Fears that Quebec could become another Louisiana

Friday, September 04, 2009

There have been quite a few articles recently on some new numbers showing that French speakers in public schools are no longer the majority (but just barely), and everyone involved in language policy in Quebec is having a say. Here's most of one article from La Presse that quotes the president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and his fears that Quebec may be heading to a state like that of Louisiana today.

"If we don't modify linguistic policies we'll be going towards a louisianization of Quebec", said the president of the Montreal Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB) , Mario Beaulieu. Mr. Beaulieu said yesterday that allophones are now the majority in public schools in Montreal.

At present, 39% of Montreal students in public schools have French as a mother tongue. They have been surpassed in number by those that have a language neither English nor French as a mother tongue (39.5%).

The president of the SSJB is not surprised by this. "We've been prepared for years. But it demonstrates the importance of teaching French to new arrivals."

Mr. Beaulieu explained that 52.4% of citizens in Montreal spoke French at home, but that only 45% of students at school say they use French at home, showing a decline in schools compared to the population in general.

Mr. Beaulieu believes that government efforts to preserve French in school have not been sufficient. According to him, Law 101 should be extended to cégep (community colleges) as well , and universities should not be aloof. "English universities recieve 25% of the financing given to Quebec while only 10% of the population is anglophone. French speakers are being pushed to English universities," he denounced.

The current president of Impératif français, Jean-Paul Perreault, added that schools should ensure that French is spoken all the time, and not just in classes. "English is often the language most spoken in the corridors and in the schoolyard. There's a problem there. It'll be difficult to impose French, but it must be done", he said.


The Parti Quebecois is preparing strategies to improve the state of French in Montreal. "One must not blame or penalize people. But we note that there is a strong tendency towards anglicization in Montreal. We will present our solutions to our national council which will take place on October 24th and 25th", said Mr. Curzi.
The strategy they need to adopt is quite a simple one: as noted here, French has barely fallen to second place in schools as the language used at home, but first place is not English, but rather every other language but French and English. The numbers are:

39.5% - Other languages besides French and English
39% - French
22% - English

The reason for this change in the numbers is due to immigration, as immigrants now make up 20% of students. Since vastly larger numbers of people grow up learning English to a certain extent compared to French, this means that a lot of the 39.5% feel more comfortable with English, which added together with the anglophone population swings the pendulum towards that language when students are talking together.

So the strategy needs to be focused on immigrants, since this is the section of the population that can be most easily affected by government strategy. Immigrants very often have a hard time finding the time to learn the language of their adopted country/region due to simply having no time to do much but work, or living in a part of town quite far from where the language is taught - the local education centre may be more than an hour away by bus, for example, making it a pretty tough slog after work. Some easy ways to implement this (among many others) include teaching the language over the phone/Skype, and perhaps the creation of something like Deutsche Welle's Deutsch - Warum Nicht? (a very impressive German course), but in French and focused on Montreal. Almost without exception, immigrants love the idea of becoming fluent in the language of where they have chosen to live (being fluent in another language is super cool, after all), so whatever makes this easy as possible is the strategy most likely to succeed.


Anonymous said...

What are the other languages besides French and English? Spanish? Hindi? Chinese? It would be interesting to find out.

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