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Posts Tagged ‘learning French in Québec’

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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