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UNIS (la toute nouvelle chaîne de télévision au Canada) — Tout franco, tout beau (#226)

Il y a un nouveau joueur sur la scène.   “UNIS” est la toute nouvelle chaîne de télévision de langue française – et croyez-moi, qu’elle est différente.

Leur expression fourre-tout : Tout franco, tout beau 

Untitled

(Toutes les images dans ce billet ont été fournies à Québec Culture Blog par UNIS)

Jusqu’à l’introduction d’UNIS sur la scène du monde télévisuel, nos chaînes et réseaux de télévision (de langue française) au Canada étaient soient :

  • des réseaux nationaux, basés de Montréal. Toute programmation “locale” à travers le Canada qu’ils offraient n’était que quelques créneaux horaires assez restreints (Radio-Canada et RDI en sont de bons exemples).  Cela avait l’effet de “projeter” des points de vue axés sur “Montréal” et “le Québec”, ainsi que des points de vue qui favorisaient le Québec, sans présenter l’angle de quelqu’un qui se retrouvait dans les souliers d’une audience Francophone à l’extérieur du Québec.
  • des réseaux plutôt “locaux” qui portaient peu d’intérêt à poursuivre le mis en œuvre d’une programmation à l’extérieur de leur région ou province (TVA et LCN servent de bons exemples).
  • des réseaux ou des chaînes spécialisées (RDS sport, Argent, TFO de l’Ontario, etc.)

Mais l’instant même qu’UNIS a pris l’antenne en septembre 2014, elle a pu bousculer ce mélange de réseaux et de chaînes qui depuis longtemps étaient les seuls à être solidement cimentés dans leur propre terrain.   De ses studios de production basés à Toronto (Ontario), UNIS diffuse une grande diversité de programmation aux intérêts des Francophones et Francophiles de partout au Canada.   Son approche reflète la perspective d’une chaîne qui présente à la fois à son audience l’idée et la réalité d’une seule famille francophone, de Victoria en Colombie-Britannique, jusqu’à St-Jean à Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador.

Son approche nous permet de constater que, pour de larges étendus du pays, le Canada est autant un pays francophone de langue française (dans toutes ses provinces et territoires) qu’il l’est un pays anglophone de langue anglaise (pour d’autres étendus du pays).  UNIS accorde beaucoup d’importance sur la diversité des sociétés francophones du Canada, que ce soit (sans toutefois s’y limiter) :

  • les modes de vie Montagnarde ou Pacifique modernes des Francophones de la Colombie-Britannque,
  • le mode de vie Prairienne moderne des Francophones de l’Alberta et de la Saskatchewan,
  • le mode de vie de la Valée-de-la-Rivière-rouge moderne des Francophones au Manitoba,
  • les modes de vie super-urbaines ou des forêts rurales modernes des Francophones en Ontario,
  • la diversité de plusieurs modes de vie au Québec, ou
  • le mode de vie Atlantique moderne en Acadie.

Avant l’arrivée sur scène d’UNIS, on avait souvent l’impression que nos diverses sociétés Francophones au Canada se gardaient entre eux, et qu’ils portaient des traits plutôt introspectifs (autant les Québécois que les Franco-Albertains, autant les Néo-Écossais que les Ontarois).  Mais UNIS sert de briser, d’un seul coup, ces murs et cette mentalité artificielle.  Cette chaîne nous permet de voir que nous faisons tous partie de la même société, famille, et pays Francophone et Francophile.  Nos enjeux, modes de vie, passe-temps, intérêts, joies, et nos préoccupations sont partagés dans tous les coins du pays.

En écoutant la programmation dans une même journée, on entend les couleurs d’une multitude d’accents français différents – des accents qui reflètent les lieux de tournage à travers le pays.  Au Canada nous n’avons jamais vu une telle chose auparavant.   Pour la première fois dans l’histoire du pays, on peut se voir ensemble les Francophones et Francophiles, d’un océan à l’autre – comme faisant partie d’un tout.

