There has been an uproar recently in Ottawa about how bus stops need to be called out by the driver in both English and French. I will not get into that issue, because this would turn into a rant. However, this has had me thinking about the meaning of bilingualism, and it sort of ended up being represented in a neat little package in a recent email thread.
In the many recent discussions held about bilingualism, a lot of emphasis has been placed on being provided with information in YOUR language, whether it is English or French. However, here’s an interesting twist on that concept, which, in my mind, is a much better representation (to me) of the concept of bilingualism.
I would not say I am fully fluent in French (Dan will probably disagree), but I am capable enough. I have little trouble reading or hearing a conversation, because my vocabulary has been built up through learning it over the years. Speaking/writing takes more effort as I can’t as easily call the appropriate words to mind when I am trying to translate from English to French.
It has often happened that I will receive an email in French, reply in English, and the conversation will carry on like this. I understand the person writing to me in French, but I prefer to write in English – I am more comfortable doing it, and feel I will be better able to make my point. The converse is true for the other person. And, in an ah-ha moment, I realized that to me, this is what bilingualism would be in an ideal world – everyone has some the ability to function in both languages, but conversation on either end is carried out in the language that is most convenient for that person. The point is – the conversation does not have to be in one language, it is truly a bilingual conversation.