Making your organization bilingual
A guide and source of practical tools to help you offer services in English and French Benefits of a Bilingual Organization
Planning and Implementation
Winning Strategies for Putting Bilingualism into Practice
Supplementary information package
A guide and source of practical tools to help you offer services in English and French
Offering bilingual services is simply good business. While, there is no magic formula for making your organization bilingual, the following guide provides valuable information designed to guide your organization through the process. Like any other process of change, the actual implementation must be tailored to an organization's individual situation and needs, phased in gradually and, above all, regularly reviewed.
The strategies and tools found here are general enough to be adaptable to the needs of voluntary, private and public-sector organizations who want to foster a new bilingual corporate culture and for those who would like to improve the services they already offer in Canada's two official languages.
Tools, resources and links
Throughout this guide you will find references to additional information and tools that are not yet available online - simply contact us to have the supplementary information package sent to you. This package will also include a list of helpful links and references to materials brought together for your organization to use to build its own collection of resources.
Organizations from across Canada have shared their best practices and lessons learned in offering French and English services. We will send them to you, as part of the supplementary package, so you can get ideas from organizations like yours. In turn, please share your experiences or best practices by completing the submitting a best practice form.
Benefits of a Bilingual Organization
Equality and excellence of service
As of 2006, there have never been as many bilingual Canadians in Canada's history. For a growing number of Canadians, bilingualism has become not only a personal asset but also an important part of their sense of national identity. Proud and conscious of this diversity and eager to improve the equity and quality of their services, many organizations and businesses are making the decision to operate in both official languages.
To learn more about the linguistic profile of the communities you serve, consult the Atlas of Canada!
Advantages and impacts
Providing services in both official languages not only represents an open acknowledgment of Canada's bilingual character on your part, it also presents a number of competitive advantages for your organization. Your new stance will allow you to:
- reach a larger portion of your target public;
- increase your membership;
- provide better services; and
- access new sources of funding and sponsorship.
Even though your organization will need to invest considerable time and effort to become bilingual, in the end, communicating with your customers in their own language can only be beneficial.
Did you know that...
- Canada's French-speaking population ranks second only to that of France worldwide. It is larger than the Francophone populations of Switzerland and Belgium combined.
- The number of French-speaking Canadians living outside of Quebec is equivalent to that of entire provinces such as Saskatchewan, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.
- Almost one Canadian in four has French as a mother tongue and close to one Canadian in three speaks French.
- 1.6 million of Canada's French-speaking population have an ancestry other than French or English.
Planning and Implementation
Once the decision is made to offer services in both official languages in your organization, the first step is to assess the current situation. Begin by doing an initial assessment which will help you prepare an action plan tailored to the needs of your organization. Contact us to receive our supplementary package which contains a monitoring and assessment tool and the elements of an action plan. A few months down the road, you should complete this assessment again to monitor the progress your organization has made in terms of bilingualism.
There is no one simple formula for implementing bilingual services, but there are some key elements shared by organizations that have successfully weathered the change. Their experience suggests that there are three main phases: planning, implementation and follow-up.
The planning phase involves letting members know that services will gradually be made available in both official languages, and determining the existing and required resources needed to reach the objectives that the organization has set for itself.
The implementation phase involves putting in place structures, processes and activities aimed at expanding and improving your organization's ability to provide bilingual services.
Keys to success
- Respect the culture and values of your organization.
- Managers must do their best to be reassuring and to explain that it is the organization that is becoming bilingual, not the individual members and employees.
- Stress that the transition will take place gradually and that it will be flexible and adapted to your organization's needs.
- Solicit employees' opinions on the new course you have charted and encourage them to participate from the very beginning. That is the key to winning their support.
- Share responsibility. You are all partners and each of you must buy into the new bilingual culture.
Language policy statements and guidelines
To ensure that English and French are used consistently in your organization and to maintain the long-term viability of the project, a policy and clear guidelines must be established. A language policy signals clearly to your employees, volunteers and clientele that English and French will be used as a matter of course within your organization. Our sample resolutions on official languages will help you to draft a language policy that reflects the goals of your organization.
Once you have adopted a language policy on the provision of services in both official languages, you need to take the next step and establish guidelines to be followed for meetings, activities, bilingual positions, and so on. To ensure that your members share a long-term commitment to the new policy, these guidelines need to be incorporated into your organization's procedures manual. The supplementary package contains sample resolutions and a set of guidelines you can use, or modify to create your own. Note that any changes should be implemented in accordance with your organization's accepted practices and policies.
When you deliver services in both official languages, certain positions and committees probably need to be designated as bilingual. To establish the language requirements of a position, you must identify, in conjunction with management, the number, nature and frequency of duties that need to be performed in English and French.
One person who should be able to speak both languages fluently to members and the general public alike is the receptionist.
However, designating bilingual positions is not the only option. Your organization could also establish teams composed of both English-speakers and French-speakers to ensure that bilingual services are always available.