Ce que j’apprécie beaucoup c’est que nous avons également l’occasion de voir très souvent les “Francophiles” du Canada dans les émissions d’UNIS.  À quelques reprises dans ce billet j’ai fait mention de nos “Francophiles”.  Ils nous appartiennent eux aussi.  Ce sont les Anglophones du pays qui ont expressément décidé, de leur propre volonté, de consacrer une partie de leur vie au fait français du Canada.  Ils sont devenus bilingue.   Mais trop souvent ils se voient reprocher pour quelques lacunes dans leur accent, grammaire, ou vocabulaire.  Pourtant, tout ce qui compte pour moi (et tout ce qui devrait importer pour vous aussi) c’est le fait qu’ils sont là – peu importe leur niveau de français.  Ils sont là en grand nombre.  Ils sont nos alliés, et ils sont nos ponts avec le reste du Canada.   Ils se tiennent debout, coude à coude avec les Francophones du pays.  J’en ai déjà parlé dans mon billet qui s’appelle L’Importance du programme d’immersion française au Canada anglophone – pour le Québec.  (À mon avis, ce billet vaut la peine d’être lu).

Lors du tournage des émissions d’UNIS à travers le Canada, ces Francophiles sont présents et on les voit à l’écran.  Ils participent pleinement aux émissions afin que l’on puisse voir les histoires (nos histoires) des Francophones à l’écran.  Comme j’ai dit, c’est du jamais vu dans l’histoire de l’industrie de la télévision au Canada.   J’ai un drôle de sentiment que cette nouvelle chaîne va changer la perspective du Canada pour beaucoup de gens.

La chaîne UNIS appartient au même consortium qui détient “TV5 Québec Canada”.   Les deux sociétés forment une seule société qui s’appelle “UNIS TV5 Québec Canada”, qui en revanche appartient au “Consortium de télévision Québec Canada”.

Ce consortium lui-même appartient à trois de nos diffuseurs publics les plus grands au Canada :

  • CBC/Radio-Canada (le diffuseur public français/anglais et appartient au gouvernement du Canada),
  • TFO (le diffuseur public provincial français qui appartient au gouvernement de l’Ontario),
  • et Télé-Québec (le diffuseur public français qui appartient au gouvernement du Québec).

UNIS est désignée par la CRTC comme appartenant à la catégorie A des chaînes de télévision.  Cela veut dire que chaque abonné du câble au Canada (que ce soit au point le plus au nord de l’arctique, que ce soit le village le plus à l’ouest ou le plus à l’est du pays) doit le recevoir dans le service de base de tous les câblodistributeurs au Canada.  Si vous avez le câble, mais si vous ne la recevez pas, vous pouvez appeler votre câblodistributeur afin de la recevoir.

Personnellement, je crois qu’UNIS a le potentiel de devenir un moyen de programmation bien plus puissant.  La chaîne est encore jeune, et sa programmation n’a pas encore eu le temps d’évoluer.  Mais j’ai le sentiment qu’elle pourrait devenir bien plus importante, en tant que chaîne de télévision — au fur et à mesure qu’elle continue d’évoluer (qui sait, peut-être un jour elle va introduire un component de nouvelles nationales quotidiennes).  Dans ce sens, UNIS pourrait contribuer à définir l’avenir du pays et la façon dont sa population se voit, et ce au cours des prochaines années et décennies.  Seul le temps dira quelle direction elle prendra, mais j’ai un bon sentiment à ce propos.

Sa ligne de programmation nous offre un assez grand éventail d’émissions :

  • des téléromans
  • des programmes pour enfants
  • des émissions et magazines de société
  • des jeux télévisés
  • des émissions de variété
  • des émissions culinaires

Les émissions suivantes sont parmi mes émissions préférées.  Je vous offre les descriptions qui se trouvent au site-web d’UNIS:

Couleurs locales 

C’est un point de rencontre entre les communautés francophones. Accompagné d’un quatuor de chroniqueurs venant des quatre coins du pays, l’animateur Frédéric Choinière s’intéresse aux sujets qui interpellent les francophones, mais aussi aux grands dossiers de l’heure au Canada. C’est un rendez-vous hebdomadaire à la fois instructif et convivial.

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Ma caravan au Canada – 

Rejoignez Vincent Graton et Damien Robitaille à bord de leur caravane pour une virée complètement folle à travers le Canada.  À chaque escale, rencontrez des gens chaleureux qui aiment leur coin de pays.

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Canada plus grand que nature  

À pied, en kayak de mer, à vélo de montagne ou en canot de rivière, découvrez les plus beaux parcs canadiens, en compagnie de Patrick Hivon. Que vous soyez passionné de plein air ou promeneur du dimanche, cette émission est pour vous !

