Bilingualism à la public relations: is it worth it?

Clara Héroux Rhymes

Madame, est-ce que je peux get a drink of water?” 

Any francophone would cringe in hearing this jumble between the two official Canadian languages. In fact, anglophones would too. Yet, as a French language assistant at a local elementary school, I often hear this blend of French and English. My job is to help students achieve fluency in French through oral language activities. As a graduate from a francophone high school in an English community, I can relate to the challenges these students face at school. Learning French when you live in an area saturated with English is far from easy. But that’s not to say it isn’t worth it, especially when it comes to your career. Let’s see why knowing French is an advantage in public relations, despite the challenges.

Excusez-moi, but why would it hurt to know both official languages?

From personal experience, knowing two languages has made it difficult to completely master either one. Last year, while taking university courses in both languages, I found myself torn between the two. I began to mix up grammatical rules and search for words in the opposite language. Furthermore, I questioned the practical side of my language abilities. Once in the workplace, would I ever put these skills to good use? Don’t most PR and communications firms send their English writing to professional translators?

Alors, how is bilingualism an asset to your career in public relations?

Firstly, speaking French is important for your resume. Employers immediately recognize bilingualism as a skill that makes a candidate stand out. I’m sure co-op students are aware of this, since many job descriptions this term have listed “knowledge of French” as an asset. In today’s competitive job market, language skills are a valuable way for you to show versatility and initiative.

Mais, does speaking French go beyond the resume?

It can help you strengthen connections with people. According to the Government of Canada in 2013, French is the mother tongue of 6.6 million Canadians. These Francophones can be found in all provinces and territories. In PR, we are expected to build strong relationships with the broad variety of people with whom we work. Even something as simple as having a conversation in French with a co-worker or client improves your connection to that person.

Est-ce que knowing a second language will improve your cultural competency?

In our increasingly globalized world, more than “30 countries have French as an official language and [there are] over 220 million French speakers worldwide” (Herry-Saint-Onge, 2012). Our diverse range of PR work environments could include multinational firms, which work with countries around the world. Through learning a second language you are exposed to another culture, which Canadian Parents for French say, “Makes [you] respectful of differences, and allows [you] to communicate effectively with people of diverse backgrounds” (2013). This directly relates to international work, because through knowing French you become more culturally open and aware.

Au contraire, is it worth learning a language other than French?

Research shows that people who speak multiple languages have better problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity (Abbott, Caccavale, Stewart, 2011). In Canada, you have lots of languages to choose from. In 2011, Statistics Canada found that Canadians speak more than 200 languages. So although French is a great option, learning a second language is valuable no matter which one you choose.

In brief, as PR students, we are constantly reminded that immersing yourself in a variety of experiences will work to your advantage. Learning a language other than English certainly falls in that category. Your resume, business relationships, and cultural awareness will all benefit. For those of you looking to improve your skills in French, there are better ways to practice than reading your bescherelle. Listen to French music, join Le Club Français at MSVU, or go for café au lait with a French friend. As for those of you who want to learn but don’t know how to start, Université St-Anne offers French as a second language courses here in Halifax. Don’t be afraid to say au revoir to unilingualism, and bonjour to all the opportunities of bilingualism.

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References

Abbott, M., Caccavale, T., Stewart, K. (2011). Cognitive Benefits of Learning Languages. Retrieved from: http://tip.duke.edu/node/866

Canadian Parents for French (2013) The Benefits of the French Immersion Program. Retrieved from: http://ns.cpf.ca/resources/for-parents/the-benefits-of-the-french-immersion-program/

Government of Canada (2013, November 18). Consider Francophone Communities. Retrieved from: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/francophone/

Herry-Saint-Onge, V. (2012, July 4). Bilingual Benefits: Is it worth the trouble of Learning French Anymore? Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/07/04/bilingual-benefits_n_1628679.html

Statistics Canada (2011). Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians. Retrieved from: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-314-x/98-314-x2011001-eng.cfm

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (2012). What is Explore? Retrieved from: http://www.myexplore.ca/en/page/?program_description

Université Saint-Anne (2013). French As a Second Language: Part-Time Day and Evening Courses in Halifax. Retrieved from: https://www.usainteanne.ca/day-evening-halifax