Our bilingual unit adventure

Feb4_craftingWhen I moved two years ago from Mississauga to Barrie, Ontario to do a year of post-graduate studies at Georgian College, I wanted to continue my volunteer work in Guiding so I joined a French language unit near campus. This was an amazing experience and I really loved the practice time I got for my French. When I moved back to Toronto, I missed my unit and wanted to continue with the French. So, I signed up to be the Guider of a bilingual unit at a French school near my house last April and waited patiently for girls to join it.
By the end of September my unit was all set up – I can’t tell you how exciting it was to check the roster and see it grow through September. We have 11 Brownies; some go to the French school we meet at and some are from other schools. I asked one of the moms to help me as a Guider because it was just me in the beginning. Jes joined our unit and became the perfect down-to-earth co-Guider I needed. We didn’t really have a plan for how this bilingual thing would work but we knew we could figure it out as we went.

Feb4_girlsinfieldWe started out by alternating between French and English. The first thing I noticed was that not all the girls had the same level of French. Out of 11, only about three spoke French at home. Most of the girls are still learning basic verbs and need to keep building their confidence with the language. I thought to myself, this is great, we will take it easy and they can all help each other.

After about three weeks we had one girl who was sitting out on some games and activities. One time, Jes went to sit with her. They chatted easily for a few minutes and then they came back to the group and it wasn’t a big deal. At the end of the meeting Jes turned to me and said, “She doesn’t speak French, that’s why she’s been sitting out.” I was so stunned, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized that she was sitting out when I spoke French. I felt like such a bad leader and that I had really let this girl down.

Jes will tell you I had a bit of a panic at the end of that meeting because I felt like the vision I’d had for our unit was slipping through my fingers. How could we have a bilingual unit when not all the girls spoke French? She could feel left out which was the very last thing I wanted to her feel at Brownies. Jes told me not to worry about it just then, we would figure out a way incorporate French without losing inclusivity. We left it for that night and resolved to come back to it later.

That was back in October and it’s now February. At the beginning of a recent meeting we had a discussion about how we are all different, we all know different French words and we need to be respectful of everyone. The Brownies agreed that when they say something in French they will follow it by the English translation. We have also found small ways the girls can incorporate French on their own terms and in personal ways. When we do any kind of writing they always have the option of either language. The same goes for badges, which can be presented however they like. In December we made holiday cards for a girl who was in the hospital and I knew she was bilingual so some of the cards were in French.

I wrote this post because I learn so many things from my sisters in Guiding and I would like to share my experience, which I’m certain is not unique. I’ve learned that you might have a beautiful vision for your unit or even how your year is going to go, but Guiding is about being adaptable and facing challenges as they come. Do the girls realize that anything is not as I planned it? No, they enjoy the time we have together and that is what’s important. I have learned a lot about being flexible with plans and to adapt to new circumstances. After all isn’t Guiding about Being Prepared?

Guest post by Guider Chelsea Kennedy. Chelsea is in her fourth year as  Guider and lives in Toronto.  She has a seriously nerdy passion for history and knitting, and can’t wait for spring. You can find her on Instagram at aperture_exposure.

What’s your Guiding story? Did you have a Guiding idea that didn’t go as planned – but ended up being it’s own kind of amazing? Share your story: ggcblog(at)girlguides.ca

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1 Response to Our bilingual unit adventure

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love what has been done with this unit. I’ve lived in many places where there are many second languages, only some being French, but I do love the fact that in Canada even for those non French speakers it can be easy to make Guiding accessible, particularly those who read better in one language or the other. When I had a French as first language Guide in my group, I took a lot of activities from the Government of Canada website, all I had to do to get a version she could read, hit French and print the same thing. I understand enough to know it was working.

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