There. I said it.
Some people will say, “but it’s just too easy to slip into English in Montreal.” No, not if what you really desire is to learn French. If you’re clear about what you want and you go at it in a very determined way, you won’t slip into English in Montreal. By “slip,” I mean end up speaking in English all the time. I’m not talking about speaking occasionally in English, or even in another language.
You know that to learn a language to full competency, you’ve got to be really determined. You can go to the most francophone city in Quebec, speak and hear French all day long, and never become a genuinely proficient speaker of the language. If your heart isn’t 100% into learning French, it doesn’t matter what proportion of francophones are around you.
Or you can go to a city where, perhaps the proportion of francophones is lower, but where you have every possible resource imaginable available to you — large numbers of native speakers, employment, books, cinema, theatre, sports, universities, very vibrant social scene…
A profile —
I know of a Mexican who arrived in Montreal 10 years ago with no French. None. (Well, maybe bonjour.) He only spoke his native Spanish and English. But he was so determined to learn French that he now speaks it almost flawlessly, understands almost everything he hears — and he’s got a really amazing blend of a Spanish-Québécois accent. Does he speak Spanish in Montreal? Yes. Does he speak English in Montreal? Yes, sometimes. But did that prevent him from learning French to full competency and having it become his primary language? Absolutely not.
Compare that to someone who chooses a city with a higher proportion of francophones but isn’t really into learning French and doesn’t seek out every opportunity available to him. Does it still matter that the proportion of francophones is 99% there? Are there still cities in this world where you’re “forced” to speak the language? You can hang out in expat communities, spend all your time with your classmates who speak the same language as you, avoid native speakers, find jobs where you don’t need to speak much, hide…
Yes, of course you can choose to learn French in Quebec City or Trois-Rivières or Rimouski and have great success doing so. I’m not saying that you can’t. What I’m saying is that the only thing preventing someone from learning French in Montreal is the lack of will to do so, not because of the proportion of francophones. And, yes, I’m also saying that Montreal is the best city in Quebec (and Canada and North America…) to learn French in because of the quantity and quality of what’s available to you on the cultural scene.
Oh, one other thing — I also think that Montreal is the best city to learn English in, not just in Quebec but in all of Canada. For the same reasons as French.
There. I said that too.
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