The supplementary information package has tools for bilingual staffing to help you to establish bilingual position profiles and to help draft bilingual designations for the appropriate positions in your organization. You will receive tips to help you locate and recruit qualified individuals for these positions.
Keys to success
- Make sure that the language requirements relate directly to the duties of each position.
- Make sure that language requirements are mentioned in the recruitment policy.
- Reassure unilingual employees that a language policy does not mean they will lose their jobs or that they must become fluent in the other language.
Winning Strategies for Putting Bilingualism into Practice
To a large extent, the success of your new policy to deliver services in both official languages will depend on how the project is promoted to members of your organization. When you unveil your language policy, you must have a communication plan ready to ensure that your members, employees and clients are all aware of your new commitment to provide services in the language of their choice.
Putting bilingualism into practice at your organization means, first and foremost, giving your members the opportunity to communicate and participate in their preferred language. Consider how you can help bilingualism take root and flourish in your organization by visiting the many sections of this guide and taking advantage of the practical tools that have been created for your use.
Promotion and communications
To project a clear image as a bilingual organization, make good use of the tools already at your disposal, including events, meetings, newsletters, bulletin boards, etc. Employ bilingual signage to clearly convey that services are available in both languages. Respond to correspondence in the official language of the request.
Whatever the communication tool - brochure, website, social media, newsletter, annual report, promotional material or meeting announcement - ensure that the presentation is appropriate for the intended audience and properly reflects the organization's bilingual character. Establish standards for quality and layout right from the start.
The supplementary package has tips for bilingual writing and formatting which highlight practices to help your organization produce quality documents in both official languages. The formatting section provides a number of presentation options for using both official languages in your organization's communications. You will want to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages presented for each option in the context of your organization.
Welcoming your members or clients is an important opportunity for your organization or business to make an impression. Whether over the phone or in person, the ability to offer your client the choice to use either English or French is a valuable service.
- Answer the telephone in both official languages.
- Keep a "cheat sheet" by the telephone with key phrases to respond to callers.
- Identify bilingual person(s) within your organization to whom telephone calls may be referred.
- Ensure that voice mail messages are recorded in both official languages.
- If your organization does not have a receptionist or is unable to staff this position with a bilingual employee consider letting calls ring into a bilingual voice mail. Ensure that the call is returned by a previously identified person with the required language skills.
- Greet your clients in both official languages.
- If you have a reception area, consider staffing this position with a bilingual employee.
- Identify bilingual employees (e.g. sign or lapel pin).
- Keep a list of bilingual employees at hand.
- Create a bilingual atmosphere. For example, ensure that written documentation in your reception area is available and displayed in both official languages.
- Ensure that signage or a poster indicating that both official languages are spoken is visible to your clients.
The supplementary package will provide you with more suggestions to help your organization welcome clients in both official languages, whether over the telephone or in person.
Bilingual meetings and activities
Meetings are a particularly important forum for communicating. Each person should feel free to participate, using either English or French or both in the same meeting, according to the individual's choice.
Bilingual meetings are not all that difficult, but the key is to have a well prepared chair and team. Teleconferencing is a common alternative to face-to-face meetings and can be held bilingually too. In addition to day-to-day meetings, your organization might also hold annual meetings, special activities, conferences, webinars or other online events where it is key to project your bilingual image. The supplementary package will provide you with more advice on how to plan for and hold bilingual meetings, events and teleconferences.
Bilingual meetings: step by step
- Make sure that the invitation and the agenda clearly state that both official languages will be used at the meeting and that arrangements have been made to allow unilingual attendees to take part in discussions.
- Use both official languages at the start of the meeting and invite participants to speak in the language of their choice. Don't hesitate to appoint a co-chair if you are not entirely comfortable in the two official languages.
- Ask participants whether they understand both official languages. If help is needed, offer to provide summaries of the relevant topics in the person's preferred language.
- Remind participants that the presence of unilingual people should in no way inhibit bilingual discussion.
Presentations and discussions
- If necessary, call upon participants who support your initiative to contribute something in the minority language.
- Address participants in their first language.
- Remind participants that they are free to prepare documents in either English or French, both in draft or final form.
- If necessary, decide which documents are to be translated and when.
- Ask participants for their feedback.
- Take note of suggestions or methods that were successful. Enter into a dialogue with your group.
Excerpted from: Chairing meetings: How to successfully conduct meetings in both official languages, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
A Neat Idea: One week in English... the next in French!
Try alternating between two official languages at weekly meetings, so that each week all documents, including those tabled at the meeting, are presented in the language of the meeting. This will promote the use of both official languages in practice and will help employees develop greater confidence in their second language.
Translation and interpretation
A translator is an individual who translates written text from one language to another. An interpreter is an individual who translates the words of a speaker in real time. Read on for helpful tips on when to use the services of these professionals and how to locate a translator or interpreter in your region. Our supplementary package has more information to assist you in preparation for contracting translation or interpretation services.
