Learning a second language opens up new opportunities. In fact, the personal development that occurs when learning a foreign language should be highlighted in addition to its economic benefits, particularly in an anglophone province.
Just in time for Le Mois de la Francophonie, on March 3, the federal government of Canada, along with its British Columbian counterpart, announced their commitment to allocate over $13.5 million in support of French teacher recruitment and retention in B.C.
“It is a world language. It is not an insignificant number of people who speak French – it takes you to so many places,” says Nancy Taylor, the president of Canadian Parents for French B.C.
This pledge not only highlights the importance of maintaining French-English bilingualism as part of Canada’s national identity, but it also brings long-standing issues of French teacher shortages to the forefront.
For Taylor, the benefits of learning French cannot be overlooked in an increasingly globalized society.
Reasons behind the French teacher shortage
Just as it is difficult to attract French teachers from out of province to B.C., it is also difficult to encourage more B.C. residents to take up a career in teaching French. The new federal and provincial funding will partly be used to increase enrollment in teaching programs that specialize in French education. To better understand why there has been a longstanding French teacher shortage, we must look at the causes, which for Taylor, are largely economical.
“The teacher shortage isn’t a B.C. problem, not even a Canadian problem. It’s a worldwide problem. It is competitive to attract people here,” says Taylor.
Taylor points out the province is struggling in this competition partly due to its high cost of living and challenges with finding accommodations, particularly in urban centers. Yet, recruitment and training are only two aspects of this issue. The question of how to retain the French teachers who do answer the call and move to B.C. remains.
“Let’s say you do get that person to come out. There could be potential there for people to just be so homesick,” adds Taylor.
Learning French does indeed have measurable benefits, says Taylor, in the form of increased employment prospects, broader social circles and heightened cultural awareness even in a largely anglophone province. Yet, despite these widely known advantages, British Columbia still has slightly lower rates of French language enrollment compared to the national average.
“My English became much better after studying French, more aware of syntax, verbs, subject, predicates,” says Taylor.
According to data from the Provincial and Territorial Ministries of Education, only nine per cent of eligible British Columbian students were enrolled in French Immersion while 32.7 per cent were taking classes in Core French during the 2020-2021 school year. These numbers have remained largely unchanged since 2018.
In comparison, the same report shows 11.9 per cent of all eligible students in Canada, excluding Quebec, enrolled in French immersion and 33.4 per cent in core French in 2020-2021. Meanwhile, the maritime provinces have steadily maintained higher rates of French language enrollment.
The fact that these provinces tend to lean more francophone than British Columbia, and hence, provide more incentive for parents to enrol their kids in French programs can explain this difference. However, the ability to find work or carry out daily life tasks are not the only factors behind the desire to learn a new language.
“It has been proven that the mental flexibility that comes with learning a language is significant – a gift that lasts a lifetime,” says Taylor.
Efforts to retain French teachers
With these challenges in mind, Canadian Parents for French B.C. have started an initiative called L’accueil chaleureux: New French Teacher Welcome Project. By helping French teachers at the beginning of their careers build a social community and providing opportunities for cultural exchange, this project aims to increase retention rates.
“It is a really great project in that it addresses one of those intangibles that may not have made it onto the radar on why people don’t stick around,” says Taylor. “This project is an actual connection with the teachers, getting those volunteer chapter people together with the teachers, creating a rapport so that the teacher right off the bat feels that someone is here.”
In addition to social connections, the second aspect of this project encourages teachers to develop a French cultural event in their settled communities. According to Taylor, the warmth of local friendships and opportunity to contribute to their new homes may just be the anchor that helps retain these teachers.
Despite the many challenges, programs like L’accueil chaleureux provide hope for the future of French language education in BC.
The B.C. recruitment/retention funds will be distributed amongst various school districts, post-secondary institutions, professional organizations and French advocacy groups.
Amongst the list of recipients who welcome this announcement are Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, British Columbia Language Coordination Association, Make a Future and Canadian Parents for French , a volunteer-run organization with a mandate of promoting French-English bilingualism and cultural harmony.
With over 10, 000 members, Canadian Parents for French B.C. has been integral to promoting French language opportunities in B.C. and Yukon, notably through their Concours d’art oratoire, a French public speaking competition for youth, and French immersion teacher recognition awards program.
For more information visit: https://bc-yk.cpf.ca/en