By DAVID B. GRAHAM
In the current budget crises, proposals to reduce or eliminate French language instruction have been recommended in a number ofschool districts. I believe that those proposals are misguided. Studying French is relevant in north country communities where 20 to 40 percent of the population is of French or French Canadian ethnicity. Eliminating French programs would be a slap in the face to those whose ancestors came to our communities nearly 200 years ago.
Virtually all north country school districts are less than 100 miles from the Quebec border and less than a three-hour drive from Montreal, the third largest French speaking city of in the world. Six million French-speaking people reside in the Province of Quebec.
The study of French is valid, relevant and applicable preparation for pursuing a career in international trade, travel and tourism, technology, transportation and business affairs. The New-York Chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce lists over 500 companies for the New York City area alone. More than 1,200 French companies in the U.S. employ nearly half a million Americans.
Far too many New Yorkers are unaware of the importance of trade between New York and Quebec. The number-one trading partner of New York is Quebec.In 2013, trade between Québec and New York State reached $7.7 billion. Quebec plays a leading role in Canadas information technology, aerospace, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
Since 2002 the Quebec-New York trade corridor has become a priority for both governments. The vicepresident and director of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, Serge Audet, noted the importance of French in the corridor.
The Americans understood one thing: if they want to do business in Quebec, it has to be bilingual, he said.
Three more New York–Quebec summits have taken place since 2002 providing a forum for business to business contacts and for signing nearly 20 memoranda of understanding and collaboration agreements. In fact, as recently as April 28, the Québec – New York: Regional Partners in Economic Development and Innovation forum took place in Albany (more online at http://www.ceg.org/events/quebec-day).
It should also be noted that estimates of the number of people who speak French are constantly underestimated. French is the only foreign language spoken on all five continents, and despite the commonly quoted figure of 80 million speakers of French, if one considers those who speak French as a first OR a second language, the number rises to 175 million.
Africa, where U.S. businesses have more than doubled their direct investments since 1990, and where economists predict a 20 percent economic growth, is the future of the Francophone world. French-speaking Africa represents an area larger than the United States. There are 19 African countries where French is the official language and there are three others where French has a powerful presence. French is directly and indirectly the communication key to a quarter of a billion people in an enormous expanse of this great continent.
While advanced French language skills are needed now, when combined with training in engineering, construction, energy conservation, environmental protection and diplomatic skills worldwide, they will be imperative when dealing with the population explosion which will take place in Africa within the next 40 years. According to a recent Forbes Magazine article, The latest projection is that French will be spoken by 750 million people by 2050. The article is online at www.forbes.com/sites/pascalemmanuelgobry/2014/03/21/want-to-know-the-language-of-the-future-the-data-suggests-it-could-be-french.
Local leaders have underlined the importance of Canada and Quebec to our economic security. Congressman Bill Owens noted:
Increased trade with Canada means jobs for New York. New York-Canada trade supports over 500,000 jobs in New York, and this relationship helps strengthen northern border economies in particular.(http://owens.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=339658)
The north country holds great potential for economic growth as a gateway between Montreal and the northeastern United States along the I-81 and I-87 corridors Over the past year, we have seen promising signs of development with job creators like North American Tapes, Alcoa, and Bombardier expanding.
Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, has stressed to importance of our Quebec connection.
These seminars and meetings with Quebec businesses are a key strategy for developing cross-border relationships and facilitating greater Canadian investment and job creation in the north country.
In closing, I offer the following quote from Mr. Douglas: We are immediately next door to a French speaking population which is favorably impacting Clinton County alone to the tune of over $1.4 billion annually. It is simply good business and good customer service to increase our many efforts to deal with our French speaking visitors in their own language.
Even when school budgets get tight, north country school districts must continue to teach French. Our location, our economy and our childrens future demands it.
David B. Graham is past president of the American Association of Teachers of French, Pays du Nord Chapter. He resides in Morrisonville.