Throughout my first visit to New Brunswick, in late 2018, I was amazed. As I toured Canada’s only bilingual province, French and English were visible everywhere — in government and on signs, media and the service industry.

I asked myself: Why doesn’t this exist in Louisiana?

Considering the estimated 150,000 to 250,000 French speakers almost exclusively in Acadiana and the region’s lack of many bilingual services, there’s a large segment of the population that is underrepresented. People often assume that a bilingual society can’t function in America, but our neighbors to the north had provided me with a shining example that it’s feasible.

When I came home that fall, I intensified my efforts to relearn French. Though I had taken classes in school and heard some at home, I was nowhere near bilingual. All the Duolingo app lessons in the world would only get me so far.

After inquiring around Acadiana, several people recommended that I attend l’Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, Nova Scotia, a Canadian school that offers a five-week French immersion program for adults. Since no such program exists in the United States, hundreds of Louisianans have made the trek.

The program is well-known for its strict rule: You’re allowed to speak only French for five weeks — no exceptions. If you speak another language more than three times, you’re asked to leave.

While that sounds daunting, the structure works wonders. I attended a session from May to June this year and, even within the first week, I noticed how much I was improving because I was living in the language. I attended daily classes, events and workshops that proved to be exactly what I needed to advance. Then I returned home, able to speak confidently and continue learning.

While the program has been a crucial piece to advancing French in my life and for others, a trip to Canada is also prohibitive to those who either can’t afford it or are unable to take five weeks off of work. A solution is a similar program within Acadiana for adults — and one has been in the works for quite some time.

Community activists in Arnaudville have for years been working to establish St. Luc French Immersion and Cultural Campus, housed in an abandoned hospital. Local government roadblocks stalled progress, but now it seems the effort is well on its way. St. Luc has a board, its business plan was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and its remediation plan was recently facilitated by the Brownfields Program within the Environmental Protection Agency. Organizers expect to open in some capacity by next year.

This gives me hope that Acadiana will resemble New Brunswick — completely bilingual — and French will be incorporated into every aspect of society. The best path forward is continuing local immersion for children and also for adults. It truly works and can instill some real progress.

Il faut parler, tous les jours et partout.

About the author Jonathan Olivier is an author and journalist who writes about the outdoors and environment for publications like Outside and REI Co-op Journal. He worked as an agricultural intern for nearly two years, traveling across North America before starting his own farm near Arnaudville called Le Potager d’Acadiana.