Friendship Force's Presentation to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada
On June 21 2013, representatives of My Language Exchange and Friednship Force International
presented to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada the benefits of using language exchange practice to
promote bilingualism in Canada.
The following is the transcript of the presentation of Eileen Howell, Marketing Consultant FFI (Languages) of Friendship Force
and a language learner and member of My Language Exchange for several years.
Learning French and Making Friends
Everyone who has become bilingual as an adult, knows that becoming fluent,
requires all the things you learn in class, and a whole lot more. How to get
that is the big challenge. Canada's first Commissioner of Official Languages,
Keith Spicer, was challenged to get enough Anglophones speaking French, early
enough, to meet the new language requirements in the Federal Civil Service.
So he helped start Canadian Parents for French. I was part of that movement
starting a chapter in Drumheller, Alberta 10 years later. This was in an era when
having French on a loaf of bread meant it would not sell. I lived to tell the tale
of French Immersion in Drumheller and CPF provided the political will all across
Canada, that has resulted in over 300,000 Anglophones becoming bilingual thanks
to French Immersion.
But, learning to speak French, without also creating friendships with French
speakers, means losing these gains when school's out. Today, we have the
challenge to create links, bonds and connections between Canada's two language
groups so that we create real friendships, not just work relationships. I think
it's time for another grass roots initiative, this time using new technology
and exchanges for adults, to create real friends in the other official language.
My Language Exchange and Friendship Force International are ways to do just that.
At the age of 60, almost 8 years ago, I decided it was my turn to learn French.
After more than 1000 hours of classes and more than $5000 from my own pocket,
I passed the advanced intermediate level with high marks. However, I could
neither speak nor understand spoken French.
Ten days in Jonquière did start me talking, but even there, I did not spend enough
time with native speakers, I spent too much time with other Anglophones
speaking broken French. And then, my relationship with my host family ended
when I went home.. In the real world, bilinguals immediately switched to English.
Even those whose English was worse than my French.
I could see that if you had to learn French, not just wanted to do it, you could get
pretty demoralized and start thinking like those people in Drumheller did twenty-
five years ago.
I was not ready to quit, yet, and not ready to bankrupt myself trying, either.
I watched how children learn to talk and I tried to reconstruct such a milieu for
I happened upon www.mylanguageexchange.com . It was a breakthrough for
me. It's inexpensive, I do not have to leave home and I choose my partners
because of shared interests and compatibility. Neither age nor level of ability
in the other language matters. All that matters is that each one chooses the
partner of his own volition and remains in the relationship because it is mutually
beneficial. My first partner was a 22 year old from New Caledonia who spoke
quite good English at a point where I could hardly put together one sentence.
We talked daily. Her progress after two weeks was so noticeable that her
teacher was asking her, to ask me, how to say some things in English. Sometimes
my French is better than the other's English and sometimes it's the other way
I created a family of 12, ranging in age today from 33 to 77 and it comes to me
via Skype from all over the world. Like a child who shows everyone his new toy,
I started by telling each of them, the same story. Each one corrected me and
my story improved till by Friday it was pretty good. Today I can talk about world
events and discuss articles from Le Monde and L'actualité switching then to the
Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I'm not very eloquent in French but I
talk with my partner who is, then I'm more eloquent in English when it's his turn.
Language partners listen patiently, correct a little and become friends. It is a sort
of sheltered immersion, as opposed to standing panicked at the front of a long
line ordering fast-food in French. Nevertheless sheltered immersion only goes so
far because we speak clearly , one-on-one with no background noise and there is
always the chat screen as a safety net.
Direct and dynamic contact with native speakers is the next step in becoming
fluent and confident. FFI, the 40 year expert in group home-stays, provides
cultural immersion with groups and individuals talking at a normal rate using both
formal and informal vocabulary, living as they normally do. Friendship Force
International is a network of 360 clubs in 57 countries who exchange hospitality in
what are like student exchanges for adults.
This winter, I travelled to France with my husband, meeting my language partners in
their homes. Then I spent two months in Paris, participating three times a week,
in a wonderful bar event called Franglish. It's a sort of speed-dating for language
learners without romance. There we met over 200 French people needing to
learn English, mostly young professionals. The French who once considered
it a matter of national pride not to speak English, now, need to learn English
to survive, particularly in the EU. However, the French cannot find enough
Anglophones learning French with whom to find language partners. Furthermore,
French speaking immigrants to Canada and native Quebeckers compete with the
French for the scarce Anglophones learning French. Where are the anglophone
learners of French? They are in the Canadian Public Service and you have links
to them. I hope you will help us find them. I am sure they would appreciate
the opportunity to make friends with ordinary Quebeckers and ordinary people
from the Francophonie. I just know that making friends with real francophones
uncomplicated by money, history or work competition would go a long way to
improving the mood of anglophones learning French.
To summarize, we can offer
- Language partners on Skype
- Immersion for Francophones in our FF exchanges in all the English speaking
- Immersion for Anglophones in Quebec, France, Guadeloupe and New
- In the next few months we have 55 exchanges in the English speaking
world, each having space to add francophones wanting to improve
their English. For example, September 4th
available for Francophones to join a group of English speaking FF members
from Ottawa in Cornwall, UK. Also joining this group is one person from
Belgium and another from Normandie. For both of these people it will
be English immersion with a group of British hosts and English speaking
Canadians... all of us struggling a little with the various accents.
I hope The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages can help publicize
these opportunities with MLE and FFI. I hope that more people can know the
pleasure of making friends who enriched one's life and make learning another
language worth the effort.