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Saturday, June 10, 2006

English as the National Language - Some French Feedback

Maine’s Franco-Americans who grew up speaking French before they learned English might take issue with mandating English as the national language of the United States, as is currently proposed by some.

Although the Franco-Americans I know, and love appreciate and respect their English language skills, their French language was once looked upon with disdain. They were often ridiculed for speaking French. Nevertheless, immigrant French-Canadians learned to speak fluent English within three generations of the first ancestor arriving in the United States.

Let's fact it, most young Franco-Americans living in Southern Maine don’t speak much French at all (not the case in Northern Maine where French is widely spoken by many), although, their parents were generally bi-lingual as a result of their parents speaking French. Many second generation Franco-Americans speak both French and English but their children (third generation) only speak English.

Likewise, there’s even a cultural resurgence of interest among Franco-Americans to re-learn the French they lost during their assimilation into the English speaking culture of New England.
For example, my husband attends a lunch group every other week for the sole purpose of maintaining his French language skills. It’s a "French only" lunch group, attended by people who, for the past 20 years, met for the purpose of socializing to keep up with their language skills.

Ron Drouin grew up speaking French in Biddeford. He says he’s opposed to legislation making English the official language of the United States. Moreover, he’s proud of his French upbringing. "What a gift it is for me to be bilingual. I also studied some Spanish and Italian (at least enough to get by when visiting Spain and Italy). I’m not a linguist, but certainly wish I were. Speaking at least two languages gave me the worth of two people" he says.

Charlie Remy is a young Franco-American college student from Gorham with family roots in Springvale, who is currently spending academic time in Chile, South America as a student of Elon University.

Remy speaks fluent Spanish and sent this e-mail (in English): "There’s no need for the U.S. to legislate English as the official language. I think it's important that people maintain their native languages that are not English. It makes for richer cultural landscape. By the second generation of immigration, it's highly likely they will have learned English, anyway. We need to deal with the reality that Spanish is the second language of the US. I think it's wonderful," he writes.

By the way, Remy’s father grew up in the York County Town of Springvale, speaking both French and English.

A column by the op-ed writer E.J. Dionne, Jr., published May 23, in "The Washington Post", tells the story of the writer’s French-Canadian family roots in New Bedford, Mass. Dionne’s explains how his father spoke English with a heavy accent when he started school. As a result, a first grade teacher mercilessly made fun of his father because of his difficulty with the English language. Nevertheless, even criticism at school didn’t cause either of Dionne’s parents to turn against their French heritage.

Dionne and his sister both spoke French before they learned English because his parents took pride in teaching them to be bi-lingual.

Similarly, my husband’s family lived in the Ridgeway area of Sanford where the family spoke
French in spite of living in the English side of the ethnically divided town. Rose L’Heureux, insisted her 5 children speak English without an accent; but, at the same time, she taught them to speak and to pray in French at home.

Regardless of the emphasis on French, every person interviewed for this column is eloquently fluent in English, including E. J. Dionne, a writer for the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

In other words, English is indisputably the national language of the United States and will remain so.