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The U.S. could follow Canada's bilingual lead

It is amazing how easily Canadians deal with having TWO official languages.

While many people in America act like the fact that everyone doesn't speak English will bring about the end of the universe in some "Doctor Who"-style, spectacular explosion, Canada is getting along just fine.

In Canada, the official languages are English and French. And, you know what, the people are doing just fine with that. There was not a single person that I ran into, in either English-heavy Ontario, or French-heavy Quebec, who displayed trouble speaking fluently in both languages.

Just because English takes a back seat to French in Quebec, it did not mean the English language was in dire straights.

What I did notice was the placement of the two languages differed depending on where I was. In Ontario, everything was written in English first, and then in French. In Quebec, French came first, and English came second. It all depends on which is dominant in whatever area you are in.

And, the thing is, those people can easily, with seemingly no effort involved, switch back and forth. And, they seem to have no trouble pronouncing words in either language.

A perfect example was in a cafe I visited in Montreal. There I was, an English-speaking American, and the people sitting at the table next to me all spoke French. We all had the same waiter. When he dealt with me, he spoke perfect, fluent English. We even had a lengthy conversation about all the places each of us had visited in the United States.

Then, when he dealt with the French-speaking people at the next table, he spoke perfect, fluent French. And, you know what? He never missed a beat in dealing with our orders.

Of course, Canada has been at the bilingual thing for a long time.

It should not be too much of a surprise, since both the United Kingdom and France ruled Canada at different points in the country's history.

But, not all of the United States was under the dominion of the British. The lands in Florida, Texas, and the southwestern United States, going all the way out to California, were all, once upon a time, controlled by Spain.

The French founded, and for a long time controlled, the Louisiana territory, which ran up the Mississippi River, and westward to Oregon and Washington State. Did you know the French founded Biloxi, Miss., more than 300 years ago?

The folks from the Netherlands founded what is now known as New York state (New York City was originally called New Amsterdam), before the British took over. We got Alaska in the 19th Century, after we bought it from Russia. Lest we forget, the non-English speaking Native Americans were in North America long before the Europeans arrived.

Essentially, the United States is a lot like Canada in regards to the multi-cultural, multi-linguistic background. Neither country can claim to have been wholely ruled by one group of people, with one language, for the entire period of history leading up to the founding of our respective nations.

I know. I know. The pro-English-only crowd is likely horrified at me pointing out that Canada shows us how ridiculous it is to say one language will be lost in favor of the other.

But, you know what? If the U.S. wanted to adopt a second official language, I don't think it would weaken the country. It might take a generation, or two, for everything to balance out, but it would work in the end. Canada is not on the brink of collapse because it has two official languages.

It is time we dropped the fear of being a bilingual nation.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at