwards of two billion of our tax dollars keeping government programs in both French and English, and, as stated before, a small minority of Canada’s citizens would find this of use. While French is the mother tongue of 21.7 per cent of Canadians, 11.4 per cent of our population uses other languages than English and French at home with their families. A strong push for the adoption of “multilingualism” has been seen in the Western side of Canada, with many people believing that Mandarin or Spanish would be much more beneficial to teach our children than French.

Perhaps what we need in Canada is regional bilingualism, or multilingualism. The opportunity to speak French this far west is limited, and additionally is not highly promoted by our provincial government.


One of the keystones of any culture is its language. In Canada, where we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism, it is clear that the many cultures that make up Canada exist largely in isolated communities. As reported in the 2006 census, over 100,000 people in the Vancouver CMA (Census Metropolitan Area) speak neither official language.

One excellent example of this isolation is that of the Chinese-Canadian community in Richmond. Kelly Ip, former director of the BC Coalition to Eliminate Abuse of Seniors and chair of the senior’s branch of Vancouver’s immigrant organization SUCCESS, is quoted in the magazine Canadian Immigrant saying, “In the old days, if you came here, you had to pick up the language. Now if you live in Richmond, you can talk to your lawyer, doctor, or shopkeeper all in Chinese. Some people joke that they speak more English in Hong Kong than here.”

The lack of bilingualism in Canada encourages this type of isolation on a grand scale between francophone and anglophone communities. The Quebec separatist movement has cited their desire to remain a distinct culture as a major factor in their political aims. So, on the one side, we have this faction of the francophone community who are determined to maintain that isolation and strive to create a unilingual francophone nation within Canada. On the other side, we have the Canadian anglophone majority fuelling that determination by largely refusing to learn the French language in order to attempt to bridge the enormous canyon between these two cultures.

If Canadians could understand that bilingualism would help narrow the gap between the francophone and anglophone communities, perhaps they would also be able to do the same with other communities, such as the Chinese in Richmond. We need to create a new national unity where cultures can coexist without having to be isolated to the point of separation referendums which are defeated by less than a single percentage of the popular vote.

//Colin Spensley & Julian Legere, writers
//Graphics by Shannon Elliot

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