Comedian Sugar Sammy was on Tout le monde en parle a few weeks back. The popular French-language talk show regularly draws almost 2 million viewers across the country.
Sugar Sammy is enjoying a brilliant international career, but isn't well known in his home province. He decided to change this and, much to his credit, is now reaching out to French-speaking Québec.
Son of immigrants, the comedian talked about the realities of growing up in one of Canada's most multiethnic neighborhood in the 90s, Côte-des-Neiges. He was raised in Punjabi and Hindi at home, learned English on the streets with his friends and tackled French in school. In terms of linguistic abilities, the result is astonishing. As far as I can tell, Sugar Sammy speaks perfect French and perfect English. This didn't come without its share of downsides.
"There was an underlying tension between students, children of people who chose Canada to better their life, and Québécois teachers, who were predominantly sovereigntists." He stressed. "Although we didn't think too much of mandatory French schooling at the time, I must admit I can now appreciate all its benefits. The only thing I don't like is how linguistic laws hinder bilingualism in the province... how the Québécois don't have access to the rich English-language heritage." He added. The crowd in the studio reacted with a "deafening" silence.
I often read or hear that argument and can't help wonder how it continues to prevail in some circles. I was born from French-speaking parents who had no particular need or interest in English. I was raised in a French-speaking neighborhood. I went to school within the realm of Québec's linguistic laws. Yet, here I am, fluently bilingual, writing in Shakespeare's mother tongue. I look around me and can't think of a single friend or relative who doesn't, at least, get by in English.
My province is the only one whose sole official language is French, yet it's at the top of the Canadian list when it comes to bilingualism. In fact, bilingualism rate increased from 1991 (35.4%) to 1996 (37.8%) and again in 2001 (40.8%). With 34.2% in 2001, New-Brunswick is the runner-up, the only officially bilingual province.
Of course, learning English is important. And I personally go through great lengths to ensure my children become proficient. But the Charter of the French Language has never represented a significant obstacle in me providing them sufficient exposure to their second language. Books, magazines, music, the Internet, television, Summer camps... there's plenty to choose from. English schooling is simply not an option; the trade-off is too costly.