Chatterbox #133 – Bilingualism in Canada

Have you ever wondered why Canada has two official languages, English and French? This episode is dedicated to explaining this complicated subject. Andrew and Maura chat about the historical reasons that caused Canada to be a bilingual country. They also discuss language education in Canada and what it’s like to be an English speaker in the province of Quebec. Maura also talks about how she met Harp in a French class!

esl podcast

Expressions included in the Learning Materials:canadabi

  • To chat it out
  • To edge someone out
  • Anglophones and Francophones
  • A mixed bag
  • To applaud someone for something
  • A pocket of something
  • A lingua franca
  • To get something down
  • A rite of passage
  • The lay of the land
  • Code switching
  • To wrap something up
  • To scratch the surface

Sample Transcript

Andrew: Mmhmm. That is right. So today our topic is bilingualism in Canada.

Maura: Yes. And it’s a huge, huge topic that we haven’t really covered specifically and I think it’s pretty interesting so I figured we should do an episode about this.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s definitely an interesting topic and, like you said, it is a massive topic and it can get very complicated, but we will do our best to break it down for you.

Maura: Yeah. Earlier in the summer I posted a couple of photos on Facebook of maple syrup packaging and I was showing that we have one side in English and one side in French. And a lot of people seemed interested in this and that’s just one aspect of bilingualism in Canada, that all of the things that are sold here, all of the packaging, should have English and French on it.

Andrew: Mmhmm. And that is because, of course, Canada is a country that has two official languages: English and French. And English is most common in the western half of Canada, whereas French is really mostly spoken in Quebec, but also some other parts of eastern Canada.

Maura: That is exactly right. So first we’re gonna tell you about what bilingualism looks like in Canada today, and then we’re gonna give you some information about the history of English and French in Canada. And then we’re gonna talk also about some of our own experiences living in Montreal, in the province of Quebec, which is, like Andrew just said, a French-speaking place.

Andrew: OK. So what does bilingualism in Canada look like today? Well, first I think we should define this word, bilingualism. Of course it just means to be able to speak two languages, but within Canada it takes on sorta a different meaning. And it… We usually just use it to refer to English and French.

Maura: Right. So when you hear us talking about bilingualism in this episode, that’s what we’re talking about: English and French. And I think that a lot of people who have never been to Canada and maybe don’t know too many Canadians think that a lot of Canadians are bilingual. But, actually, the truth is not so good. There aren’t very many Canadians who speak English and French very well. It’s about only 20% of Canadians who claim to be bilingual.

Andrew: That is right. And how do we learn each other’s languages? Well, in school it is mandatory, if you’re from English-speaking parts of Canada, you have to learn French. And if you’re from French-speaking parts of Canada you have to learn English. And, unfortunately, the language classes that we get in school are not really that good, and usually the only people who can really master the other language are the lucky students who get to go to immersion schools. And these are not super common, but there’s at least one immersion school in most bigger cities. And what happens there is you study the target language all day. So all of your core subjects, like math and science, are studied in the target language. And these students, by the time they graduate, they are usually pretty good at both languages.

Maura: Yup. So that’s a brief summary of the state of bilingualism in Canada. This is such a big subject, we could go on and on, but we think that gives you a pretty good idea of what is happening in Canada regarding English and French, what our current state is.

Andrew: That’s right. So now maybe we’ll give you a little bit of the background. How did we get to be a bilingual country? Let’s talk about that. Maura: In talking about the history… That’s another subject that can get very complicated. And as any of you know who’ve ever studied history, it can get very detailed and you can look at history from different perspectives. So we’re only going to give you a brief overview and try to make the history of English and French in Canada as simple as possible.

english PodcastPodcast/Learning Materials: Culips English Podcast, Image Culips