By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun
When Marie Marsolais moved to Toronto from Quebec, she was concerned about finding a job because she could hardly speak English. As it turned out, it was easy to find work.
"Because I spoke French I found a job, even though my English was really rotten," she laughs. "They said 'Don't worry, we'll talk to you in English and later it will come.'"
Today, Marie is the co-ordinator of the French program at George Brown College, and her job is to encourage people to study French to help them develop their careers.
"Many are taking our courses because they hope for a promotion. Others want to find another interesting job and they need to be bilingual."
Each year, 450 students, mostly between the ages of 27 and 35, take the George Brown evening courses in French, and many more are enrolled in other courses around the city.
Perhaps they've noticed a trend that many Canadians have overlooked. Bilingual workers often find it easier to get jobs and they also get paid more for their work.
Derek Leebosch, a senior associate at Environics Research, says his French skills have saved his company money.
This was one of the conclusions of a study carried out by the Association of Canadian Studies. They examined the 2001 Census and discovered that it pays to be bilingual.
The statistics vary from province to province. In Quebec, for instance, bilingual workers earn, on average, an additional $8,000 more a year than monolingual workers.
But even here in Ontario, those who can speak both languages well will earn an additional 10% -- an average of an extra $4,000 a year.
If you think the demand for French speakers is exclusively for government workers in Ottawa, you are very wrong indeed, according to Marijke Kanters of Nova Consulting.
Her agency recruits bilingual workers for companies in Toronto.
"The number of head offices in the GTA area is huge," Kanters explains, "so larger companies need people in Toronto that can service French-speaking people in Quebec."
But how good is "good enough" when it comes to speaking French at the office? Marijke Kanters says the companies she works with have pretty high standards.
Marijke Kanters of recruitment firm Nova Consulting says employers have pretty high standards when it comes to the French skills of job candidates.
"We test people to see how their French skills are and rate them on a scale from 0 to 10. Usually 8 out of 10 is fine. But some companies do want native French speakers."
He may not rate his French skills as an 8 out of 10, but Derek Leebosch, senior associate at Environics Research, uses his French a lot, often saving his company money.
Environics is a polling company that does public opinion surveys and focus groups. Often Derek is interviewed on French radio and TV to comment on politics in English Canada.
"Ninety per cent of my job is in English, but I may deal with clients in Montreal who are French-speaking, or I can lead French focus groups without needing to hire a translator," Leebosch says.
Derek grew up in Montreal and attended French immersion elementary and high schools. Even though he doesn't use the language on a daily basis, he hasn't forgotten much.
"Probably because I started learning it in kindergarten it's imbedded in my mind. I surprise myself sometimes because I go long stretches without speaking it," he says.
One thing you'll hear from many bilingual workers is that finding a job is a breeze.
"I knew it would be an advantage to speak French because there are a lot of jobs here," says Marco Braggio, who moved to Toronto from Montreal.
He now works for Hewlett Packard in their Markham office as a bilingual sales rep and account manager, and he still gets occasional calls from companies offering him work.
How does he know it's the French skills that are the draw? Marco did an experiment, putting his CV on an online Web site twice. One of the CVs mentioned his French language skills. The other didn't.
The result, for those in the know, was predictable.
"Fewer jobs came my way from the version without French," Marco says.
(Susan Poizner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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