Steve & Mark – Official Language Policies

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Mark and Steve talk about official language policies in Canada and the many non-sensical things that go on.

Mark: Hello and welcome back to EnglishLingQ, Mark here with Steve.

How’s it going today?

Steve: Fine, Mark, nice to be here again, as usual.

You know I was just in Boston visiting with your brother and his family.

I was very impressed with Boston; it’s a very nice city.

It combines sort of green parks and leafy neighborhoods and you have lakes, a river and then you have the ocean and old homes and historical buildings.

It’s really a very nice city and we enjoyed being with the family there.

Mark: Right.

I never spent that much time in Boston.

I’d kind of go in and out when I was there at university in Connecticut, but I know it always had the reputation of being a very nice city and what little I saw of it seemed very nice, but I never spent much time there or did any exploring in that area.

Steve: I went to Harvard.

Of course you went to Yale and you used to play hockey against Harvard and so forth.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But I went to Harvard.

And, of course, it’s a nice campus; it’s not as nice as Yale.

I went to the various language departments to exchange views.

They looked at me with a certain amount of apprehension.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Anyway, it was kind of interesting.

It made me think of the U.S.

and all the things that are happening in the U.S.

and, of course, how President Obama is having to deal with all these problems of the economic crisis and yet he has an agenda to introduce reforms and one area, of course, is in education.

It seems that he has some willingness to take on the teachers unions and all of the forces that want to sort of maintain the education system the way it is.

And, really, the education system hasn’t changed over the last 100 years; it’s the same basic idea.

We think that at LingQ we’re on the cutting edge of a different approach.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Most people inside the education establishment just want to pick and choose a few little elements of technology, but they’re not really prepared to change the model.

Mark: Well they’re essentially looking at how can we do what we currently do in a more…I don’t want to say clever way, a more appealing way or a fancier way using technology, but they’re not really interested in new models.

I mean I think if you look at innovation in industry, certainly that’s an industry that has not seen its share of advancements in the last 100 years.

Steve: Well it’s so difficult because it’s so bureaucratic and such a big organization.

There’s no real opportunity for innovation to happen, except that smaller company like LingQ and others.

If we can somehow access…I mean most people don’t have a lot of money to spend.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean they’ve already paid for the education system through their taxes, so they don’t want to spend more money; although, private schools are popular with some people.

And that’s where I think this whole idea of vouchers is a good idea.

Where parents or other people who want to learn… If the taxpayer is going to fund education then fund the learners more and fund the established institutions less.

Mark: Well that’s the thing.

I mean anyone with innovation like ours, for instance, has to somehow break the stranglehold that the government monopolies have on education and, obviously, that’s a big challenge.

But a voucher system would go a long way toward enabling that because then, hopefully, you wouldn’t have to deal with the large institutions because anyone could open a school.

As long as they were successful and people wanted to send their kids there and presumably there’d be some sort of a required curriculum, they can be a lot more flexible than the enormous educational institutions that exist today.

Steve: Yeah.

You know the problem is the commitment that any established institution has to the way it operates.

You know it’s interesting, right now in the car industry Fiat is going to come in and reform General Motors or at least Chrysler.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So why couldn’t Chrysler reform Chrysler?

Why does it take Fiat?

Mark: Right.

Steve: Well often it does take a different perspective to bring about change.

Mark: And there’s no guarantee that Fiat is going to make it happen.

Steve: No guarantee.

Mark: Because Daimler-Benz tried to reform Chrysler, too, and that didn’t go so well.

Steve: No. But it reminds me of an interesting discussion I had this morning.

There was a recent report done in Toronto showing that employers… What they did, they sent out job applications, one where the applicant had an obviously English name and then the others had either Chinese names or Indian names and there were more call backs, like 16% call backs for the English names and 11% call backs for the names that appeared not to be English names.

So I was speaking to someone who works with the Immigration Department and I said to them, I said you know it’s not very useful to keep on putting out these negative reports, it doesn’t encourage the immigrants.

