Improving bilingual culture in the Defence Team

September 24, 2020 - Defence Stories

Linguistic Duality Day has just passed, serving as a celebration of the linguistic duality and bilingualism that are symbolic of Canada’s rich heritages, traditions, and history. This year, to bring together the Defence Team’s Official Languages Coordinators from across Canada, Colonel Pascal Ratte, Director of Official Languages, organized a “virtual coffee” MS Teams meeting. Ms. Isabelle Desmartis, Civilian National Co-Champion of Official Languages, delivered opening remarks to 49 Official Language Network participants.

Ms. Desmartis and Col Ratte began the virtual meeting by highlighting the important work being done by the Official Languages Coordinators, who have been encouraging members to complete language training. The coordinators have also been organizing events with military families in the communities they serve, and working diligently to honour the importance of linguistic duality and bilingualism in the Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF). “The Defence Team is a bilingual team, and we must continue to be,” said Ms. Desmartis. “This should be a source of pride, opportunity, and privilege for us, not just an obligation.” She believes there are improvements to be made in the Defence Team’s bilingualism culture, among other culture changes discussed in these past months.

To open the floor to discussion, Col Ratte asked participants how the Defence Team can improve bilingual culture. Capt Caitlyn Clement from the CAF Transition Group in the National Capitol Region (NCR) suggested that the first step is to make Second Language Training (SLT) a top team priority. Crystal Daigle, OL Base Coordinator at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown, supported this statement, but stressed the importance of considering the motivation and incentive system for SLT. Understanding why members want to improve their second language, whether it be for a potential promotion, or an opportunity to learn, will help Defence Team leaders effectively communicate departmental priorities to encourage members to improve their bilingualism. To emphasize the role of leaders in the Defence Team’s bilingualism culture, Helene Perreault, OL Wing Coordinator at CFB Cold Lake, mentioned that leaders often fall back onto their primary language when addressing subordinates, out of comfort. “Our bilingual leaders are highly competent and should be leading in both official languages when they can,” said Helene.

Addressing language insecurity, Nancy St-Onge, OL team member at the Chief of the Army Staff in the NCR, raised the issue of Anglophone members being posted to French language regions, and vice versa. She highlighted the effect this has on the entire military family; the member themselves, as they work to become more comfortable in the use of their second language in their work environment, military spouses as they search for jobs, and the challenge of finding an appropriate school for the children based on their language capacity.

Summarizing the importance of our linguistic duality, Ms. Desmartis said, “We serve Canadians and we need to understand each other.” After the meeting, Col Ratte indicated many participants have reached out to him to express their appreciation for the opportunity to raise issues and suggestions regarding Official Languages within the Defence Team.

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