At our school desks we learn how to read, write and speak French, but how do we learn to LIVE the language? We start to notice its usefulness and importance at municipal, provincial, national and global levels. By speaking French, we have the opportunity to expand and enrich our minds, and that opens the doors to many new worlds!
I never imagined how knowing two languages could help save lives during a horrible situation. I made my first steps in the francophone world thanks to a French immersion program in which my parents enrolled me even though they didn’t speak French themselves. Soon I was learning about different people and lifestyles and appreciating two distinct cultures, the Canadian one and the French one.
I could travel with confidence and without my parents because I knew that second language. When I was 13-years old, I was in a student exchange program in Quebec for two weeks. I stayed with a Quebec girl for a week, and then she came home with me for another week. During that time, it seemed to me that I was still living the Canadian life but in French instead. The experience was fantastic. My French improved, and I became best friends with my counterpart. I got way past the barriers that time. Language wasn’t a barrier but a door.
Life has taught me that destiny leads us in a predetermined direction. When I was 14, I didn’t appreciate French and the opportunities it could offer me, and then I changed to an all-English school. Nearly immediately I felt as if I were missing something and realized that it was living a bilingual life. I saw how important French was to me, and I wanted to go back to immersion classes. Now I know why.
This summer, I went to France for another exchange, this time for two months. It took me a week to adapt to French culture and to understand everything people were saying to me. I made lots of new friends, and I spoke French to everybody I encountered, ordering in restaurants, learning a new culture, all in French. The family with which I was staying didn’t speak any English at all. My French counterpart, Pauline, and I became almost like sisters, and her family became my family. It wasn’t just being able to speak and live in the two languages but also pride that I took the risk to try and then succeeded. I could comfortably participate in a life completely different from my own. I embraced that new experience and adapted quickly to it.
When Pauline and I were flying back to Toronto, we had an experience that changed my life. The plane went off the end of the runway and then crashed and burned. There were both francophones and anglophones on the plane, and I could communicate with everyone in the two languages. That helped me stay calm and have the ability and courage to help others. At the airport, the media jumped all over us with questions. Pauline wasn’t comfortable speaking English and didn’t understand it well, so she needed help. When the reporters asked Pauline questions, I interpreted for her. I tried to comfort her during the disaster. But maybe even more important was the fact that I could communicate with her family and give them precious information about the well-being of their daughter. Bilingualism gave me the opportunity to give the best gift I can to the world—the ability to console others, in this case the passengers, my new kindred spirit and her family.
Bilingualism opens doors to universities, jobs, and even the future. Learning another language gives us the chance to travel, to be involved with others and to participate in their daily lives and different cultures. As tourists, we get only a glimpse of cultures and lives different from our own, but because I am a bilingual student, I can LIVE the language!