Les choses sur le Canada

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emk
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby emk » Wed Nov 11, 2015 6:08 pm

aabram wrote:I lived in Montreal briefly and to me as non-French speaking person, it definitely is francophone city. Bilingual in a sense that yes, they do speak English, but not even remotely in a sense that Frech and English are treated equally. Not speaking French in the beginning I felt like I was treated with... not exactly contempt but with an attitude of something like "oh great, yet another anglo who hasn't bothered to learn our language".

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that my reactions Montréal are based on visiting on a semi-regular basis, and talking to people who live (or used to live) there. I wander around the city, and buy things, and shop for breakfast, and give directions to strangers, and talk to babysitters, and bug people for book recommendations, and ask 3-year-olds to play nicely with my children, and talk to fire fighters giving safety briefings or (once) some doctors in an ER. But I've never lived there.

But still, there's two things I think are worth mentioning here:

  1. Everybody I've spoken to says that the linguistic situation in Montréal has changed enormously in the last 20 years or so. A lot more of the anglophones speak French, for one thing. Just to go by personal data (which may not be representative), I've spoken to a ton of people in Montréal, both before and after learning French, and all but one person was incredibly courteous about linguistic issues. (The one exception was a francophone who insisted on speaking English in a conversation with people from France!) If many of your experiences date back to the 80s (or even further back to La Révolution tranquille), it's likely that you'd have a more pleasant time today.
  2. I've heard monolingual English speakers who say that Montréal can be frustrating. But I've heard almost exactly the same complaints delivered in French, from monoligual French speakers who had moved to the city. A huge number of public facing jobs require competence in both languages, and I'm told it can be difficult to function as a young, monolingual francophone.
When I say Montréal is a bilingual city, I mean that in a fairly precise sense: If you want to truly thrive, you apparently need to speak both languages. Even though virtually everybody I've ever spoken to has tried to put me at ease linguistically (even before I spoke French), it's much nicer to be able to reciprocate. The threshold seems to be somewhere around B1. Once you can participate in a conversation in your L2, it's as if you said, "I acknowledge this whole linguistic thing is awkward, but I respect you and your culture, and I've made an effort to put you at ease." At this point, the social dynamic changes.

Some linguists have claimed that one common result of a bilingual society is to create and favor a "bilingual elite." These are the people who are comfortable in both languages, and who can mediate problems between two individually influential groups. Eventually, it becomes obvious that anybody with a lick of ambition would want to join the bilingual elite. And since, in this case, you can start to reap the benefits with as little as 350 hours of work to get your L2 up to B1 or so, many people do. But at the same time, if you're rude or awkward about language issues, you're basically admitting that you're not part of the bilingual elite, because you can't just switch effortlessly to the other language.

When you combine this with the chronic niceness of Montréal, you get a situation where people all always switching into their L2. I remember a super-nice older francophone gentleman who worked in a hardware store, who was determined that he was going to do the polite thing and speak A2ish English to me with a huge friendly smile. And then there are those true bilinguals who a kind to me by speaking French with me when their English is as good as my own.

garyb wrote:I've not been there myself, but from a purely linguistic perspective from what I've seen, Montreal doesn't seem like the best place to learn French. And this is nothing to do with Canadian versus European French. I've met quite a few people (and not just native English speakers) who learnt French there, sometimes to quite an advanced level. Every one of them had developed a habit where if they don't know a French word, instead of making any effort to explain their way around it they just immediately say the English equivalent.

Yes, Montréal can be a very frustrating place to practice French when you're around B1, because everybody just smiles and switches to English to put you at ease. It gets better towards the C levels, but even then, there's the constant risk of discovering that you're actually speaking to anglophone who is highly proficient in French, at which point local custom says you should switch to English. Plus, I found the accent to be brutal before I reached a level where I could channel surf French TV for fun (which is harder than following a single series). Once I reached that level, I realized that everybody actually was speaking standard French (at least with anglophones), but I just hadn't understood them. So if you're focusing on European French, Montréal is going to be easier later on.

And yeah, it's hard to fill in holes in a deeply bilingual environment. I see people all the time who speak excellent French but who switch to English for words that seem pretty easy.
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby aabram » Wed Nov 11, 2015 7:38 pm

Yes, Montréal can be a very frustrating place to practice French when you're around B1, because everybody just smiles and switches to English to put you at ease.


