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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.