As an association coordinator working for a Canadian association management company who manages associations with members across the country, I often interact not only with Anglophones, but Francophones as well. Being a bilingual association coordinator at Strauss event & association management has many advantages and often makes me think about how multilingual Canada really is, a country with two official languages and many more spoken languages.
Bilingualism in Canada
When we look back over the last few decades, we see that the number of Canadians fluent in both English and French increased steadily following the passing of the first Official Languages Act in 1969. Between 1961 and 2001, the rate of English-French bilingualism in Canada rose from 12.2% to 17.1%.
According to Statistics Canada, by 2016, that number had increased only slightly to 17.9% nationwide. In the same year, those who declared French as their first language represented 53.2% of the total English-French bilingual population of Canada. So other than the slight increase between 2001 and 2016, the bilingualism rate in Canada has otherwise held steady for nearly two decades.[i]
Why has this rate not been continuously increasing since 2001? Part of the reason may have to do with the languages that newcomers to Canada are bringing with them.
According to the 2016 Census, 7.5 million people living in Canada speak a language other than English or French, and one in five members of the population claim a non-official language as their mother tongue.
Currently the highest number of people immigrating to Canada come from the Philippines, India and China. Immigrants coming to Canada bring not only themselves and their families, but also their cultures, traditions and languages.
This means that while the English-French bilingual rate may not be steadily increasing, the rate of those speaking other languages in addition to either English or French is rapidly growing, as evidenced by the diverse population of immigrants coming to Canada. In this way, what it means to be “bilingual” in Canada is constantly evolving. Nevertheless, there is no immediate cause for concern, according to Jean-Pierre Corbeil, an assistant director at Statistics Canada. “French isn’t going to be overtaken by another language in the foreseeable future, particularly when English and French are the languages of integration for immigrants,” he says.[ii]
Being a Bilingual Association Coordinator
Where does that put me as a bilingual Association Coordinator?
Here at Strauss, we manage several national associations and I work with four of them. I would say that I communicate in French about 30% of the time. Three out of four associations I work with have members across Canada and the other is centralized in Manitoba.
Being a dedicated bilingual association coordinator for these organizations means that most of my time is focused on offering them services in both official languages. With that being said, because I am fluent in French, I do offer my services to all our clients if needed. My organizational skills, my ability to multitask, as well as my time management skills are key factors in these situations.
How to Better Serve Association Members
Understanding how different cultures communicate, and using that knowledge to better serve my clients and members, is how I work daily, whether it be by email, over the phone or face-to-face. The French language, just like the English language, can vary from one province to another, just like it can vary from one country to another. Using the wrong terminology when communicating can change the meaning of entire phrases and you can be misinterpreted by your listener or reader.
To best serve the associations that I work with, I try to understand the clients individually as well as the field they work in. Knowing who they are, where they are located and what their needs are is a good way to start. To establish a friendly working atmosphere with our clients and members, and to provide good service in French, we need to familiarize ourselves with the association’s work in French, so that we can properly contextualize what the association does.
To effectively provide services in French, I believe we must actively promote our services in French, which is to say that we need to make it clear that service in French is readily available without our clients having to ask for it. An offer like this will assure members that “customer service French” will be available so they can feel comfortable in their choice of language.
Being a bilingual association coordinator gives me the opportunity to work with more associations than would someone who can only speak English or French. Canada has a rich multilingual history and today has two official languages. To keep our services at Strauss at a high-performance level, we need to communicate clearly and effectively in both English and French so that people across Canada and in other countries can understand us.
[i] Statistics Canada (2017). English–French bilingualism reaches new heights. 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-200-X. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016009/98-200-x2016009-eng.cfm.
[ii] Grenier, Éric. (2017, August 2). Canadians becoming more bilingual, linguistically diverse, census data shows. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/census-wednesday-language-1.4231213