Bilingualism means making information as accessible as possible

Let’s talk about bilingualism, everyone’s favourite topic. If you haven’t been able to tell by this point in your degree, the University of Ottawa is a bilingual institution and it’s is proud of that fact. Bilingualism is a good thing, and it’s crucial to living in a city and a country that use both official languages so frequently. But recognizing how that bilingualism takes shape and is implemented in daily life is important, and something we need to evaluate here at the U of O.

A bilingual campus has a responsibility to serve both French and English speakers in the most effective way possible, and give speakers the freedom to use the language of their choice at any given time. Rather than switching languages mid sentence, or using one language to explain important aspects of meetings, there needs to be a middle ground so that everyone who speaks English and French can understand the range of issues at the U of O. Having vital information available to speakers of both languages is important to ensuring constructive debate on campus, on topics ranging from tuition costs to courses.

There are several organizations on campus that need to improve their bilingualism policies to be more accessible to all students. For instance, meeting notes of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) are easier to navigate to in English, though they are available in French, leaving Francophones having to do more to find information on important issues within our student governance. This balance needs to exist, not just within the SFUO but at the university administrative level as well.

At present, minutes from the U of O’s Board of Governors meetings are available in both languages, but with a caveat, as motions are “reported in the language in which they were made.” This means that if a motion is made in French, it is written in French, and the same thing for English. This method of reporting isn’t accessible to unilingual individuals, and with a university with so many bilingual speakers, there should be someone who is responsible for translating all presented motions into both languages for the purposes of record keeping. By having these documents only available in one language the university is limiting the number of people that can take part in crucial administrative discussions on campus.

Asking for these documents, and for meetings, to be accessible in both languages is not a critique of bilingualism. This is a call to make bilingualism more productive and more effective across the board. Having two official languages, and using them daily, is a skill, a resource that I believe makes our country and institutions stronger by being more open and accessible to all. However, this system only works if we put in the time and effort to consistently and effectively use both languages.