Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Expense of Bilingualism

I did not read the original stories in NB newspapers -- hardly a source of journalistic neutrality -- but here is a follow up:

Acadian rejects notion of bilingualism being expensive - New Brunswick - CBC News:

Let us think a bit about this: is bilingualism too expensive? Several points to note:

1. This is not the first time this argument has been made. Indeed, its been a standard refrain from some quarters since bilingualism first came "one line" ... forty+ years ago. Said differently, the argument that bilingualism costs too much has been around for a long time.

2. Yet, you will also notice that numbers never accompany these claims. Bilingualism can save money, theoretically. Having a bilingual civil service is less expensive then having two people (one for each language group) to do the same job. Is this saving factored in?

3. No one ever mentions which language would get the short shift if we were to eliminate bilingualism. Are English New Brunswickers putting up their hands and saying "that is OK, we don't need services in English; go with just French services." That would save money, to be sure. My point, of course, is that an attack on bilingualism is not usually an attack on English. It is usually a veiled attack on the French language.

4. What about health care? We care for anyone regardless of language and we should shepherd our resources and only have one centre of excellence in X or Y. Fair enough but it begs the point in Question 3: will it work only in French? Seriously? Would English New Brunswick be willing to give up English-language services to save money?

But, the bigger question here is the sheer silliness of this idea (voiced by the "rogue" [ where rogue means "does not know very much'] PC MLA several weeks ago in NB). Imagine a doctor who did not believe communicating with their patients was not important? Seriously, this is the argument that opponents of bilingualism in health care in NB have made: communicating with patients is not important to health care so bilingualism is irrelevant. Does anyone seriously believe that? Better yet, imagine a worse case scenario and a patient needs and operating. Because don't have bilingualism the surgical team walks in  -- some francophones; some anglophones -- and ... they start speaking French or English at will. Is that a good operating room. Surely, as potential patients, we want the surgeon to communicate with the other medical staff in the room.

My big point: the argument against health care is silly. I can understand someone who knew nothing about health care believing it for a minute, I suppose, but as soon as you realize that communication -- between medical staff and between patient and doctor -- are important, well, you don't need a medical training to realize bilingualism is essential for proper health care of francophones or anglophones. Indeed, this argument is so self evident that I can only conclude that those people who oppose bilingualism in heath care are either (a) not very smart (serious, I think they must not be very smart) or (b) have an alternative agenda.

5. There are other things to add to this list. I won't because I'm running late for the Mount A basketball game but you get my point. Bilingualism is not an expense you shave down with a budget crisis. To argue that one should is to repeat a silly argument made for a long time with no evidence to support it that endangers health and services either stupidity or an alternative agenda. In other words, you have no good reason to line up with the opponents of bilingualism.


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