By Owen Charters, President & CEO, BGC Canada
July 11, 2023
In Canada, we value our differences and celebrate all of our unique aspects. And we are different, from coast to coast to coast. But a defining uniqueness is our bilingualism.
At BGC Canada, we recognize that honouring and promoting bilingualism is essential for ensuring equitable access to opportunities. BGC is, in fact, a bilingual organization. But what does this really mean? We often take the fact that we operate in two languages for granted. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work to provide bilingual services.
I’ve seen companies that have made the decision to create an English ad, then translate it, dub it, and run it in French. They wonder why they don’t get much traction in Quebec. Well, as a consumer, when you’re treated like an afterthought, you tend to return the favour.
Simple, pure translation of one language to the other isn’t high-functioning bilingualism. It’s basic and can even be insulting if done improperly.
Let’s start at the bottom of the French-English capacity, and work our way up:
- Google Translate: A great service—but it’s a machine and it makes errors. Lots of them. It can’t understand nuance, context, or culture. But it’s useful to help you understand something you’re attempting to read in another language.
- Professional translation: It’s a somewhat better model of translation than machine services. However, professionals don’t always know the lingo, the context, or the culture of your organization or what you’re trying to say. If you’re describing something specific, like a medical issue or a specific, unique program, the translator may have little to no background in that area and choose words that are adequate but perhaps not accurate. Word to the wise—if you have something translated, get a native speaker of the language who is also an expert in the field or topic to proofread.
- Co-creation: Working with someone who has an understanding of the topic and is native to the language, you work together to create two parallel communications with the same outcome. Some of the best ad campaigns are created twice—a marketing brief is created that describes what you’re trying to communicate, and then two separate creative teams—one French, one English—create separate but similar ads.
- Bi-culturalism: This is beyond bilingualism and is the ultimate end-goal. Marlene Deboisbriand, our VP of Strategy & Operations, talks about how the epitome of working in two languages isn’t actually being fluently bilingual; it’s being bi-cultural. French-Canadian culture is distinct, and not just in the constitution. French-Canadian art, music, television, and literature is exported around the world. And most Anglo-Canadians don’t know the famous global celebrities that come out of this unique culture. Working in French means understanding and integrating the cultural references, idioms, and nuances, not just the language.
I once saw a marketing campaign that was developed for a Canadian company by their ad agency. In French, it was terrible. All of their French-Canadian constituents complained about it. The company was flummoxed—their ad agency had a native French speaker develop the French campaign. It turned out the native speaker was French—but from France. They had no understanding of Quebec or French-Canadian culture, so their word choices were inappropriate for a Canadian context.
At BGC Canada, we actually have a long way to go to be a fully bilingual organization. We offer services, programs, and materials in French. But we are not a fluently bilingual organization, and we’re definitely not bi-cultural. But we are working on it and have hired new staff in recent months to help get us there. But it takes time and effort (and money).
Working in two languages is not a one-way street. It’s about the back and forth and living in two languages, two cultures, simultaneously. And that is definitely, distinctly, Canadian.
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
BGC Canada’s journey into equity, diversity and inclusion is entrenched in our core values of belonging, respect, encouragement & support, working together and speaking out. Learn more.