There is a problem with the ability to communicate and after 10 years of a lot of immigrants in the workplace, the employer is…there may be some prejudice employers, but largely the employers want someone who can communicate.

If you continue to send out the message that the employers are prejudice you’re just going to discourage the immigrants.

I said what you need to do is to have a website where you are promoting the examples; using the examples of the successful immigrants.

I, of course, suggested we could tie this to LingQ and they could learn from it and blah, blah, blah.

He said to me, you know what — speaking from someone within the government who is sort of in sympathy with what the political leaders want to do – he said it’s impossible to move the bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy has no interest in doing this kind of thing.

The bureaucracy is interested in making the problem seem bigger so that they can get more funding.

Mark: Right.

Steve: This is from a person that’s in government, he’s telling me this.

But a person who was brought in, he’s saying, they’re interested in maintaining the present system, sort of pointing out the problems to justify more money for more of the same kinds of programs.

So he said try to get a private sector person to fund that kind of initiative.

I just thought it was an interesting reflection.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I think this is true in education, in whatever, as I’ve pointed out.

That people are always saying 40% of the population can’t read and all of these sorts of dramatic scenarios in order to get more funding.

The major motivation is always get more funding not to improve what we’re doing.

Mark: I mean I guess it all comes back to…not to keep beating on the same tom-tom all the time, but you know this whole issue of for profit and not for profit and you’re for profit and you’re just in it because you want to make money.

Fundamentally it doesn’t matter what business or industry you’re in, for profit, not for profit, charity, environmental cause, government department, you’re motivated to do better.

That’s what motivates people, so it’s not surprising that bureaucrats are motivated to increase the amount of money that their department gets, increase the number of employees, increase their pay.

I mean whether they like to believe that they’re for profit or not, it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, the basic motivation is there for everybody.

And so whether you start out with the best of intentions in whatever field, eventually it starts to become more about what’s going to be good for me.

Steve: Right.

Mark: That seems to be the way it goes.

Steve: Well I mean every organization is concerned about what’s good for that particular organization.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, in a way, the smaller the organization, the greater number of different organizations, the greater the flexibility.

I mean I love public facilities and we’ve said this before.

A nice park is great.

I don’t mind the fact that they plant flowers here and we get to, you know, and the environment that we live in… I’m not in favor of cutting all public facilities down to zero, by no means.

I think it’s a great idea to have a lot of things that are public and free, like parks, like libraries and so forth.

But governments don’t only bring us good things and, certainly, very few wars are started by private industry.

Wars tend to be started by governments.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And so we can maybe move on to another subject, which is sort of some of the world hot spots.

We have the situation in Sri Lanka where, certainly for a long time, I think in Canada people were not in sympathy with the Tamil Tigers because they were a pretty vicious terrorist organization.

Now we’re seeing in the paper that because the Sri Lankan Government has been able to kill the leader (I won’t even try to pronounce his name) they are now carrying on as if the Tamils don’t exist.

Apparently there has been tremendous killing of women and children and dismembering and the Head of the sort of Sri Lankan Government is sort of being presented as a king and a god and, yeah, we defeated the Tamils in this tremendous sort of triumphalism; whereas, 15% of their population is Tamil.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean, you know, is there no room there for some sense of, okay, they lost, the Tamil Tigers were defeated, but still we want to recognize them as a valid independent group?

It’s pretty discouraging to read the news coming out of Sri Lanka these days.

Mark: I would imagine, though, that…I mean if that’s the government, at least, expressing those positions, I would imagine that that reflects the position of the general population.

Steve: Sure.

Mark: I mean that’s been a long, drawn out conflict and the Tamils have been reeking a lot of havoc there.

I don’t know how many people have died, but many of the Sri Lankans — the majority there — have been affected.

So I would imagine that now that it’s all finally said and done there’s a certain amount of gloating going on.

Not that that excuses the behavior versus the Tamils, but I mean it’s not really that surprising that would happen.

Steve: Right.

