Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bilingual? No Problemo

I'm writing this aboard a cruise ship en route from Nova Scotia, Canada to Boston, Massachusetts. Having spent the last two days in the land of our northern neighbors (even spending our Independence Day in a foreign land), I can't help thinking about something I too-often noticed.

Canada is a bilingual nation. Both English and French are considered official national languages, and all street signs (among other things) are required to be printed in both English and French. Considering the on-going debate in the United States, I was curious to see how such a system worked. I was impressed.

In Nova Scotia I was informed by a tour guide that only about 2 percent of that province actually spoke French, but the signs were required nevertheless. Even she, an ambassador of sorts, didn't speak French--but it didn't bother her much. Canadians don't seem to worry about language, and unlike Americans, don't link nationalism to the spoken word. English, French, it doesn't matter. A Canadian is a Canadian, and if they can accommodate their own, they will.

Restaurants handed me menus printed in two languages. Museums advertised in the same manner. Language matters little to these individuals. Americans should take the first step in doing the same.

Those who speak Spanish are no less American than those who speak English. Spanish-speaking citizens of this country contribute a great deal to our society, including sharing their culture and heritage with those of us who haven't experienced it.

Canada seems to be doing just fine with two languages, and I'm confident that America wouldn't have troubles either.

Rob Verhein
From Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

1 comment:

andrewswift said...

To put it into context, the Bloc Quebecois has political power disproportionate to the numbers of French Canadians - just take a list of post-war French Prime Ministers.

Regional devolution in Canada has enhanced the power of Quebecois, as Ottawa is worried an overly centralized government would encourage independence. The situation, therefore, is radically different than the one in the United States.

The successive waves of immigration to the United States have all had one thing in common - all immigrants adopted English as their primary language (at least by the second generation) and conformed to "mainstream" American culture. We shouldn't expect - or encourage - less of Hispanic and/or Latin American immigrants.

English language programs are underfunded, which should change. But it is a necessity to learn English - and I know that this likely will alienate those that I otherwise share views of immigration.