Posts Tagged ‘allophone’

I’d always wanted to write about this but felt it was too off-topic for OffQc. I’ve since changed my mind. Considering that there are in fact a good number of francophones who read OffQc, I think this blog is as good a place as any for it.

If you read comments online in news articles related to language in Montréal, you’ll often come across ones where the author says he won’t return to a certain business because he wasn’t served in French. The idea is that if you don’t speak French, you’ll be punished by no longer getting that francophone customer’s business.

Sure, I know it probably feels really good to punish people who don’t speak French by hitting them where it counts ($$$), but does this strategy work in getting people to become francophone?

I suspect it doesn’t work. I don’t have any evidence to offer other than common sense and an anecdote, so feel free to comment.

When I say common sense, what I mean is this: if all francophones decided to no longer return to a business where the employees are unable to speak French, then that business will have zero French-speaking clientele. In this case, where is the incentive to learn French? If no francophones come into the business, there’s no need for it.

On the contrary, imagine a scenario where 99% of customers to a business are francophone. That business has a very strong incentive to learn French and serve their customers in this language.

We might feel like we’re being proactive by punishing, but I feel this ultimately does nothing to promote French. It may seem counterintuitive, but what I feel we need to do to promote French in this situation is the complete opposite of refusing to frequent these businesses — go there, spend your money, and demonstrate that learning French is beneficial.

And an anecdote:

I remember an employee in a fast-food Vietnamese restaurant in Montréal who was unable to serve customers in French. I will admit that my first reaction was “wow, what nerve.” But instead of storming off, I smiled and spoke very basic French to her. When she didn’t understand, I said it in English. I also said simple words like bonjour, merci and s’il vous plaît.

When I returned a few weeks later, I was surprised when she remembered me. She did her best to say whatever French words she could, and then said the rest in English.

I returned yet again a few months later. I don’t know if she remembered me at this point, but what amazed me was that she served me entirely in French. She stumbled a little when she said the price in French, but she had essentially learned to serve in French.

Yes, it takes patience to do this. It’s easier to punish and may even feel good too. But as a long-term strategy, I believe punishing is worthless. What if we were all just a little more patient, smiled just a little more often, and made newcomers feel just a little more welcome here?

What would have happened if francophones to that restaurant had always impatiently switched to English instead of using simple French? Worse, what would have happened if francophones had simply stopped going to that restaurant altogether?

I don’t know about you, but I have no desire whatsoever to communicate with angry, aggressive people. If I didn’t already speak their language, then I’d have no desire to learn it. It’s so much easier to draw people towards French when we’re patient, friendly and charismatic.

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Language in MontréalSome people will tell you that Montréal is a bad place to learn French.

It’s a very common myth, one that’s easy to believe if you don’t take a closer look.

If you’re serious about learning French (and by serious I mean someone who’s committed to learning over the long term), then Montréal is a wonderful place to learn French.

It doesn’t matter that there are anglophones in Montréal. It doesn’t matter that some bilingual francophones may switch to English on you.

Why don’t these matter?

First, look at the language situation in Montréal.

Who speaks what native language in Montréal
(and why it’s not a problem)

If the city of Montréal (not including the metropolitan area) were reduced to 126 people like in the image above, roughly 66 of them would speak French as their native language, 17 would speak English, and 43 would be native speakers of some other language, most of whom have also learned to speak either French or English, or both.

Montréal is clearly not exclusively francophone. You may be looking at that image thinking, “oh boy, look at all those people who don’t speak French as their native language!”

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter that not all people in Montréal have French as their native language.


Because there is simply no shortage of francophones to speak with.

You choose who you let into your life. If you want francophones in your life, go find them. There is no shortage in Montréal.

What about the language switchers?

People in Montréal have a high rate of knowledge of both French and English. This may lead to some francophones switching to English on you in the beginning stages of your learning, especially if they do not know you very well.

Learning French is a long-term endeavour requiring a long-term approach.

The best way to learn French (or any language) is to develop a strong bond with someone who speaks it.

Why a strong bond is important

A strong bond isn’t just a girlfriend or boyfriend. It can be a close friend.

A person who you share a strong bond with is far more unlikely to switch to English on you. In a certain way, that person accompanies you on your journey to fluency over the long term.

There is a vested interest between the two of you.

There is also regular contact between the two of you, which is essential in maintaining the “fire” to learn French.

If you’ve got a strong bond in your life, it’s much less of a concern or annoyance when someone else (a weak bond) switches to English on you. Learning French through weak bonds is not an ideal long-term approach, no matter where in the world you learn French.

You just need at least one strong bond with a francophone in your life. A few more people are good too — but you can start with just one.

The bottom line

In reality, you can learn French anywhere. All the francophones in Montréal are just icing on your cake.

If you’re in it for the long haul, learning French in Montréal is a wonderful choice.

Here’s what you need to do:

Make at least one of the very significant people in your life a francophone. Montréal has nearly one million of them to choose from.

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