Le chien ne parle pas anglais

At the University of New Brunswick in Canada, a blind man was banned from an English immersion program because he refused to speak to his guide dog in English. The dog was trained to respond to French commands.

MONTREAL – When it comes to teaching English as a second language, the University of New Brunswick does not mess around. Slip into your mother tongue back in the dorm and you can be expelled. A T-shirt with a non-English slogan is enough to get you kicked out. And as Yvan Tessier, a blind man from Trois-Rivieres, Que., learned this week, don’t even think about telling your guide dog “Assis!” instead of “Sit!”

. . . In Mr. Tessier’s case, it was not enough that he agree to speak to the professors and other students in English; the university insisted that he sign a contract promising that “all communication with your guide dog will be exclusively in English.”

The problem for the 39-year-old master’s student at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University is that Pavot, the black Labrador that has helped him get around for the past two years, was trained to respond to 17 concise French commands. Tell him “Stay!” and he would be lost.

For the administrators of UNB’s English language program, allowing French commands to a dog would be a dangerous step on the road to Babel.

Susan Mesheau, the university’s director of public relations, said that permitting Mr. Tessier to speak French to Pavot during the immersion program would be like admitting someone with sub-standard marks into the engineering faculty.

“We cannot lower a standard,” she said in an interview from Fredericton. “‘OK, you’re a nice guy, I’ll lower it for you. You might not be as good an engineer. You might build bridges that people can fall off of, but that’s OK.’ That’s silliness. Academic standards are academic standards.”

Mesheau also said some students are allergic to dogs and others “have religious affiliations that they cannot associate in the same room with a dog.” Since it wouldn’t be safe for Tessier to navigate without his guide dog, for his own protection, he can’t learn English at the university until his dog completes an English immersion course, which would take about two months.

St. Paul University officials say no one there has complained on any grounds about Tessier’s guide dog accompanying him to class.

Update: University of New Brunswick has backed down in the face of very negative publicity. Tessier will be allowed to enroll, despite his guide dog’s inability to understand English.

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Comments

  1. theAmericanist says:

    It’s easy to make fun of this, but the total immersion folks have a point.

    I’ve done total immersion language programs (twice), and slippage in the standard of using ONLY the language you’re there to learn (or, if you’re multi-lingual, some language other than the native tongue you share with most of the students) really does radically erode traction in learning.

    Frankly, I’d bet that the dog would’ve caught on quicker than the owner.

  2. Alex Bensky says:

    The interesting thing is the reference to people who might be offended by being in the same room with a dog. I can only think of one such group and this sounds like yet another example of creeping dhimmitude.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    In the US this would be a slam-dunk lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  4. For what it’s worth, he was allowed in with his francophone dog (after being offered a free program at Concordia, in Montreal, and various other offers which I forgot and which he refused) and started back again. The lawsuit continues.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    This sounds silly, but check some of the French language laws in Quebec.

  6. Ross (The Heartless Conservative) says:

    So if you order a taco or burrito for dinner you can be expelled? And I suppose asking a couple of people to join you in having a manage a trois would be out of the question? If you drive a Porshe you better keep your mouth shut. And hopefully nobody will try to discuss how Lance Armstrong is doing in the Tour de France.

    I think the school has every right to demand Mr. Tessler to not converse with his dog in any language other than English. However, there is a difference in conversing and giving commands that are needed in order for Mr. Tessler to live his life without unreasonable handicaps.

  7. Are there really people that stupid in charge of anything?

    How does the English immersion program feel about colloquialisms?

  8. LibraryGryffon says:

    I do not see how refusing someone the use of his/her guide dog because it might offend someone else’s religious sensibilities differs from allowing that easily offended someone else to dictate that he/she cannot be in the same room as a woman / black / asian (insert class of person of your choice) for religious reasons.

    But then we’ve seen a government official in one of the Scandinavian countries tell it’s women that they are at fault when they are raped by Middle Eastern immigrants because they insist on dressing like westerners, and not in burquas, so I guess we shouldn’t be totally surprised.

  9. Sigivald says:

    Alex: As far as I understand it, while Islam looks down on dogs (and some interpretations, if not most, say one should not keep a dog), there is no prohibition on being in the same room as someone else’s dog.

    So even that falls flat.

    I wonder which religious affiliations she could have meant? Or perhaps she simply doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about? The latter seems more likely, in all honesty.

  10. This is retarded beyond comprehension. Retraining the dog to understand the commands in English would be very difficult anyway, and as the owner says, it would confuse the dog.

    I mean my God, who cares if he gives the dog commands in French? Who cares if it’s Croatian or Martian? What damn difference does it make to people around him? None!

    Idiot French-Canadians.

  11. Which French Canadians would that be? The ones who take the *English* course at an *English* university run by *English* administrators?

  12. I wonder…if students have computers, are they allowed to communicate with those systems in any language other than English? Would a person have to get rid of the French version of Windows and install the English version?

    This is the kind of thing that was seen with the late Roman emperors, like the one who made his horse a member of the Senate…just because he could. The message: my power is so overwhelming, I can do anything I want, no matter how silly.

    We, the people, have entrusted academics with far too much power. They have proved unworthy of it.

  13. David:

    We, the people, have entrusted academics with far too much power. They have proved unworthy of it.

    You can say that about government, corporations and non-academic trade unions as well.

  14. “government, corporations and non-academic trade unions as well..” All these institutions have their failings. But…auto companies (and their trade union workers) build cars that work pretty well, most of the time. Government supplies us with clean water, air traffic control services, and lots of other things. The combination of poor performance and arrogance that we see in academia (and in the public schools) is pretty unique.

  15. lindenen says:

    “But then we’ve seen a government official in one of the Scandinavian countries tell it’s women that they are at fault when they are raped by Middle Eastern immigrants because they insist on dressing like westerners, and not in burquas, so I guess we shouldn’t be totally surprised.”

    Really? Do you have a link about this?

  16. “It’s easy to make fun of this, but the total immersion folks have a point.”
    and
    “Frankly, I’d bet that the dog would’ve caught on quicker than the owner.”

    ROFL!!!!!!

    Gotta go clean up the soda off my screen….

  17. LibraryGryffon says:

    lindenen:

    I tried to answer this earlier and the site crashed, but it gave me a chance to actually try and find the reference, which I initially read a year or two ago. I was wrong about it being a government official, but it was a university professor type, and while he didn’t actually say anything about burquas, the gist of his argument was that you couldn’t really expect these poor immigrants to know how to behave, so the local women would have to do the changing.

    See paragraphs 5 and 6 of this article:
    http://members.optushome.com.au/jimball/realracists.htm

    and paragraphs 9-11 of this one:
    http://www.denisdutton.com/multiculturalism_column.htm

  18. theAmericanist says:

    Aren’t there studies that dogs respond mostly to tone of voice and body language, rather than the articulated syllables?

    I vaguely remember reading that a trained dog will sit, if he was taught to respond to a clearly declared command and a pointing finger, even if the command is “chat!”