Diane Lebouthillier was raised in a region of Quebec where French is the dominant language, but in 2015 she was elected to the Canadian House of Commons and was made Minister of National Revenue. Around a fifth of Canadians are bilingual in French and English, but English is more widely spoken, with 85.6% of the population having a working knowledge of English.
Anglophone Journalists who are used to Ministers speaking in their language complained about Lebouthillier answering questions in French. She did this as she was less confident in speaking English.
“There are interpreters, they can do their work,” she said. “And the questions can be pointed when you’re a minister, and English is my second language, so I can’t let myself make a mistake because it will be repeated and repeated, ‘The minister said …'”
To improve her English skills, Lebouthillier took the University of New Brunswick’s 3-week English immersion programme. This is a language programme designed for civil servants, and foreign business people, and teaches English to around 1,400 students from 80 countries in a typical year.
Lebouthillier lived with an English-speaking family throughout the course and was not allowed to speak any language except English. “All the time,” she said. “Twenty-four hours a day. It’s not easy.” After the course the Minister was able to conduct interviews in English.
While she was learning English, New Brunswick’s new Progressive Conservative leader, Blaine Higgs, was in Quebec City learning French. The media asked him questions in French after, but he admitted that he wasn’t quite ready.
Lebouthillier said “I can understand Anglophone ministers who are cautious about French interviews because it’s the same thing. They’ll have trouble if they make mistakes.”
La Academia offers immersion courses in French and English – if any Canadian politicians like the idea of studying outside of Canada we’d be happy to help! We know from experience it is possible to help students make excellent progress in languages during an immersion course, and as well as French and English we offer all major Asian and European languages.
Just contact us if you’d like to know more!