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J’habite ici – 

J’habite ici présente des villes et des villages à travers le regard de leurs habitants franco-ontariens. Entrez dans le quotidien de ces gens attachants, arpentez leur quartier et laissez-vous charmer par la douceur de vivre en français en Ontario.

Balade à Toronto – 

Une série musicale consacrée aux artistes francophones de la relève. Quittant leur coin de pays pour une promenade à Toronto, ils nous offrent des performances et nous livrent leurs confidences captées à la volée au fil de la découverte de la Ville Reine. Le groupe acadien Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire, la Québécoise Chloé Lacasse, le Mehdi Cayenne Club de l’Ontario, le duo franco-albertain Post Script et plusieurs autres se baladent !

Elles pêchent – 

Mordues de la pêche, Louise Laparé et sa grande amie Suzanne Beaudet taquinent le poisson ensemble depuis plus de 18 ans. En exerçant plusieurs types de pêches, d’un plan d’eau à l’autre, elles démontrent que la pêche ce n’est pas sorcier, et que la pratique de ce sport peut être adaptée à toutes les bourses.  Suivez-les, chaque semaine, dans cette odyssée à travers lacs et rivières !

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Le goût du pays

Bien au courant que la bonne chère est le faible de Vincent Graton, quelques-uns des plus réputés chefs canadiens ont l’ambition de lui en faire voir de toutes les saveurs ! Sur les routes du Canada, de Saint-Jean de Terre-Neuve à Vancouver, notre animateur épicurien se laisse prendre au jeu de la gourmande séduction.

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Vous pouvez accéder au site d’UNIS en cliquant ici:  http://unis.ca/

Certains vidéos d’émissions peuvent être visonnées ici: http://unis.ca/videos

Prenez le temps d’y explorer un peu.  Lorsqu’on constate que le lancement d’UNIS n’était planifié qu’un an d’avance avec un budget plutôt limité, je crois bien que l’on peut s’entendre que le fruit de leurs efforts est bien évident.

UNIS (Canada’s newest French-language TV station) — Tout franco, tout beau (#225)

“UNIS” (which means “United” in French) is Canada’s newest French-langauge television station – and boy is it different.

Their catch-phrase is Tout franco, tout beau (Everything Franco, Everything great)

Untitled

(All images in this post contributed to Québec Culture Blog by UNIS)

Until the introduction of UNIS, our French-language television has

  • consisted of national networks, but based out of Montréal. They would offer limited locally presented programming across Canada (Radio-Canada and RDI are good examples).  This often had the effect of projecting a Montréal-centric, Québec-centric or Québec-biased view upon the rest of Canada’s Francophones,
  • consisted of localized networks with little interest in pursuing programming outside its province or region (TVA and LCN are good examples).
  • consisted of specialty stations (RDS sports, argent, Ontario’s TFO, etc.)

The moment it went on air in September, 2014, UNIS instantly shook up this mix in numerous ways.   With its main production studios based out of Toronto (Ontario), it broadcasts a wide variety of programming of interest to Francophones and Francophiles across Canada.  Its approach is from the perspective of producing and presenting its programming to an audience of one Francophone family/country, from Victoria, BC to St. John’s Newfoundland, and everywhere in between.

It allows us to see how Canada is just as much a Francophone and French-language country to large swaths of is population, as it can be an Anglophone and English-language country to others.   It also places much emphasis on the diversity of Canada’s Francophone societies, be it (but not restricted to)

  • the Mountain or Pacific lifestyle of Francophones in BC
  • the Prairie life-style of Francophones who live in Alberta and Saskatchewan,
  • the Red-River lifestyle of those in Manitoba,
  • the uber/hyper-urban or the rural woodland lifestyles of Francophones in Ontario,
  • the diversity of various Québécois lifestyles, or
  • the Atlantic lifestyle lived by Acadians.

Before UNIS’s introduction, we could easily get the the impression that each of Canada’s various Francophone societies were often introspective, and did not mix much among themselves.  But UNIS breaks down these artificial mindsets and self-imposed borders in one-fell-swoop.  UNIS allows us to see that we are all part of one giant Francophone / Francophile society, family and country.  Our issues, ways of life, pass-times, interests, joys, and concerns are shared in every corner of the country.

In one day’s programming, you will hear a multitude of different French accents, reflecting the regions where each day’s programming was filmed.  We have never before seen something like this in Canada.  It’s allowing Canada and Canada’s Francophones / Francophiles to view themselves differently, and as something much bigger.

