Canadian Language Issues
As I grew up, my mom always taught me to look at issues with a non-biased view, and to understand where others come from. It is a rule that I have adopted, which has helped me be more tolerant and understanding. Thus when a problem with language laws arises, I call upon this super power to come save the day.
I was not born in Canada, but perhaps by chance or destiny, I live here now — more specifically in Quebec. I love Montreal. It’s unique, full of atmosphere and festivals. Even in the winter, when my face is numb and the freezing wind penetrates my scarves and layers of clothes, I still find it magically beautiful. I have never lived anywhere else in Canada, but I have visited enough to understand that Montreal is quite different in both looks and mentality than the rest of this gigantic country.
This is a delicate topic of discussion, I would like to say that nothing I present here is intended to insult, offend, or hurt anyone reading this. There are various points of view on the subject and everyone has a different opinion. Some things might be more important to others, and I do not wish to diminish anyone’s opinion. I only wish to present my own.
I believe that there is a stigma attached to Quebec’s language laws. Quebecers want to preserve their French heritage, of which the French language is a dominant part. The ‘Majority’ views this as an attempt to destroy the use of English. Many Anglophones, those in Quebec, as well as those from Anglo-Canada, or others from non-francophone countries, resent the unavoidable stress to speak French in Quebec. I would say that this clash of ‘language-needs’ is most prominent in Montreal. It is a hot spot for tourist and visitors, and is also the largest city in Quebec with a clear divide between Anglophone and Francophone.
I learned French slowly. Even after 10 years of living here, I am still not perfect. My vocabulary is decent, but there is plenty of room for improvement. When I moved here like many others, we found ourselves forced to learn basic French. I remember my annoyance and frank outrage at this pressure. I resented the language and all associated with it. I did the bare minimum required for me to graduate from school. I knew I could survive in this city with English alone, but I regret that. I regret that a lot because I missed an opportunity to add a beautiful language to my cache. When the time came for me to decide a direction in my life, I chose to stay in Montreal and become a Canadian citizen. Afterwards, I realized that a big part of the Canadian culture that I wished to assimilate into remained void and unreachable. I started practicing my French, and after a few months of butchering coffee orders, I am now able to order coffee without receiving cake.
So I understand the grief that newcomers have when they are forced into the Quebec-French-box. Similar to everything in life, we hate to be coerced, and here lies the problem. Learning French in Quebec is presented as coercion, rather than opportunity. Anglophones do not see the point of learning French. Not even when they move to Quebec because they assume that everyone in Canada speaks English. Why would they play tongue-twister just to amuse those of French orientation? Of course, they still expect that the Francophone that moves outside Quebec have no choice, but to learn English. This irritates me, and not just me. When I passed my interview to become a permanent resident of Quebec, the officer conducting my interview summarized the problem: 9 out of 10 Francophones will know English, however only 1 out of 10 Anglophones will know French. Now, I don’t know if these statistics are as accurate as he presented them, but it does seem to be accurate, and points to where the issue stems from. If new residents don’t bother to learn the language, how will French survive?
I’m not saying Canada should be 100% bilingual. The English won the war and the French colonies have been given their place. Rather, what I am suggesting is that instead of creating frustration and anxiety in a war over language; inhale the opportunity and pride that comes from self-improvement. Anglophones in Quebec are lucky to be required to learn basic French, and Francophone are equally fortunate to improve their English if they live outside Quebec. For those of you who have made the journey from between provinces, don’t you wish that you knew the language better? Imagine how far you could have come if your government had planted the seeds of another language in a positive and encouraging way. And if you are a non-Canadian moving to Quebec just for school, don’t think you won’t be here long enough to learn so why even try, you will be missing out!
Look, Canada is blessed with diversity. We all know the history that embodies this country and its citizens with acceptance and unification under the northern skies. Canada stands as united as it is unique, and things like the cold winter, maple syrup, and saying ‘eh’ are a source of pride, just like multiculturalism. Canada has two official languages, and of all this, I don’t understand why Canadians look at learning a second language as punishment? Why not embrace it and encourage it? My mother tongue is Hebrew, and when I came from Israel, I had to learn English as my second language if I ever wanted to talk with any of the western world. Considering that I Live in Canada, I am fortunate to be able to communicate in French as well. So when I hear about the headache that people describe as learning French and/or English I am in shock. Canadians are so lucky to live in a bilingual country. If I had been one, I would have learned both languages from birth. The way I see it, Francophones should learn English, and Anglophones should learn French whether they live in Quebec or not. What do you have to lose?
English is much easier to pick up than French, considering the amount of TV, movies, music, commercials and advertisements that are in English. English is also much simpler in regards to grammar. But why doesn’t Canada encourage French more actively outside of Quebec? It is taught, yet there are minimal, if any chances of actual practice. The first thing you see when you cross the border from Quebec to Ontario is English signs. Why not have them written in both languages throughout Canada? In Israel, signs are in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Why not here?
I have had many discussions on the topic with both Anglophone and Francophone Canadians, as well as other non-Canadians. Some say that the fear and stress on learning French is rude and unfair. Others look down at those who don’t even bother to learn the language. I have read about stores and restaurants being sued for not following the Quebec language act (bill 101). It may sound too ridiculous to believe, but the hate presented in the comments of each article is honestly terrifying. I don’t agree with the extant of these laws and their consequences, but I understand them as a source of fear. When I hear other people fighting over this issue of language, I really just wish they would look at it differently. As Canadians, you have the fortune to be exposed to different cultures and languages. It doesn’t mean you have to be fluent in them all, but you can take advantage of them to expand your knowledge and communication tools. I believe that the source of all problems, big or small, stems from lack of communication. In order to live happily we must be able to communicate, at times in our way, and at times in someone else’s way.
Quebec, Canada, North America, the world. People sharing space with people, that’s all life really is. Share yourself, and let others share with you. We are all people at the end of the day, communicating in one way or another.