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$2.4 billion per year on bilingualism


There has been a bit of an uproar in the media with the release of numbers showing just how much keeping up our two official languages costs taxpayers. Let's face it, any time we see an astronomical amount of "our" money spent on something that doesn't seem like it should cost so much, it sends us into a frenzy.

I have lots of questions: Where does all that money go? Is it working? Are Canadians better off and functionally bilingual thanks to this investment?

I remember when my husband first came to visit me in my homeland of BC. He was legitimately shocked that not one person in my family or in my entourage could speak French. He so naively thought that we were, in fact, a bilingual nation. I suppose the idea of a bilingual country implies that the vast majority of its citizens can get by in both languages. We all know that this is not the case. I remember traveling in Britain once, and someone saying to me, "Oh, you're from Canada, you must know how to say this in French." I told him that by chance, I did, happen to speak French, but that being Canadian did not immediately imply fluency in French and English.

Having taught French in high schools in BC, the motivation for learning our other official language is somewhat lacking. If our goal is to prepare our students for their future careers, how many of them will need French? Many parents choose Spanish or Mandarin, and I see their point.

Here are a few articles with varying perspectives on the recent Fraser Institute study that sparked this controversy:

From the West Coast, a rare advocate for French:
http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Investing+bilingualism+makes+better+Canada/6018599/story.html(external link)

Ontario is responsible for 70% of the provincial funding for bilingualism:
http://www.torontosun.com/2012/01/19/what-price-for-bilingualism(external link)

Just the facts, ma'am:
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/16/bilingualism-canada-cost-french_n_1209205.html(external link)



I have a few thoughts...
To what extent the "idea of a bilingual country" implies that the vast majority of its citizens have to get by in both languages? I think of the case of Swiss living in a country with four official languages. Such a small country and not everybody speaks the other official languages that are spoken a couple hundred kilometres away!
When I worked as a French tutor at a French Immersion School in Calgary, I learned that 1/4 of Albertans could speak French. But everyone I met outside the school environment were more interested in learning Spanish, and/or sending their kids to Spanish-speaking or Mandarin-speaking daycares, as you say. Even if learning a foreign language is only good for traveling, a West Canadian feels closer (and flights are somehow cheaper!) to Cancun and Hong-Kong than they do to Quebec City and Gaspésie.



From what I understand, that money is used to support services in the minority language of each province, not to make everyone bilingual (which should be part of the education budget... which is much more than $2.4 billion a year, I'm sure)

For this reason, yes, I do think that Canadians (at least some) are better off, able to live part of their life in the language of their choice.

The one mystery is Ontario. Is the French population in Ontario so spread out and so large that it would cost so much more than everywhere else? I'm not sure, but I hate that French/Québec haters (see the Toronto Sun article's comments) are having such a field day about it. The Vancouver Sun's article is right, not knowing the other language divides us (granted I feel divided because I am bilingual and can read the hateful comments!)


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