In Hope, 90 people are classified as an “official language minority.”
Statistics Canada defines that as a person who speaks French as the first official language and also partially considers people who speak English and French. It translates to about 1.5 per cent of Hope’s population.
Quebecer Nathalie Giroux represents one of those 90 people. Originally from Sept-Iles, which she considers “as French as it gets,” Giroux did not speak English until about Grade 3.
“There weren’t many English-speaking people when I was there at all,” said Giroux.
To Giroux, French is an important part of her identity and she hopes to pass the language to her six-year-old child, Angelie.
Giroux married an anglophone and in order to inculcate French at home, she tries to speak French to Angelie whenever her husband is not at home.
“When her dad gets home, it’s basically like the household switches to English so that he can understand,” said Giroux. “When she was a little baby, it was a lot easier because it was her and I, the whole entire day, together.
“So when she was born, I basically started talking to her in French, so in her head that’s the first language she heard.”
Giroux said having her daughter learn French will allow her to communicate with people when travelling and also gives her an edge in the job market.
“When I first moved to Vancouver, I got jobs because I was bilingual,” said Giroux, who moved when she was 21 after living in Ontario. “That was my main foot in the door because I had two languages.”
Giroux said her daughter can understand everything said to her in French, but has a hard time replying in French. Resources to receive a French education in Hope are also limited, she said.
“I don’t have any backup plan,” said Giroux. “It’s just me. Whatever I can teach her, when we go on vacation with my mom, my mom speaks to Angelie in French.”
Giroux’s mother, Nicole Giroux, sometimes sends French videos and books to Angelie. Instead of Strawberry Shortcake, Nicole would send Fraisinette.
Giroux knows she could send Angelie to Chilliwack to attend French immersion, but considered that the highways can be dangerous in wintertime. Instead, she suggests that schools here host some form of French class when children are in their prime to learn languages.
“Having something as basic as watching a cartoon and just slowly immersing them and not making it such a foreign, scary thing, before they are even given the option,” said Giroux.
Besides Canada’s official languages, about 10 per cent of Hope’s residents have a mother tongue other than English or French, according to Statistics Canada.
They define “mother tongue” as “the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the person at the time the data was collected.”
The Standard contacted two interviewees to understand their stories.
The story of Veronica Loyola Ryder, of Mexico, starts out when she met her husband Dwayne 15 years ago.
“When we met we could not even communicate,” said Dwayne. “She spoke Spanish, I spoke English but somehow because we wanted to get to know one another we made it work.”
“It took patience to get though the language barrier. Helping my wife learn English has helped communicate, too bad my Spanish is not that good.”
Learning English was also a challenge for Veronica, who said that not only she had to learn the English equivalents of words, she also had to understand the meaning and interpretation.
“That was very difficult,” said Veronica.
The story is similar with Sabine Keil, whose family moved to Canada in 1965 from Germany. As undistinguishable from another Canadian person today, Keil could not speak anything but German when she started kindergarten. Today, Keil continues to keep her German intact.
“Although never formally schooled in German, my parents spoke German at home, we made some German friends and I travelled to Germany with my mother regularly to visit family,” said Keil. “I have also maintained my language skills by speaking German with tourists over the 25 years we owned Pharmasave, and continuing to travel back to visit relatives.”
She said she has challenges teaching her son German because she only maintained a basic level of German with limited vocabulary.
“I understand far more words than I can retrieve from my memory banks,” she said. “My grammar makes my family laugh or cringe, and my writing is childlike. However, I can read well and my understanding is very good when others speak to me.”
She said she found teaching her son German to be “challenging,” although her son “can throw a few words of German around, like ordering a beer — the important stuff.”