What I particularly appreciate, as I am sure do many others, is that we see how Anglophones across Canada have also become bilingual over the past couple of decades.  When filming various programs across the country, it is inevitable that Anglophones will be involved in telling the various programs’ stories on air.  We are able to hear and see bilingual Anglophones across the land, even in the most remote corners of the country.  My personal guess is that many are the products of Canada’s successful French immersion programs.   Again, before now, we have never seen anything like this on Canadian television.   I have a feeling it will give more than a few people a different perspective on what Canada is all about.

UNIS is actually owned by the same Canadian consortium which owns “TV5 Québec Canada”.  “UNIS & TV5 Québec Canada” actually forms one company.   The consortium which owns them is called Le Consortium de télévision Québec Canada (the Québec Canada Television Consortium).

The consortium itself is owned by three public broadcasters, owned by three separate governments in Canada:

  • CBC/Radio-Canada (Canada’s French/English public broadcaster owned by Canada’s Federal government),
  • TFO (Ontario’s French language public broadcaster owned by the government of Ontario),
  • and Télé-Québec (Québec’s French-language public broadcaster owned by the government of Québec).

UNIS is rated as a CRTC Category A station.  This means that it has to be included (by law) in everyone’s basic cable bundle across Canada.  If you do not receive it in your television package (even if you are in the furthest reaches of the Arctic), then contact your cable-distributor.  It is supposed to be included, regardless of what package you have or where you live.

I personally believe that UNIS has the potential to morph into a much more powerful programming medium.   It is still very young, and their programming has yet to evolve.  But I have a feeling that it may become a very influential television station as additional programs and divisions are added with time.  In that sense, it could have the ability to help shape the country’s view of itself over the next several years and decades.   Time will tell where it all will go, but I have a good feeling about it.

It’s programming offers a wide variety of genres :

  • adult dramas
  • childrens’ programming
  • societal magazines
  • game shows
  • variety programs
  • cooking programs

Some of my preferred programs include:

Couleurs locales (Local Colours): Every week Frédéric Choinière hosts of panel of columnists and engaged members of society in the studio to discuss what is happening in the four corners of the country.  Topics are of interest to Canada’s current events as a whole.  Matters are often approached from the perspective of Francophones and Francophiles who live in all of Canada’s provinces and territories.  In addition to the regularly featured panel, the show also features a guest (usually an influencial / well-known individual) to give their perspective on matters related to Canada’s Francophonie.

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Ma caravan au Canada – (Driving my camper across Canada):  The duo Vincent Graton and Damien Robitaille, take their camper on the road and drive everywhere throughout Canada.   They stop in communities and at lesser-known places of interest.  They meet people from all walks of life, and manage to find Francophones and bilingual Anglophones everywhere in Canada who are doing remarkable things, simply through living what they consider to be their normal lives.

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Canada plus grand que nature – (Canada, Bigger than Nature!) :  The well-known celebrity actor, Patrick Hivon, explores Canada’s natural scenery, national and provincial parks, from coast-to-coast-to-coast.  He meets people who lives are closely tied to the land he explores (usually other Francophones and Francophiles, and bilingual Anglophones across Canada), and it’s a great way to see parts of the country we would not otherwise have a tendency to see.

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J’habite ici – (This is Where I Live):  The show follows and learns about Franco-Ontarians going about their daily lives in the towns and cities where they live.  It gives us an intimate perspective into the homes of those who it shadows.  And more importantly, we learn about la belle vie of living in French in Ontario.  It is something quite special and unique.

Balade à Toronto – (Around Toronto):  When we think of Francophone musicians who leave their towns and cities around Canada to develop their musical talents in a more structured & professional environment, we usually think of people who head to Montréwood (Montréal’s music, film, TV and arts scene).  However a good number of Francophones are deciding to head to Toronto instead.  This show allows us to meet them, follow them, and simply enjoy what they have to offer us.  Shows like this truly let us see what great a place Toronto is to live in if you are a Francophone or Francophile, or just want to add something different in your life.

Elles pêchent – (And they fish!):  We’re all familiar with weekend fishing shows.  This one is a little different in the sense that it is hosted by two ladies who have a love of the sport.  These two women, Louise Laparé and Suzanne Beaudet are best friends and have been fishing together since the age of 18.   They take us to hidden rivers and lakes and let us into their lives and conversations as they engage in what has been called the world’s “most relaxing sport”.

