A conference at Glendon exploring the benefits of learning French? Eh oui, a perfect fit, since Glendon is the only liberal arts faculty in Canada where all students study in both official languages. April 25th was the date, and Glendon College the location for the ninth annual “French for the Future / Le français pour l’avenir” conference, and the line-up of speakers and topics was impressive. Under the slogan, “Two languages - a world of possibilities”, twelve cities across the country sent their delegates, making it a truly nation-wide debate.
The program opened with words of welcome from Glendon principal Kenneth McRoberts, followed by Chantal Gionet, co-chair of the conference’s Toronto planning committee, and Anne Kothawala, president of its board of directors. Principal McRoberts pointed out that Glendon’s founding mandate was to provide a liberal arts education in English and in French, making the campus a living example of the conference’s objectives.
The day’s keynote address was delivered by John Ralston Saul, C.C. (below), prominent author, essayist, historian, and ardent supporter of bilingualism. Saul, husband of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, is honorary president of “French for the Future” and one of its founding members, along with Toronto journalist Lisa Balfour Bowen. After the conclusion of the Quebec referendum in 1995, developing the “French for the Future” conferences was their way of demonstrating a commitment to bilingualism and French language education. Their goal was to provide information and encouragement to Canadian youth, while celebrating French language and culture.
In his opening remarks, Saul affirmed the importance of French-language skills as “a tool for work, as well as an instrument of pleasure.” And while he expressed his disappointment that French-immersion students tend to speak English as soon as they leave the classroom, he praised them for choosing to learn Canada’s other official language, an important benefit for their future.
Students then broke into four workshops, choosing from International Relations, Science and Technology, Print and Electronic Media, and the Performing Arts, according to their personal interests. Each workshop was moderated by a prominent specialist in the field. Philippe Delacroix, Consul General of France and Laurence Hugues, Director of Communications for ‘Doctors without Borders’ led the international relations debate on the importance of speaking several languages in the global, humanitarian and diplomatic fields. The leaders of the Science and Technology group were physiotherapist Line Troster and Christine Pigeon, researcher at the Ontario Science Centre. The Media workshop featured Kathryn Borel, producer of CBC’s Metro Morning and Avril Benoît, host and documentary producer on CBC’s Radio One and on CBC-TV. Finally, the Performing Arts session presented a debate on the role of French in the theatre arts, with Guy Mignault, artistic director of the Toronto French Theatre, and local actor Stéphanie Broschart. The morning concluded with an open debate on what it means to be Canadian, animated by top civil servant Gordon McIvor, immediate past president of “French for the Future”.
After lunch, a satellite broadcast moderated by John Ralston Saul welcomed the participation of four Canadian cities: Toronto, Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary. They exchanged their views on Canada, English-French relations within the country, as well as the advantages of being bilingual in the world of work, locally and around the globe. The broadcast was followed by a “Grads’ Panel” moderated by Clare Mian, principal of John Fisher Public School, featuring four accomplished bilingual professionals who extolled the importance of their bilingual skills in achieving success within their professions.
Delegates declared the conference a success and a unique opportunity for exchanging ideas on the topic of bilingualism. According to Saul, more and more Canadian parents recognize the value of offering a bilingual education to their children. He added that while the country’s multicultural fabric introduces students to a variety of languages and cultures, there is a noticeable increase in French immersion enrolment in recent years. Saul interprets this as a clear validation of the message sent by the “French for the Future” conferences, namely that being bilingual is relevant to the future of today’s students for work, for pleasure and for fostering the linguistic duality on which this country was built.
This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny