Toula Drimonis: Efforts to ease linguistic tensions right on the button

A collaborative (rather than combative) approach is key to helping newcomers integrate and acquire French in Quebec.

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During a recent walk, I found myself on Monk Blvd. in the Sud-Ouest neighborhood, where I found a campaign by the local merchants association. One poster showed a smiling woman with the message: “I’m learning French. Put me up.”

At the bottom, a QR code links to information about the J’apprends le français mentoring program by the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce, which offers free, personalized workshops for allophones in business, two hours of French lessons per week in the workplace, and “immersive learning with active community support.”

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This seems like an excellent way to not only help newcomers integrate and acquire French while earning a living, but also to ease tensions among the French-speaking majority, who may mistakenly equate the increased presence of people who cannot speak French. immediately with the language being learned. in danger, a concern often amplified by politicians and pundits who wish to capitalize on linguistic insecurities.

Statistics show that more Quebecers speak French than ever; Measuring language viability based on people’s native language (which says nothing about their ability – or inability – to speak French) only increases fears.

Biased linguistic measures, accompanied by the double whammy of a recent surge in non-French-speaking asylum seekers and temporary workers, while severe labor shortage forcing employers to hire people who are not yet fluent in the language: creating the perception that French is losing ground in Montreal. In this context, a harmless “Bonjour-Hello!”, or a rare case of an employee not being able to assist someone in French, or even the sound of other languages ​​being spoken, can become triggers for some.

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A surprising 94 percent of Quebecers can communicate in basic French, according to the 2021 census. A recent study published by the Office québécois de la langue française shows that 92 percent of allophone young people attend French schools. Bill 101 ensures that newcomers send their children to a French school. It is logistically impossible for Quebec to become Louisiana, as some fear, when Quebec has the legislative power and financial resources to protect and promote French.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government should ensure that those resources are used effectively rather than unfairly imposing responsibility on newcomers. So much ink has been spilled about those six percent who currently do not speak French, and So few of the 19 per cent of Quebecers, according to the Foundation for Literacy, are illiterate.

Tensions related to linguistic interactions often result from fundamental failures in communication. A newcomer is not necessarily aware of the concern that is generated when he does not serve someone in French, or of the fears that this evokes in many. Newcomers simply use the language they can currently use. “In Quebec, a multilingual immigrant needs to speak French, but he does not need French to speak,” points out the Italo-Québécois writer Marco Micone, author of On ne naît pas Québécois, on le devient.

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Micone, a proud sovereigntist and defender of the French language, warns that the affirmation of a majority language must be done while respecting other languages, because a citizen of a multiethnic society often has more than one language with which he identifies and uses.

It is not by filing complaints with the OQLF, as The French language minister, Jean-François Roberge, recently suggested, that employees of businesses (who often have no choice but to hire temporary workers or new immigrants to stay open) will suddenly become fluent in the language. They need time to learn it.

Initiatives such as the use of buttons by staff. “I’m learning French; thanks for speaking slowly! — help ease tensions and encourage Quebecers to help them, creating a situation of collaboration (rather than combat). The buttons also protect newcomers from potential verbal abuse from those unwilling to offer them some grace.

Advising newcomers to say, “I’m learning French,” rather than saying, “I don’t speak French,” is also a useful strategy. It immediately reduces tension and reminds the frustrated buyer that the will is there, which can make all the difference in the world.

Toula Drimonis is a Montreal journalist and author of We, the Others: Allophones, Immigrants and Belonging to Canada. She can be contacted at X. @toulastake

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