About languages

Going back, I remember that in Grade 10, we were required to take French. It seemed strange at the time since we didn’t know anyone who spoke French that we might converse with. We were told that we might work for the government some day and this would come in handy. And, it was required so just do it.

I took the class like all my friends and I actually did fairly well. I seem to recall a final mark in the 80s so that was good. It wasn’t until later that I found out that I didn’t really learn the language; I learned the words. I guess it probably made sense; my mathematical mind would translate an English word into French or a French word into English. Put enough French words together and I could make a sentence, apparently four times out of five.

Of course, I never used my new found skill in school beyond the class or at university. When I ended up getting a job in Essex County, I learned that LaSalle was the biggest speaking community west of Quebec. The locals were proud of that although I still have this nagging feeling that there are communities in Manitoba that would argue. I did have a few students who were bilingual in my home room and I could listen to and make a bit of sense of their conversations. And, to their amusement, try to respond to them.

It wasn’t until I became the webmaster at OSAPAC that it really hit home. My goal was to make the website bilingual since there are all kinds of French speaking educators in the province using Ministry licensed software. I looked forward to finally applying my high school skills towards something productive. And, there was this Google Translate thing to help me with the things I got stumped on.

Well, it didn’t take long until the French language speakers on the committee let me know that, they appreciated my effort, but my work wasn’t cutting it. Even when I tried to speak like I thought I could, they felt sorry for me and replied in English! But they were awesome and so helpful and we did reach a point where we had the website fluent in both languages.

So, why all this history?

Well, this morning, I ran into an interesting article.

Make Cree available on Google Translate, online petition demands

That stopped me for a second and so I checked…

There are indeed a lot of languages there in Google Translate. But the word “Cree” and presumably a translator wasn’t there.

So, it goes back to the original question posed in the interview.

One of the things that I value about being connected is making connections to people smarter and more worldly than me. A while back, a former colleague Tina, invited me to join an Indigenous Education group on Facebook. They’ve been awesome with their sharing and their insights. To pay my dues, I will share stories about Indigenous Education and I shared the story above. As per my normal practice, I also shared to Twitter where I notice a number of favourites and retweeting. Obviously people are interested.

But then, there was this interesting comment.

That took me back to high school where one of the complaints about learning French was that we were learning French French and not Canadian French and that there was a difference.

I can tell you that, even in this French area, the language has been butchered.

Around here, some of the street names …

  • Ouellette – pronounced as Oh-Let
  • Pierre – pronounced as peery
  • Grand Marais – pronounced as Grand Mair-ess

In Canada, we’re seeing actions taken to reverse the effect of Residential Schools and the loss of a first language. If you are sensitive to the regions within the province, you know that Cree isn’t the only language needed. For example, we have the Caldwell Nation on the shores of Lake Erie.

Thanks to the wonderful feedback from all, it’s clear that more than one language and one dialect would be needed to address all the needs. Certainly, you have to start somewhere but this isn’t going to be a one and done deal.

In the meantime, I wonder how effective this is.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

5 thoughts on “About languages”

  1. Doug, I also wonder how many other Indigenous languages are missing from this list … To me, it looks like there’s still quite a bit of work left to do.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, there are quite a few that aren’t on that list. I suspect that it’s a business decision on the part of Google whether or not to put resources to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning Doug!

    Just to clarify, when you say you were required to take a grade 10 credit in French during high school, do you mean that you did not have any mandatory classes in French prior to that during elementary school? I ask because I know that there was mandatory French instruction starting in grade 7 in my board when I was growing up, but by the time I started teaching later (in a different board) the mandatory French instruction began at grade 4.

    Certainly my exposure to French helped me during my summer work the last couple of years of high school in the French-only communities around Sudbury and along the northern arm of the trans-Canada highway. It also became clear to me by the time I reached grade 13 that I was gradually accumulating a lack of French with each passing year. Certainly an immersion experience at that time would have been helpful, as being placed into an all-or-nothing environment certainly helps promote language acquisition. As it was, I was able to get by for work purposes, but in no way became fluent.

    Once I arrived at University, however, the experience of having been exposed to a second language certainly came in handy as I tried my hand in learning German. There are so many components of speech and language that we naturally absorb and learn via our mother tongue, so it is only when you start to learn the second one that you learn the descriptive/meta-language needed to understand the parts of speech. Having that framework upon which to hang a third language is incredibly valuable.

    When you mention “French French,” it reminds me that one of my German teachers at uni remarked that what we were learning from our textbook was referred to as “Hochdeutsch” — official German (translates directly as “high German”), and that if we spoke like that in Germany, people would look at us funny. I’m sure the Languages Department wanted to make sure that students would be able to engage with German literature and research, but it was certainly helpful to have time invested with colloquial language and the necessary idioms to get by.

    One thing that I did note early on during my first year of German is that initially my brain tended to go into “translation mode” and readily offered up the French counterparts for the first few months. It was only after a while that my brain tended towards “German translation mode,” at which point it then became somewhat of a challenge to maneuver in French. These days, if pressed , I would be most likely to generator a bit of a hodgepodge, I imagine.

    Having said that, I have enjoyed very much the streaming service MHz during the pandemic of this past year, as it provides a wonderful range of European dramas in quite a wide selection of languages. The subtitles are definitely a requirement, but I was quite intrigued to learn over the last couple of weeks that when I recognized both German and French being used simultaneously during one program, the reason was because the series is set in Luxemburg, which has three national languages, Luxembourgish, German, and French. Certainly, when the program is in either French or German (and especially English), it is nice to be able to partially follow the conversation directly.


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