Saturday, October 6, 2012

Justin,its thanks to your Dad that I speak French

In my lifetime Canada has had Liberal and Conservative governments.  But really, how much difference does it really make in an individual's life whether its a Tory or a Grit occupying the Prime Minister's office?  We still go to work and school, still pay our taxes and live our lives in relative peace and security no matter who's living at 24 Sussex Drive.

I can't help but thinking, though, that it is thanks to governments led by Pierre Trudeau that I am capable of  speaking and understanding the French language.  Prime Minister Trudeau made official bilingualism the law of the land back in 1968, at which time I was only 2 years old and living in New York.

Needless to say I wasn't aware at that early stage of my development what an impact it would have on my life.

Fast forward to 1978.  My father had moved our family back to Canada permanently and I, although born in Ontario, had gone through most of my schooling in the United States, with zero instruction in the French language.

I was going into grade seven and for the first time French was a required class.  Ugh, I don't know how well I did, but I'm pretty sure I failed, if not I scraped by with a bare pass.  The same thing happened in grade eight, either failing or barely passing.

Thankfully I was heading to grade nine, and in my era Ontario didn't not require students to take French in high school.  Thank God!!!   I filled out my electives, leaving French off the list and handed it to my father to sign.  One problem, French wasn't on it and he refused to endorse my selections. 

I had to take French.  Canada is a bilingual country, I was told, with two official languages and my father wanted me to have at least one French credit in high school.

Ugh.  I was only fourteen, so what could I do.  I changed the form and was back learning French again in September, and doing miserably.  However in February my teacher left to go on maternity leave, and was replaced by a new teacher only just graduated from teachers college a year or two before.  

I realize this might come across as somewhat sexist, but she was gorgeous with a propensity for wearing skirts which showed off the legs of a tennis player.  I wasn't in love, but I was definitely infatuated, and my French mark rose accordingly, settling at 68% by the end of the year if memory serves.

I found out I liked learning French, and continued with it throughout high school, having some excellent teachers along the way.

After grade twelve I applied for and received a bursary to attend a 6 week French Immersion program offered through the federal government, (merci Pierre) and spent a good chunk of that summer in a French community improving my French to the point where holding down conversations was possible.

Obviously it took more than that to improve my French.  I had gotten it to a level strong enough that a few years later I was able to get a job in customer service and sales using French on a daily basis.

And now I'm living in Québec City, and while my language skills still aren't perfect, I have zero difficulty in navigating my way through any conversation.

Would I have learned la langue française if Canada hadn't made bilingualism an official policy?  Might I still have picked up enough without the aid of a government sponsored program?  I highly doubt it.

Pierre Trudeau was in many ways a polarizing figure, some loved him and some loathed him.  I don't think he did everything right or everything wrong.  But I do think he wanted to create a more unified country, and programs that helped bridge the language divide were very beneficial in that regard.

Government can have a major impact on the direction in which it moves a society.  Many cynics think it doesn't matter, that they're all a bunch of crooks who will lie and flip flop, doing anything they can to win power.  Maybe so, but politics does matter because it sets out a direction and strong leaders can inspire people to make Canada a better country.

Je sais bien qu'il y avait des benifices surement dans ma vie, et je suis égalment certain, dans les vies d'autres aussi.  

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