I met people in Montreal who just ignored me when I spoke English to them or, at times, understood me, but still kept responding in French. I really don't know why there is myth of Canadians bein extra nice people or Montreal being especially sweet city. It's like any other place, having it's share of assholes as well as friendly folks. I met some nice and kind people there too, but no way was everybody all smiles and switching to English just to please me.
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby James29 » Wed Nov 11, 2015 11:13 pm

Don't forget about Quebec City. What an amazing place. I spent a ton of time there a couple decades ago and absolutely loved it. I knew no French at all and (at the time being the younger stupider version of me) could not understand why everyone could not speak speak English with me. I was just dumb (and probably unknowingly rude) about the cultural issues and everyone treated me extremely well. There were very few people who spoke English at all... even the people in the service industry like clerks at hotels could not speak English.

I have not been to Quebec City for a long time, but I imagine it is still much more of a "French" city than Montreal. I hope to take some more trips if I follow through with French and I'd definitely pick Quebec City as the place to go practice, etc.
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby sctroyenne » Wed Nov 11, 2015 11:58 pm

aabram wrote:
Yes, Montréal can be a very frustrating place to practice French when you're around B1, because everybody just smiles and switches to English to put you at ease.


I met people in Montreal who just ignored me when I spoke English to them or, at times, understood me, but still kept responding in French. I really don't know why there is myth of Canadians bein extra nice people or Montreal being especially sweet city. It's like any other place, having it's share of assholes as well as friendly folks. I met some nice and kind people there too, but no way was everybody all smiles and switching to English just to please me.


It's possible that could be the difference between being an obvious tourist just shopping and dining and doing things that suggest that you're actually immigrating, temporarily or permanently (opening bank accounts and getting apartments). I had someone who moved there warn me that things can be very different after you're a resident than when just visiting.
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby sctroyenne » Fri Nov 13, 2015 5:16 pm

Ça tombe bien : an episode of Du grain à moudre from France Culture on immigration to Canada: Le Canada est-il le vrai pays du rêve américain ?
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby aabram » Sat Nov 14, 2015 4:04 pm

sctroyenne wrote:It's possible that could be the difference between being an obvious tourist just shopping and dining and doing things that suggest that you're actually immigrating, temporarily or permanently (opening bank accounts and getting apartments). I had someone who moved there warn me that things can be very different after you're a resident than when just visiting.


You're right, the difference between just visiting and actually living somewhere is huge. Right now I've moved countries again and know many here people who've done the same for their jobs and the amount of stuff you have to take care is staggering so I don't blame any of those who won't start learning local language properly until they're well several months into their stay, especially if they have families and they're not exactly language lover types. During that period it's frustrating to get dirty looks just because you don't speak local. But I guess it's inevitable everywhere. Quebec's unfortunate problem is that the language they pretend to not hate just happens to be the most popular L2 in the world.
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Re: Les choses sur le Canada

Postby pratishabda » Sun Nov 15, 2015 6:43 pm

James29 wrote:Don't forget about Quebec City. What an amazing place. I spent a ton of time there a couple decades ago and absolutely loved it.


I did went there to do a French immersion program 20 years ago, right after the secession referendum, picking it over Montreal because there were far fewer English speakers. It sounds like things have mellowed somewhat, but Quebec was the first and only place I traveled where I made a point of letting people know I was American. (Not that that cut me anymore slack.)

Although I'd had plenty of French in school before going, the Quebec accent completely flummoxed me; it was a month before I could even get the gist of what my host mom was saying at dinner every night. On one occasion, I couldn't just understand the barista at a café while ordering a coffee. Clearly annoyed, she switched to English, and as I collected my cup, I noticed the other dozen customers were angrily glaring at me in silence.

In another case, I was taking a packed bus home after class. After we stopped outside a middle school, a few caffeinated Anglophone kids got on, joking and taking trash to each other. On full bus, one or two of them called each other "Québécois," but it was said with such contempt... it was really clear that there was a huge social divide between the two communities.

That said, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Quebec City is stunning, period. While I met a lot of Francophones who bristled at my errors and Anglophone accent, there were many others who really wanted to share a unique culture with me, regardless of whether they saw themselves as Canadians or Québécois.
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