French is taught, English is caught

Woman and child in colourful make up

Photo: Sylvain Marier, Festival franco-ontarien


Joanne Gervais

Intangible heritage

Published Date: Sep 08, 2017

This article has been translated from French to English.

Language and culture are closely intertwined. “Our culture” means our traditions, our customs, our art and our heritage. Without the language, it loses all meaning. In Canada, French is one of two official languages; in this context, the language is separate from its culture, or even, one might say, from its cultures. Over the past 40 years or so, French has become a commonly spoken language for some, a language of learning for many and a language of work for others, but it is tied to a number of cultures, including the French-Canadian, Belgian, Congolese and Vietnamese cultures, and more. To make sure our culture is handed down to future generations, learning needs to happen at home and in the community, in French. At school, the priority must be to teach and improve the language for these young people who come from all over the world and are growing up with different cultures at home.

Culture without language has no meaning, and it is the same for language without culture.

In my home, growing up, we always spoke French. When I started school, I spoke only French. My parents passed their values, their language and French-Canadian culture on to me. We were proud to be Franco-Ontarian, and we still are. I choose to live in French, as best I can, but this is a personal commitment that takes a real effort.

The Canadian Constitution and numerous laws protect the status of French in Canada. Yet, despite these guarantees, French is still in danger. Assimilation has always been a serious issue. I believe the reason the assimilation rate keeps rising is that we are too focused on learning the language and, too often, we let culture fall by the wayside. Culture without language has no meaning, and it is the same for language without culture. To counteract this assimilation, francophone parents must pass the language and the culture on to their children, at home and in the community, more than they do now. Also, French must have more of a presence in public places, whether it be more bilingual posters or more francophones and francophiles speaking French to one another; French must be seen and heard more than it is today. Finally, there must be more francophone immigrants among the total number of newcomers to the country.

As the saying goes: Le français, ça s’apprend, mais l’anglais, ça s’attrape. (French is taught, English is caught.)