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Le goût du pays – (A taste of the country):  The celebrity Vincent Graton takes us across Canada to discover its regional culinary delights.  He meets local chefs and joins them when preparing their meals, in a natural outdoor setting – often using ingredients from the land and settings in which the program is filmed.

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The official website for UNIS can be found here: http://unis.ca/

You can stream past programs here:  http://unis.ca/videos

Take the time to explore what UNIS has to offer.  When you consider that the station was quickly thrown together in the period of about a year, with limited funds, I think you will be impressed.

Learning French – don’t be afraid to take things to the next level (#162)

I received an e-mail not long ago from Derek, a reader in Truro, Nova Scotia.  He wanted to share some of his own experiences and had a few questions.   We exchanged a couple of emails, and he allowed me to post his e-mail online, along with some of my own thoughts on a couple of fronts (some directed at Derek, but others thoughts for a broader audience).   (Thanks again for your e-mail Derek !)

—– —– —– —– —– —–

Original Message:

Hello Brad,

I enjoy reading your blog.   You are right when you say that many people are looking for cultural context to supplement their own French experiences and interests.  I also listen to “C’est la vie” on CBC Radio, but other than your blog and “C’est la vie”, there are not many other places we can turn which are devoted to this subject (at least not in English).

I’m from Truro, Nova Scotia. I am Anglophone, and I went through the French immersion program.  Truro is mostly Anglophone, but it has a few Acadians and an Acadian Francophone school system.  But my French immersion school was a different school system than the Acadian Francophone schools.  So my experiences in and out of school were with other Anglophones.   But now that I’m out of school, I work with Acadians, and I insist that they speak only French with me and not English.

There are so many of us who went through French immersion, and the first generation of the “immersion kids” are now adults, and the second generation is just now also graduating.  By now, there must be thousands of us coming out of the program as adults across the country.   I think only good things are going to come out of this, and it is changing Canada.

My French is already very good because I did my education in French, but my accent can always be better.   People tell me I have a bit of an Acadian accent when I speak.  They also tell me I use many Acadian words which are not used in Québec.   It is probably because of the Acadian influence in this part of Nova Scotia.

I read your posts on different Canadian accents.  It was quite interesting because people don’t ever talk very much about the different accents.  Many Francophones I talk to are not even aware there are so many different accents.  Most people I speak with think there are only three or four different accents, probably because much of the television they watch comes from New Brunswick or Quebec.

My question is this:  Because you have experiences with French in different regions of Canada, and because many people tell me I use many “Acadian French” words, would you have a list of French words used in other regions of Canada?  You gave some Prairie French word examples in your accent series.   I’ve heard there are sometimes different words used in Québec city and Lac St-Jean which are not used in Montreal, Moncton or other places.   Would you have some examples or a list of different words from different areas?  I generally only know Acadian and international French because I have not traveled to other Francophone regions of Canada.

Thanks!

Derek

—– —– —– —– —– —–

(My answer, apart from the emails he and I exchanged)

Hi Derek…

Thank-you for your email and your thoughts.  I think you have hit on some great points which would be of interest to a good number of people.

I’ll see if I can come up with a list of different words used in different regions over the next few days.  Often the differences are not very big, and French vocabulary has standardized quite a bit over the past three decades (especially in Québec, but also in other regions across the country).  But there are still some unique regional words and expressions which may be heard the odd time, depending on where you are.

I particularly agree with you that it is quite interesting that the original 1980s & 1990s immersion students are now adults, with another generation not far behind them.   I completely agree that this is bound to have an effect on the country as far as openness and new possibilities (regarding a whole host of issues).

I don’t have the updated statistics, but back in 2000 (15 years ago), the following were the overall percentages of students enrolled in French immersion across Canada (hold your seat… the numbers are quite surprising!):

  • New Brunswick: 32%
  • Prince Edward Island: 20%
  • Nova Scotia: 12%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 7%
  • Ontario: 6%
  • Manitoba: 6%
  • Alberta: 4% (Go Oilers!)
  • Saskatchewan: 3%
  • British Columbia: 2%

These numbers come from a report published by Statistics Canada entitled “French Immersion, 30 Years Later”

We always hear the usual statistic that there are 1 million “Francophones” (mother tongue) outside Québec.   But really, if you’ve gone through the immersion program, you’re already part Francophone for simply living a huge part of your life in French (at least 7 hours every day during the school years).   It blows my mind that nobody ever talks about those statistics.

