Learning French, like mathematics and some other subjects, can induce fear.
But it doesn't have to be this way, according to Canadian Parents for French.
In a research brief, the organization argues that "linguistic insecurity" is alive and well in francophone communities across Canada.
That's because it's been "stigmatized as a mere patois", according to Building Linguistic Security: Be Brave, Speak French!
UBC faculty of education professor Wendy Carr and UBC faculty of education assistant professor Meike Wernicke were among those who cowrote the brief.
CPF's vice president, Derrek Bentley, director at large Diane Tijman, and coed representatives Betty Gormley, Michael Tryon, and Nicole Thibault also contributed sections.
"In schools and universities, linguistic insecurity is reinforced through the constant monitoring and correction of the language by those who claim to speak a better French, the right kind of French, the 'real French'—as it is spoken in France or on Radio Canada—not the franco-colombien spoken by youth in Victoria, British Columbia, or the chiac heard among high school students in Moncton, New Brunswick," Wernicke writes in the opening section.
"In many regards, this insecurity about French can be traced back to the evolution of French from Latin, a centuries-long process that has left us with the idea of French as a homogenous, monocentric language and continues to reinforce the image of the ideal francophone as a monolingual speaker from Paris."
Wernicke points out that linguistic insecurity has been documented in francophone communities, including among second-language speakers of French who teach it in schools.
"Aside from having to face the usual question from parents, 'Which French do you teach?' as well as sideways glances from colleagues monitoring the unintended slip of an anglicism in the staffroom, the overwhelming orientation to and preference for a native speaker standard more often than not requires negotiating a conflicting dual identity as both learner and teacher of French," she writes.
Another concern is losing one's French due to a lack of interactions with French speakers outside of class.
"Ultimately more emphasis needs to be placed on moving beyond the continued emphasis on linguistic purism, to engage in current debates about the suitability of plurilingual practices in French language programs, in order to build more inclusive FSL classrooms in which heritage and local Indigenous languages, emerging English language learners, and learners with varying abilities are fully valued," Wernicke states.
The research brief offers several ideas to address the stigma around speaking French that might differ from that uttered by a Parisian.
For example, French learners are advised to speak French as often as possible. They can even begin a conversation with "Aujourd'hui, j'ai le courage de parler en français." (Today, I have the courage to speak French.)
In addition, parents are encouraged to praise their children's efforts in French and celebrate their progress.
"Explain to your child and other parents that there are many varieties of French," the research brief states. "These are desirable in sharing the richness of the language."
Also, parents should realize that their kid's French teacher might have an accent that differs from other teachers, which is "perfectly okay". And that might result in the child learning different expressions.
"Be careful when commenting on how another person speaks French," the brief states.
And teachers are urged to foster a risk-taking attitude, including by encouraging colleagues to speak French with them inside and outside of school.
Carr's section highlights the need for schools, school boards, and faculties of education to acknowledge the importance of ongoing linguistic development.
"Students and teachers need ongoing opportunities for engaged language use, ideally with some immersive occasions in francophone settings, in order to keep their levels of linguistic proficiency and security strong," she states. "This requires sustained effort, structure and support."