|Father of 2nd-language immersion|
By ANDREW HALFNIGHT
As the father of second-language immersion, Wallace Lambert was one of Canada's quiet heroes.
The former McGill University psychology professor died a week ago at St. Mary's hospital of complications from pneumonia. He was 86.
Friends, family and professors remembered Lambert this week as a "chatty, warm guy" and a profoundly generous soul whose love of his wife, Janine, and mischievous sense of humour were with him until the end.
A gifted singer, he used to croon along to Frank Sinatra records in the family's duplex on Michel-Bibaud St.
As an award-winning researcher at McGill, Lambert singlehandedly inspired several new fields of study in bilingualism and social psychology. His most famous studies were conducted in the early 1960s and helped debunk the myth that a second language "took up space" in the brain, curbing a student's intellect.
Lambert's research suggested that, to the contrary, immersion in a second language boosts proficiency in both the mother and the adoptive tongues, among other benefits.
"He was really ahead of his time. These were really landmark studies. People still cite them all the time," said Fred Genesee, a McGill psychologist mentored by Lambert in the 1970s.
In 1965, he helped a group of parents dissatisfied with their kids' French instruction at an elementary school in St. Lambert launch the first French-immersion program in Canada.
Lambert's groundbreaking studies on identity and language fuelled the wave of reforms that took place during the Quiet Revolution in Quebec and, under Trudeau, the passing of the Official Languages Act and the institution of French immersion programs in every province and territory in Canada.
Lambert later consulted on Mohawk, Cree, Hebrew and Spanish immersion programs in Canada and the U.S., beginning a process that would see the "Canadian model" of immersion schooling exported to places like Japan and Estonia.
Genesee recounted one of Lambert's most provocative studies, in which Quebecers were asked to offer impressions of a single speaker reading a passage either in English or French.
"What he found was that when they spoke in English, they were evaluated much more positively than when they were speaking French," revealing widespread negative stereotyping of French-Canadians, Genesee said.
Apart from his landmark work on bilingualism, Lambert is best remembered by colleagues for the eccentric touches he cultivated in his office on the eighth floor of the Stewart biology building on Drummond St.
"I will never forget that office," said Maggie Bruck, a friend of 40 years who worked with Lambert during much of his career. "Papers piled from one end to the other. He'd be there with his feet up on the desk, with his pipe, going: 'Maggie baby!' and there'd be this bird running around. You didn't know what was going on."
Lambert kept two blue budgies given to him by his daughter, Sylvie, which got stuck in the ceiling and defecated on papers at will.
"You'd be walking along and all of a sudden this bird would come bombing along the corridor, and you'd have to duck," Genesee said.
Born on Dec. 31, 1922, into a family of Baptist farmers in Amherst, N.S., he moved at age 6 with his parents and brother William to Taunton, Mass., where he grew up before joining the war. He met the love of his life, a French gym teacher named Janine, during the V-Day celebrations on the Champs-Elysées.
His son, Philippe Lambert, said his dad was "not very different inside the home from how he was outside." In fact, it was his relationship with Janine, and negotiating the delicate balance between French and English in the home, that sparked his interest in biculturalism.
Philippe recalled his father as a fun, open-minded, "extremely great father" who was "ready to serve everyone." Lambert once astonished colleagues by turning down a chairmanship at Stanford University because it would not be good for his children.
A devoted husband with a subtle sense of mischief, Wally tried to escape St. Mary's hospital to see his wife Janine, bed-ridden in a different Montreal institution, one last time before he died.
Theirs "was a beautiful love story," Philippe said.
Source: The Montreal Gazette