Think about it bud !  20% of all Anglophone students in PEI…  4% of all Anglophone students in Alberta… 7% of all Anglophone students in Newfoundland!   Those are mind-blowing numbers.   And these numbers only speak to the students who were still in the school system.   They do not count those of us who are now adults but who used to be in the program (keep in mind the numbers are already 15 years old – so all of those students are now adults, and there’s a whole new wave of students behind them in the immersion system).

If you were to factor in current student numbers, plus graduated student numbers, plus the 1 million Francophones… where do we sit?  2 million?  Even more?  And it increases with every graduation, and every generation.

Another statistic I also like to point out is that for every child in French immersion, there are likely two Anglophone parents who made the conscious decision to ensure that their children became bilingual.  Thus, if you factor in “concerned parents” who are directly involved and devoted to their children’s & Canada’s bilingualism, as well as their openness to Canada’s and Québec’s Francophone culture, the above statistics for people making active efforts to keep French alive and well across Canada balloons to what… 4 million?   That’s a HUGE part of the Canadian population making active efforts – all within 30 or so odd years.  Parents count!   I never would have been part of the first “experimental” immersion group had my parents not taken the active decision to place me and my bother in it (it even resulted in my mother taking French courses so she could understand what my brother and I were saying about her in French when we were kids – hahaha 😉 ).  On this front, I’ve said many times before that Anglophone Canada is not the same country it was in 1980 or 1995.

And then we haven’t even begun to count Anglophones who simply are learning French as part of a regular FSL program (ie:  regular courses in an Anglophone curriculum), or as vocational courses, or as self-taught studies.   They certainly cannot be counted out.  Their efforts should be among those who are commended the most, since they’re the ones who tend to try to go the extra mile — and they’re the ones who have a steeper hill to climb.   Add them to the equation, and that makes for a large chunk of the country.

I can give you an example of how regular FSL and self-taught studies are equally valid and can bear fruit:

In a former life I was a diplomat posted to various Canadian Embassies abroad (I left the government a number of years ago to pursue my own business endeavours).  The first and main operating language of one of the Canadian embassies in which I worked was French (the administration, our internal meetings, staffing, reports, emails, and the language in which we operated with the public and Ottawa).    The diplomatic and locally hired staff therefore had to be fully bilingual (regardless if they were Francophone or Anglophone).  One day we received a new transferee who grew up in a very Anglophone city in Canada (let’s call her Cindy, even though that’s not her real name).   She only started to learn French after graduating high school.  She took the odd course here-and-there in university, but most of her French came from her own studies during her own free time.   I’ll say upfront that Cindy’s French was not the greatest, but she really tried hard, and I think she obtained this particular posting by demonstrating she definitely was the best qualified person for the job (and she was), regardless of rather poor French language skills.   During her first few months at the embassy, owing to a lack of confidence in her own French skills, she would generally only speak English with the Francophone and fully bilingual Anglophone staff.   But then one day something amazing happened which still blows me away many years later.

The ambassador at the time had to make a very important and difficult decision regarding quite a sensitive and delicate matter.   For the most part, he had already made up his mind (rather staunchly might I add) on how to deal with the issue.  Nonetheless, he wanted to call a meeting of embassy staff to seek additional input and to cover any bases he may have missed.   I, Cindy, and several others all met with the ambassador in the meeting room.  After hearing him out for about 20 minutes (in French of course), he then asked everyone, one at a time, what their thoughts were on the issues and if he missed any details before he dropping the gauntlet and proceeded with his plans.   The last person he asked was Cindy.   She understood everything he said (her French comprehension was much better than her spoken French), but when she spoke up, all of a sudden she started to present her views in French.   This was significant, because during any past meetings, she would only speak in English.   Everybody’s ears perked up the moment they heard her try to speak French for the first time.

She completely disagreed with much of what the ambassador said and she wanted to change his mind.   Because she felt so strongly about the issues, she wanted to ensure she had the ambassador’s (and everyone else’s) full attention – and she felt that speaking French was the best way she could ensure she had it.

