The Official Languages Act, passed in 1969, gave equal status to French and English when dealing with the federal government. The legislation has, over the years, propelled many parents to send their children to be educated in French immersion. Such classes were seen as good for social standing and useful for the student’s future.
Others, like me, worked hard on their own to learn French. There was a point in time when I could understand political speeches in French, and my vocabulary remains extensive, but I would never have called myself bilingual. One-on-one was OK, but conversation with a group was always difficult.
Few other Canadians are bilingual, either. After all the effort expended, nationally and in neighbourhoods, only 17.5 percent of Canadians are bilingual. In 1981, the number was 15.3 percent, so progress has been minimal.
A recent full-page newspaper ad showed fifty-eight graduates from Toronto French School and a list of the seventy-five universities around the world from which they received offers. The graduates, all of whom are fluent in English and French, don’t seem to want to continue learning in French. Among all the schools listed, there are only two – University of Ottawa and HEC Montreal – where they are likely to be taught in French. Was studying in French so awful that so few want to do it? Was the Official Languages Act a waste of time and effort? Quel dommage!