Language duality in Canada: the power of French immersion
A text from Jill LeBlanc, French Immersion Language Arts Leader, Grades 7-12 for the Prince Edward Island Department of Education
When we speak about linguistic duality in Canada, we acknowledge its value as “a cornerstone
of our national identity” (OCOL). It represents both a great source of pride and a significant
growth opportunity for each of us. Although French is one of our official languages, most
Canadians outside Quebec live in areas where French is a minority language. Consequently, it is
our responsibility to protect the rights of Francophones and Francophiles. If we take the
present state of Canada’s two official languages seriously, we need to protect and expand
access to programs in French. Becoming involved in this cause is an investment on which the
return is exponential – not only to enrich our everyday lives, but also to ensure that future
generations can live in strong Francophone communities, obtain services in the language of
their choice, and enjoy rich and authentic cultural experiences.
My reality is unique, but my history as a Francophone is not. It is my duty to invest myself in this cause for the good of future generations, just as the generations before us have done. Let me share my story with you.
It begins in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, where I grew up in an Anglophone family.
We lived in the capital region, which was also the biggest city on the island, but my parents
originally came from rural areas where the choice of classes was more limited, so they hadn’t
had the same opportunity to learn French. When I finished grade 6, I had my parents’ support
to choose a late immersion program, despite the fact that there was no bus to that school.
Luckily for my parents and I, the demand was so strong that a late immersion program opened
in my neighbourhood school. With that, I embarked on a French-language learning adventure,
and I have never looked back.
Over the course of my studies in immersion, I had the opportunity to have cultural
experiences that laid the groundwork for an intense love of Francophone culture. There was
such a variety; French and Québécois cooking workshops, French theatre and music
performances, travel to French-speaking regions, and simple everyday activities where I’d learn
an idiomatic expression or news about significant, real events in Francophone communities
around the world. Every day, these experiences nurtured my love for French language and
culture. French immersion is an essential tool for Canada’s linguistic duality. The foundation of
my knowledge of French exists thanks to immersion, because my entire exposure to French
during my first six years of learning was limited exclusively to the program.
There is often a popular belief that late immersion students don’t have enough time to become bilingual. I am living proof that this is not the case, and I’m proud of it. The seeds were effectively sown
throughout my French immersion journey, and when I graduated, I was able to communicate in
French independently. The desire to learn and develop my language skills was also so well
nurtured that I made the choice to continue my language training after high school.
Image: Green Chameleon on Unsplash
I began a bachelor of music program in my first year of university, but I quickly realized that I
didn’t want to continue on that path, even though music held (and still holds!) an important
place in my life. One of my electives was a French course and I enjoyed the experience of
practicing my French every day. At that point, I decided to change my major and starting next
term, I found myself full-time in the department of languages. My French major required an
internship in a Francophone environment, which I had the pleasure of completing in Quebec
City, thanks to a Government of Canada bursary to study in French.
My studies in French as a second language opened a lot of doors for me, but over the course of
my adventure, I had to face linguistic insecurity. I began to understand why minority language
speakers often feel the need to defend their languages.
I was hired for several jobs where I had the opportunity to speak French, and I’m certain that my being bilingual helped make these opportunities possible. That said, when working with the public, it’s not always easy for an Anglophone who attempts to speak French. People often answered me in English when I made the effort to communicate in French with my Anglophone accent and imperfect grammar. In spite of everything, I continued in French, but I admit that sometimes I felt discouraged. Today,
fifteen years later, I live completely in French. I am married to a Francophone and we speak
almost exclusively French at home with our three children. The language we use at work is
I can definitely say that we are a family that lives in French by choice. Unfortunately,
linguistic insecurity doesn’t end because we choose to live our daily lives in French.
The shortage of Francophone workers in a minority environment is felt in a number of areas,
not only in education, but also when it comes to finding a healthcare professional, financial
advisor, lawyer, etc. Unfortunately, people who are bilingual often settle for using these
services in English to leave room for others. However, we must remember that there will never
be additional funds or services if the demand is not there. So we have to be bold and ask!
My personal and professional path is not unlike that of many people working in the field of
French immersion in Canada, but I share my story with pride. I am an example of the
importance of offering varied programs in French in Canada, aimed at supporting the
development of linguistic duality by means of our minority language.
I am bilingual, and proud of it. Bilingual because I live in French and English, because I enjoy
taking part in recreational activities in both languages, and because my heritage includes unforgettable experiences and important relationships in both English and French. My adopted
Francophonie provides me each day with a wide variety of experiences and the ability to
express myself with precision and with all the nuances implicit in both of my languages. The
diversity and variety that I encounter in all aspects of my life are doubly rich because of my
linguistic duality and my hybrid culture. My Francophonie is not simply woven into the fabric of
my life: it is a vital strand of every thread, without which I would not be the person I am today.
Jill LeBlanc is the French Immersion Language Arts Leader,
Grades 7-12 for the Prince Edward Island Department of
Education. Having learned French in a late immersion program,
she developed a bilingual identity which characterizes her in
many ways. A mother of three, she conveys her passion for
French language and culture to everyone she meets, proud of
the linguistic duality that defines her journey. Jill is a former
member of the administrative council of the Association
canadienne des professionnels de l’immersion (ACPI) and
remains active in the ACPI through her participation on the
editorial committee of the Journal de l’immersion.