Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Re. comments on Being Bilingual

Since I wrote my previous post, I’ve been thinking some more about what it meant for me to be living in a bilingual country. As you may know the language question is a very touchy subject for many Québécois and even if it hasn’t really been the case for me I can see how it could: simply look at the comments that post generated.

I’ve never really thought of Canada as a French-speaking place even if it’s our second official language. Canadians, to me, are English people. Québécois are French. Strange isn’t it? Especially since more and more “Québécois” don’t speak it. For the last few years we’ve been experiencing some issues with minorities and how accommodating we, Québécois, are as a nation (I’m using nation here, in the broad sense, not as a specific separated nation). There’s been a lot of public uproar about how we bend over backwards to welcome emigrants. I do agree with some of the issues brought up, like the separation of Church and State. That being said, I don’t agree with allowing a kid to wear his kirpan in school; if we take Church/religion out of schools, etc. than it should be applied to all. (Sorry, I digressed.)

I wrote “choosing to learn the language of the country you choose to emigrate to”, because I believe that. If one wants to integrate one should learn the language spoken. We have some Vietnamese friends who choose Québec as their home because we spoke French here, as well as some Lebanese friends. Immigrants will often regroup in neighbourhoods, churches, etc. and will want to preserve their heritage; their culture and I fully respect that. At the same time, if they are truly adapting to their new land as being their home, they should integrate. Integrating doesn’t mean (at least it shouldn’t!) letting go of who one is. Whenever I go somewhere I try to learn about how they live there, how, what they speak, etc. in doing so, I find it opened me many doors. If we were to move outside Canada, I would adapt to our new surrounding. I wouldn’t expect everyone to talk to me in English. When I went to Japan in 1999, I felt a little lost that I couldn’t get around on English alone, and sure was happy I had my little two years of Japanese lessons behind me, when training in a remote area. I was the only one (non-Japanese) who could ask for water after training, and trust me, that was worth all my efforts of getting up every Sunday morning for those Japanese lessons.

I think too many of us take things for granted when it comes to languages, here. I expect to see signs in both French and English, especially when it comes to Canadian, but also because we are in Québec some of us think that French should be the only language (I don't think so). As far as I know we are still part of Canada. I don’t really expect to speak French when I call a federal government office (which I do, too often) and honestly I’m always surprise when I actually do get one.

We have Italian friends whose parents, have been here for over 50 years, still don’t talk neither French nor English. Why? Because they only shop, live and interact with Italians in Little Italy. My in-laws were very much like that. My MIL was more Hungarian than many Hungarians living in Hungary, but even if she could speak French and English, she closed herself off to Québécois (a lot, not completely). Some of it was “self-preservation” or wanting to keep her cultural heritage. I also know she's not an isolated case, I have Greeks friends/relatives who told me the same thing, as well as Portugese. I don't think that where they're from matters and what and how they chose to live here, that does.

I think it’s sad my MIL never truly embraced the fact that she lived in Québec nor wanted to share and discover our culture as well. But, I'll give her one thing she sure did well; she sent her son to French school so that he could learn proper French, and that he did.


Marius said...

The language issue is an ever increasing one down here in Florida. The Cuban, Mexican, and Guatemalan immigrant populations just keep growing, yet far too many of them simply refuse to learn English. It's their choice, I suppose, but when I go to the grocery store, and ask the kid that works there to help me find the olives, and he takes me to the opposite end of the store because he doesn't speak enough English to know what my question is, I get a tiny bit ticked off. If I moved to Quebec you better believe I'd learn as much French as possible as quickly as possible.

cinnamon girl said...

I have to ask Marius, did that kid in the grocery actually tell you that he refuses to learn how to speak English?

The reason I ask is that over here new migrants have to work, and do not have the time or money to become fluent in English before they begin to work.

I guess I get a tiny bit ticked off constantly hearing Aussies complaining about taxi drivers who refuse to learn English, because when I've asked the taxi drivers I've found that they are taking English lessons in their spare time, have only been in the country two months and are doing their very best to understand the directions they're given. Just because they don't speak it yet doesn't mean they don't want to learn.

There seems to be some similarities between the USA and Australia on this issue because we have English as a default language; Canada brings a whole different slant to it with the debate on whether English or French is used when both are the official languages.

Barb said...

I realize this comment doesn't address this post, but I'll put it out there. The real issue behind the English/Spanish language debate stems from the tide of illegal aliens and all of the baggage (no pun intended) that brings, as it affects more than just language in the U.S.: health care, taxes, jobs, etc.

cinnamon girl said...

Barb, I'd like to direct you towards this

Barb said...

@cinnamon girl, as an immigrant who came here via legal channels, there's no way of convincing me to stop using the term "illegal." I know what my personal beliefs are and I'm sticking to them.

cinnamon girl said...

Hey Barb, my family are of the same mind as you - they came here as refugees and have no compassion for refugees who come here any way other than what they did.

I do think the term illegal is dehumanising, but actually I think the term alien is way more so. And I think it's really dangerous to dehumanise people this way, because it makes it easier for people to treat them badly or discriminate against them. In modern usage of the English language, the term alien is used in every other context to mean 'not human'; so using it to refer to people who come to the USA without visas is basically saying that if you don't have the correct visa you're not a human being.

In Australia this kind of dehumanisation occurs too; but we don't call them illegal aliens, we call them 'queue jumpers'. The term conveniently ignores the fact that there is no queue, while conjuring up the level of indignation needed to take away the human rights and dignity of these people.

Barb said...

I agree that I shouldn't have used the term "alien." It makes me think of Star Wars, and even in the Star Wars universe the politically correct term is "beings." ;-)