Tuesday , January 12 2021

Federal civil servants victims of linguistic insecurity in French

Reading time : 4 minutes

OTTAWA – According to a survey by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada, linguistic insecurity affects federal public servants. Some 44% of Francophones who participated say they feel uncomfortable using French at work.

It is not only young francophones in a minority situation who experience linguistic insecurity. Many federal public servants would also experience a sense of unease, discomfort or anxiety when speaking French. This is the finding that emerges from the survey conducted by the Office of the Commissioner, in collaboration with the private research firm PRA Inc., from March 6 to 25, 2019.

“Linguistic insecurity is a phenomenon that we have been talking about for several years and we wanted to see how officials perceive themselves and understand certain behaviors,” explains Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge.

In total, some 10,828 questionnaires were completed, almost equally between Anglophones and Francophones, in the designated bilingual regions of the national capital – including Ottawa and Gatineau -, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.

If linguistic insecurity exists “less commonly” in English, French first and second language, it is “a major challenge in all the regions studied”. And this as much in terms of oral expression, writing or at the request of supervision in French.

A different reality

Among Francophone respondents, 44% say they are uncomfortable using French, while 39% of Anglophones share their fear of expressing themselves in Molière’s language. In the National Capital Region, this percentage reaches 47% of Francophones, while it is 41% in the rest of Quebec, 22% in the regions designated bilingual in Ontario and 32% in those of New -Brunswick.

“These results confirm some of my hypotheses given the complaints we receive on this issue every year,” explains Mr. Théberge, who underlines the strong participation, including from people outside the designated regions and therefore not counted. “This shows that there is a strong interest among civil servants. “

However, the Office of the Commissioner specifies that, since the survey used a non-probability sample, the results are only a reflection of the views and experiences of the respondents themselves.

“On paper, everyone has the right to work in the official language of their choice, but this survey shows that the reality is different and the pandemic has worsened the situation,” said Alex Silas, regional executive vice-president for the National Capital Region within the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

“Don’t be seen as a troublemaker”

To explain their discomfort, the French-speaking respondents mentioned the fact that their supervisors and their colleagues were not comfortable enough in French, recalling the conclusions of the Commissioner’s report on the way in which bilingual positions in the federal public service are filled, released in November.

They also say they do not want to appear as “troublemakers” and point out the lack of use of French at work, during meetings or in the production of written documents.

Federal civil servant until 1995, Diane Desaulniers is a specialist in the implementation of official languages policies within the federal public service with the firm Groupe Vision management consulting. She takes a critical look at the poll.

“Linguistic insecurity is a phenomenon that belongs to minority communities. Here, it has nothing to do! It’s more a question of linguistic confidence, ”she says. “I find the questions to be very broad and biased. It lacks analysis. “

Possible solutions

In any case, more than 30 years after the possibility for a public servant to work in the official language of his choice was specified in the Official Languages Act, these answers question.

“This shows once again to what extent there are significant gaps in the Act and how important it is to modernize it,” notes Mr. Théberge.

Several respondents proposed solutions, such as better access to training, that the use of the second language be encouraged. Francophones also advocate bilingual management that ensures the equal promotion of both languages, as well as working in a truly bilingual environment, in particular by promoting bilingualism or a certain knowledge of French and English among public servants. The importance of French and English being spoken in activities, such as meetings or workshops, is also emphasized.

“For a long time now, we have been asking for a review of the policies on bilingualism,” said Mr. Silas, citing in particular the increase in the bilingualism bonus. “We want more language training, offered within the public service to meet specific needs. Culture must be changed to create a truly bilingual environment. “

We hope that these data will make the government realize that there is a problem – Alex Silas, Public Service Alliance of Canada

But for Ms. Desaulniers, this is a missed opportunity.

“The proposed solutions already exist in Treasury Board policies,” explains the one who submitted ideas for improving work in French in the federal public service in a brief to the Senate committee on official languages. “I regret that there is no recommendation, such as the one I made to apply the active offer to the language of work part of the Official Languages Act. Both supervisors and chairmen of meetings should have this obligation. “

The Commissioner recalls that he has already made proposals on this issue in his recommendations for modernizing the Act.

“This survey is above all an inventory, but at the end of the day, we know that this takes more systemic measures. “


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