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Official bilingualism

When I was around 8 or 9 years old my mother put me into a French school in Toronto. Her logic was simple: “This is Canada. You should know how to speak both official languages. It will create opportunities for you in the future.”

But I hated it. I couldn’t speak a word of French at the time and so I would come home from school complaining that I couldn’t understand anything the teacher was saying. How was I supposed to learn anything? 

I begged her to put me back into an English school.

To her credit, my mother remained absolutely steadfast. She would say to me: “Trust me. You’re going to thank me for this later.”

Not surprisingly, I learned French. I was put into a special “intro” stream and so when my classmates were off learning a third language (German), I was given introductory classes designed to bring me up to their French level.

I still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I could finally carry on an actual conversation in French.

Sadly, at this point in my life, my French is fairly rusty. I really should work on that. But it’s decent enough that people in Montréal – which is where I am right now – will say to me: “You’re from Toronto. How is it that you speak French?” 

In fact, somebody said to me last night that in Montréal they typically encounter more French speakers from the U.S. than they do from Ontario. That surprised me. As a country, about 10 million Canadians report being able to speak French (2011 number).

Every time I visit Montréal, I marvel at the display of bilingualism that seems omnipresent in this city. And, if you grew up in an immigrant household, you may also speak a third language – the one your parents spoke to you in. I think that’s wonderful.

So with that: thanks mom.

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