I’ll be upfront in saying that because her French level was quite low, she struggled – big time – to get her many points across.   The issues were complex, and she needed to talk in great detail if she were to convince the ambassador that her view of the issues and courses of action were the correct ones.   I can tell you that the ambassador obviously did not agree with her, and a bit of a heated debate erupted between the two of them (I’m not sure he was happy that he was being challenged so ardently).  All of us in the room were kind of in shock.  Here was Cindy, who had a very difficult time speaking in French, taking on the ambassador (who’s first language was French) in a full head-on debate on a very complex issue — all in French.   And what’s more, she was holding her own.   She stumbled (quite a bit actually), and had to constantly search for words, but she would not relent.  The Ambassador actually started to speak faster and faster as the debate went on, often cutting her off…  He even tried to switch to English at one point in an effort to debunk Cindy’s points by making his standpoint very clear to her.   But she simply would not relent.   She refused to speak English, and she kept at him in French, giving it her very best shot.    The rest of us around the table gave each other looks of surprise and disbelief.   Cindy was amazing!!   We had never seen this side of her before (let alone see her have the confidence in herself to push her French to the limits when things became heated).

In the end, guess what happened… she won out, and she actually convinced the ambassador to take a change in direction.   She fully explained every one of her points and reasoning (and there were many).  It took a while because of her low French proficiency, but she eventually got there.   We were all kind of stunned!  Not because the ambassador changed his mind – he was a very reasonable man – but because Cindy would not relent and she did it all in French… for the first time ever…  Wow!!

After the meeting, everyone left the room except for me and Cindy (I asked her to stay behind for a second).  There were not many Anglophones working at the embassy, and she was a friend of mine.  I went over to her and told her how proud I was of her — not because she hotly argued with the ambassador for half an hour (I’m not sure I would have done that)… but I was proud that she gave it her best shot in French – which was very uncomfortable territory for her – and that she managed to pull it off beautifully.   Judging from one-on-one comments which were said to me by others over the following days, I think everyone else was also equally impressed and proud of her too (including the ambassador).

Later that evening, a bunch of us from work went out for drinks.  Cindy was there, and she spoke French the whole evening (she never had the self-confidence to try to carry out whole conversations in the past).   For the rest of her posting, she tried to speak French as much as she possibly could at work and with friends (we were in a “semi”-Francophone country and it was generally a “French-as-a-first-language” embassy after all).  Her level of French was much better at the end of her posting than during the first few months when she did not have the self-confidence in herself to even try.

This was a big lesson for me.  It showed me that even if you don’t hail from a childhood in which you grew up speaking French, it truly is never too late to learn.  Even with just an elementary level of French, you can still pull off some amazing feats if you really push yourself to try.   The self-confidence that comes from that takes care of the rest.

There are many Anglophones across Canada who are giving it there best shot.  I sometimes really wish the media in Québec talked more about this because there’s this strange myth (and really, it is a myth) that French outside Québec is static or dead – when reality is actually pointing in the opposite direction (propogated more within fringe elements of the PQ & BQ, but not so much within QS, nor within the CAQ, Prov Liberals, Fed Liberals, or NDP).  It’s interesting because I get the feeling the first two parties are trying to propagate this myth to score political points with the public to take up their causes.    However, this myth can pose a problem if people begin to believe it.  This is a tough one to resolve if several major influential spheres of Québec’s media do not give it due attention.   Fortunately, however, from a media perspective, the tide may be turning on this front too.   The new television station, UNIS (http://unis.ca/) is now being broadcast all over Québec (it went on air in September, 2014).  It’s a Francophone television channel with studios across Canada, devoted to programming about Francophone life outside Québec (it’s quite an interesting channel and concept).  It is owned by TV5 Québec Canada and is designated a category A station, meaning that all Canadian households (everywhere in Canada, including Québec) now receive it.   TFO, http://www3.tfo.org/ (Ontario’s public Francophone television network) is also broadcast across many parts of Québec.  It too gives a more realistic situation of French, Francophone and Francophile realities/changes outside of Québec and across Ontario (many of which I discussed above).   Although these two television stations are not politicial in nature, we’ll see role they play to help debunk the myths about French outside of Québec.

But hopefully this can help to encourage you and others to continue with your own efforts.  It’s not necessary to become fully bilingual.  Just keeping an open mind and learning about cross-cultural tidbits are sometimes more important than anything else, even if you’re not able to hold a conversation in French.  People appreciate the efforts, and you end up feeling a deeper connection with your own country and the world at large   But if you are able to pick up parts of the language, then all the more power to you.

In the end, everyone charts their own course within the limits that time, interest and obligations allow for.   But it’s nice to see that there are millions and millions of Anglophones across the country with an interest in, or who have interaction with Canada’s Francophone cultural and linguistic sphere.   It’s very encouraging – and touching.