Mark: You would hope that the people in charge, who should hopefully have a better sense of things, would want to make amends with the Tamils and try and insure that this kind of thing doesn’t keep on happening, but that doesn’t look like that’s the case.

Steve: It’s pretty discouraging.

Mark: Yeah.

Especially such a small minority, I mean it’s 15%.

I mean it’s not small, but you vastly outnumber them.

It’s not that difficult to be a little…

Steve: …accommodating…

Mark: …forgiving and try and reach an agreement of some kind.

Steve: I mean we live with the situation here in Canada where we have (whatever it is) 23-4% of the population that’s French-speaking and throughout our history there have been struggles between the French-speaking and the English-speaking populations.

I’m sure the French-speaking, you know, had hoped that they would have a bigger share of say Western Canada as it was developed…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …and they would have loved not to have lost the Battle of Quebec.

Mark: Right.

Steve: However, they’ve been able to sort of create a position for themselves, one that’s not always appreciated by all English Canadians.

I mean there continues to be a certain amount of friction there, but basically, you know, I think the relationship is quite mature.

When you see the way minorities are treated in places; I mean Turkey is another example.

I mean we have the whole situation in the Balkans and lots of places where there seems to be…I’m not that familiar with the situation in Europe and in Belgium and in Spain.

Probably a greater effort to try to accommodate regional, you know, cultures, yet without having to give up the integrity of the whole country.

Not easy to do because you probably have the hotheads on both sides.

Mark: I mean I think that has always been and will always be.

I don’t think there’s much that can be done.

Steve: No.

Mark: I mean there’s always our group versus your group, it’s the basic human condition.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

Mark: And, you know, once we separate our group from your group then we’ll find separations within our own group that we can get excited about.

That reminds me, today in the paper I read an article put out by the (whatever he’s called) Official Languages Commissioner or something in Canada.

Steve: Right.

Mark: You didn’t hear this?

Steve: Okay, what nonsense did he have to say?

Mark: He said that the Vancouver 2010 has to do something quickly…

Steve: Right.

Mark: …or else the games will not be fully bilingual for all.

Steve: Right.

Mark: That the French Canadians will not receive the proper French signage and so on during the Olympics.

Like, for instance, they raided the Vancouver Airport, the worst airport in Canada for displaying French prominently.

I mean how many French people are coming to the Olympics?

Steve: You know it’s so silly, it’s so silly.

I mean the Vancouver Airport has French.

Mark: Right.

Steve: It has lots of bilingual stuff, but it also has Chinese, it has Korean, Spanish, it reflects the travelers that are coming through that airport.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I mean if the Olympics were held…I don’t know what happened when they had the Olympics in Montreal.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But I think if they had the Olympics in Quebec City…

Mark: …there’d be a lot more French than English.

Steve: And I don’t mind that.

Mark: Absolutely not.

Steve: Because that’s what they are.

If they had the Olympics in, I don’t know some part of Quebec where there was…I mean Montreal is, whatever, 40% English-speaking, but if they’re in an area that’s predominantly French-speaking, that’s their local color.

If they have it in the German-speaking part of Switzerland or in the French or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, let them show off their local language.

What’s the problem?

Mark: I mean this clown has got to justify his salary, I guess.

But, realistically, how many people from Quebec are going to come here and say, hey, how come everything is in English?

I thought everybody would speak French to me.

I mean everybody realizes nobody speaks French in Vancouver.

Everybody in Quebec…nobody expects to be spoken to and handled in French, it’s just solely this guy and his department.

Steve: I mean let’s face it; Whistler is an English-speaking town in an English-speaking province.

Now, French will have pride of place in the Olympics because it was Pierre Coubertin…

Mark: Sure, yeah.

Steve: …who started the Olympic movement and they always use French and I’m sure that they’re falling over backwards to find people who can speak French and blah, blah, blah.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But, I mean let’s not get carried away.

Mark: Yeah. No, I know, but the headline was like, you know…

Steve: …or else.

Mark: Vancouver 2010 has to do something now or else.

Steve: Well, you know it reminds me of…I mean people are so, you know, myopic.