Using the services of a translator
If the volume of documents in your organization does not warrant hiring an in-house translator, you can use the services of a free-lance translator. A certified translator has an in-depth knowledge of language and has completed extensive training. You will find that translators work in a wide variety of domains: science, technology, law, health, economics, etc. They work to ensure that the translation is grammatically correct and is written in a manner suited for its intended use. If possible, choose a translator familiar with the terminology of your domain. Consider creating your own glossary to ensure consistent usage of your preferred terms.
Once you have located a translator, be prepared to answer their questions and have a few questions ready that you may want to ask. You will find more tips and cost considerations when you receive our translation checklist.
Using the services of an interpreter
Interpretation allows the speaker and other participants to use the language of their choice. The interpreter must prepare for the conference according to the subject field. There are two types of interpretation:
- Simultaneous - which means the interpretation is made available to all participants at the same time as the speaker speaks (will make use of electronic equipment)
- Consecutive - which is intended for an individual or a small group, the interpreter speaks after the speaker, usually quietly or "whispered"
Once you have located an interpreter there are a few questions you may wish to ask regarding their services. Our interpretation checklist will help guide you through the process.
Locating a translator or interpreter
Visit the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council website. Here you may consult your provincial association's membership listings to locate a certified translator or interpreter that will meet your specific needs.
Funding for translation and interpretation
When applying to potential sources of funding for any project, make sure to incorporate in your submission all costs associated with delivering your project in both English and French.
At Canadian Heritage, the Support for Interpretation and Translation program aims to assist organizations that encourage the participation of Canadians in both official languages at public events and to increase the number of documents available in both official languages. To find out more visit:
For a similar program in New Brunswick, available to provincially recognized sport and recreation organizations, please visit:
Translation Program, Culture and Sport Secretariat - New Brunswick
Second language learning
Language training is an effective way to improve your organization's capacity to offer services in both official languages. There are many ways that an organization can help its employees improve and maintain their second language skills. In addition to formal language programs, employees can also maintain their second language skills by using simple and informal methods - consider watching French television or listening to the news in French on the radio. Read on to learn about the various language training options available and useful tips to make language learning easier!
There are many ways to learn or maintain a second language. Consider the following different approaches aimed at developing second language skills when suggesting language training for employees:
- Language courses offered outside of the organization by private language schools, colleges, universities, local school boards
- Tailor-made courses offered on-site
- Self-teaching courses (Internet, video or audio programs, software packages, etc.)
- Distance training
If you are considering establishing a program for employees of your organization, consult our language training checklist you will receive in the supplementary package.
Make your program more attractive by:
- declaring days when only one language is used
- holding noon-time discussion groups
- awarding certificates, letters of congratulations and prizes
- organizing celebrations, games, and other special events
Maintaining second language skills doesn't always require a formal language training program. There are many ways to practise second language skills. Watch a television program, play a word game or even take a vacation in your second language. In our package, we have a wide variety of suggestions designed for those who wish to improve their second language skills.
Professional placement or exchange
To improve language skills, consider a placement with an organization that operates in the other official language. To ensure an enriching professional experience, choose an organization that has a mandate similar to your own. A reciprocal exchange of staff or volunteers between similar or complementary organizations may also be an option.
- The Canadian database LangCanada.ca will lead you to:
- Language training organizations (private and public) listed by province or territory
- Thousands of second language educational resources to practise and improve your skills
- Go to the New Brunswick Office of Human Resources page to find:
- Ten Benefits of Learning and Using Another Language
- Tips for Maintaining Your New Language Skills - examples of activities to maintain new language skills.
Costs of bilingualism
Avoid unpleasant surprises. Costs of bilingualism should be planned for and integrated into all appropriate budget categories.
To successfully implement your communication strategy and reach out to English-speakers and French-speakers alike, don't forget to add adaptation and translation costs to the usual graphics, printing and distribution costs. That way, your budget and financial planning will take into account the real costs of the project from the very beginning.
The costs of bilingualism are also felt in your organization's day-to-day activities. Coordinating bilingual activities will take some extra time and resources, so, again, it is essential that budgets take this factor into account. As well, the costs associated with training the members of your organization must be included in bilingualism costs.
For more cost considerations, consult the translation and interpretation checklists and the information on bilingual formatting, all found in the supplementary package.
Maintaining your organization's new bilingual status will demand on-going effort and vigilance. It is essential to take the time to regularly assess the situation, gauge the satisfaction of members and employees and to plan the next steps in your action plan.
Develop a follow-up plan:
- Confirm and renew the interest in bilingualism within your organization as needed.
- Evaluate your progress by:
- developing performance indicators against which to measure results;
- completing the monitoring and assessment tool again; and
- polling your members/clients - consult the sample member and client satisfaction questionnaires you will receive in the supplementary package.
- Review the above and make necessary adjustments to your action plan.
- Celebrate and promote your successes and the positive impacts of your initiative.
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