COUNTING CANADIANS: GOOD NEWS FOR OFFICIAL BILINGUALISM
More Quebec immigrants speaking French at home
But statistics show that among young native-born French speakers, English is seen as a language of commercial opportunity
The Globe and Mail
December 5, 2007
QUEBEC — More immigrants in Quebec are adopting French as their language at home, but English remains a powerful force of attraction in the province, according to the numbers from the 2006 census released yesterday.
The data show that for the first time, a majority of allophones in the province – those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English – said they speak French at home. The figures show that 51 per cent chose French over English, compared to 46 per cent in 2001 and 39 per cent in 1996.
The numbers also show that among all immigrants who have arrived in the province since 2001, three out four said they speak French at home. Part of the reason may have to do with the immigration-selection process, in which more emphasis is being placed on attracting newcomers who already know French.
“This is proof that the policies we have implemented are bearing fruit,” said Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre. “I think these are very encouraging statistics, which show allophones, immigrants who choose to live in Quebec, adopt French at home.”
Quebec's language law, Bill 101, requires children of immigrant families, as well as those of French-speaking families, to attend French-language schools. Statistics show that a growing number of francophone youths are nonetheless becoming bilingual and see learning English as important.
Jo?le Bertrand, 23, a University of Sherbrooke political science student, took English-immersion classes in Halifax and Lethbridge, Alta. “English is becoming the dominant language in the world,” she said. “Business is often conducted in English and even research books at school are often in English. We need it to create opportunities.”
Others, such as Philippe Line, 23, found jobs outside Quebec to learn English.
Mr. Line, who is from Quebec City, has worked in Red Deer, Alta., for the past three years in his effort to become fully bilingual.
“Whether we like it or not you have to become bilingual to get ahead, especially in business,” Mr. Line said from Red Deer. “I don't know if I'll stay here. I've spoken to many Quebeckers living here who plan on staying here. But I haven't decided yet. I think I'd want to get closer to my family.”
Figures show that those who decide to live permanently in English-speaking provinces tend to assimilate and lose their French. The new data show that francophones make up 4.1 per cent of the total population outside Quebec, down from 4.4 per cent in 2001. While the overall number of francophones in the country has increased since 2001, their percentage of the total population has dropped to 22.1 per cent from 22.9 per cent in 2001 and 26.1 per cent in 1971.
A similar trend was reported in Quebec, where 5.7 million people declare French as their mother tongue, which represents 79.6 per cent of the total population. It was the first time in 75 years that their proportion had dropped below 80 per cent in the province and below 50 per cent in Montreal. That was partly because of a small increase in the English-speaking population, as well as a greater number of immigrants – an increase of 25 per cent – arriving in the province over the past five years.
French-language advocates argued that while the overall numbers show progress, the number of those who switch to French at home isn't sufficient to guarantee the solid progress of the language, especially in Montreal.
“It shows that in Montreal the transfer to French at home is directly related to the number of francophones living in the city. That number is declining and English remains attractive for a great number of immigrants,” said Mario Beaulieu, president of Mouvement Montrl franis, a pro-French lobby group.
“There have been more than 200 amendments to Bill 101, and that has hurt the progress of French among the immigrant population.”