He is the Commissioner for Languages, so what’s important for him is important for everyone.

Mark: Right.

Steve: No. That’s a childish, stupid thing to say Mr. Commissioner.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And if the tables were turned and somebody from Ottawa went into Quebec and said you have to have more English signs, there would have been hue and cry in Quebec.

Mark: Yeah, for sure.

Steve: This is our chance to show off who we are and, because in Quebec they’re far more sort of cultural nationalists than English Canadians, they would specifically want to reduce the English content and show off their French. And go to it!

Mark: Absolutely.

Actually, that reminds me.

Another thing he said in this article was that Supreme Court Judges in Canada should have to be bilingual.

Steve: Right.

Mark: Because sometimes they have to write legislation in both languages and we have to make sure that the legislation is the same in both languages.

Steve: You know it’s an interesting point because most Canadians are not bilingual.

And I would say that the vast majority of English Canadians are not bilingual.

Like I don’t think there’s 10%…

Mark: …truly bilingual.

Steve: Truly, about five percent.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And I have, of course, talked about this because the way we teach languages in school is a joke, it’s a joke.

It’s a colossal waste of money, it’s a disgrace.

Mark: Although I’m surprised that people that you meet from Ottawa, a lot of them speak French.

Steve: Oh, from Ottawa?

Mark: Yeah, and, obviously, from Montreal.

Steve: Oh, sure, but they’re surrounded. I mean that’s different.

Mark: Yeah, that’s right.

Steve: And so, obviously, people who are from… Ottawa is 30 or 40% French.

Mark: Oh, it’s that many?

Steve: Oh, it’s that many, yeah.

Mark: Oh, okay.

Steve: And in Ottawa people are conscious of one day I might want to work for the Federal Government.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So French has a relevance there for them and they can use it.

They can hear the radio, they can read newspapers.

They’re an hour from Montreal.

Mark: Right.

Steve: They’re across the boarder from Quebec.

Mark: Yeah, right.

Steve: Yeah, that I can understand.

But it’s not realistic to expect that people in Vancouver are going to be bilingual.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So when you say that for this position, like to be a Supreme Court Judge, you’re going to have your whole career…you’re living and working in British Columbia, you have no dealings with anyone who speaks French.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You are an outstanding judge.

You are a brilliant legal mind.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You’re a prime candidate to be on the Supreme Court, but all your life you should be on LingQ learning French so that when you reach the age of 60 they can appoint you to the Supreme Court.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean I just think that’s not realistic.

Mark: No.

Steve: That’s not realistic.

They can have the trial in one or other languages, they can provide translation, they can provide interpretation and I don’t think that it should be required to be a French-speaking judge.

Mark: Absolutely ridiculous.

Translation is not that difficult a thing to do.

You can have a triple translation done if you really need to.

Steve: And I think with regard to politicians, again, there’s no point in having a rule that you must be bilingual.

The fact of the matter is that if you can’t speak French you’re probably not going to get votes in Quebec.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So that the reality of the situation is going to mean that people who go into politics are all going to work on their French.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You know. But, no, I think that’s perfectly silly.

But he says all kinds of silly things.

He said that they should make it a rule that everyone graduating from a university in Canada should speak French.

Mark: Yeah. So nobody is going to graduate?

Steve: No one is going to graduate. But you’re going to force people?

Here, you can’t speak French?

Come here!

Listen to me now.

Here’s French, learn it.

You know it just doesn’t work that way.

Mark: No.

Steve: You can’t force people.

Mark: No. Anyway…

Steve: Anyway.

Mark: Anyway, we’re paying for that guy.

Steve: So, yeah. Well I should be the Commissioner for Languages in Canada!

Mark: I know.

Steve: I’d change a few things.

Mark: Start a campaign…

Steve: Start a campaign.

Mark: …on the Internet, a petition.

Steve: Learn Spanish.

Mark: Anyway, with that we’ll sign off for today.

Steve: Okay.

Mark: We’ll pick it up again next week.

Steve: Thank you for listening.

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