About French | The Press

A new participant joined our group of Nordic swimmers last winter. The first few weeks, Irina took off her clothes, dove into the icy water of the St. Lawrence River and got dressed again without saying a word. An introvert, I told myself…


Published yesterday at 4:30 p.m.

After a month, I understood that it wasn’t embarrassment or chills that stopped him from talking. In fact, Irina spoke neither French nor English. Vadim – the conductor of our weekly swims – explained to me that she had just arrived from Ukraine.

I smiled when I heard they were carpooling here. He noticed my expression. “It shouldn’t be surprising, a Russian and a Ukrainian girl who like each other…” He added that swimming in cold waters wasn’t their only shared activity. They also practiced their French thanks to Mauril.

Mauril ?

It is a free application created in 2021 by Radio-Canada to promote the learning of the country’s two official languages. Short extracts from series here are used to show interactions between individuals and explain the vocabulary used by them. Exercises are then offered to users. For example: the character of Thomas, in a scene from the web series The ephemera, said “hello”. Find the synonym for “hello” among these three options.

Great discovery, thank you, Vadim.

From that moment on, Irina opened up. She seemed proud to speak a little more French to me every week. In March, she even invited students from her French class to swim with us. (I can confirm that excitement mixed with fear can be felt in all languages.)

I then realized that although I value my French, I know very little about the challenges of those who want to learn it.

Of course, I know that it can be difficult to access French courses (several cases exceeding the 50-day service standard were recorded this winter). I know that asylum seekers are not entitled to the $230 per week allowance paid to immigrants who study our language full time. I know that fixed schedules sometimes pose a problem, especially for men who have multiple jobs, due to pressure from their provider… But I know very little about other ways to tame this beautiful and important language.

Irina explained to me that she uses several online tools, such as Reverso Context, Duolingo and Lingualeo. And I was happy to learn that there are also peer training programs in Montreal.

Since November, eight ambassadors have been helping their fellow citizens in the Parc-Extension district to speak French. Each accompanies a group of around eight participants during discussion workshops and exercises such as going to the pharmacy, ordering a meal at a restaurant or visiting a loved one in a CHSLD. The idea is to anchor the practice of French in everyday life and to promote the integration of allophones in their neighborhood.

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PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, THE PRESS

Amina, Mandeep and Baljit

This is the second cohort of the Marquage project, born in June 2023. Since then, more than 200 people have participated in nearly 700 activities. Each of the ambassadors is a paid citizen who speaks not only French, but also the native language of their students.

Shahista therefore masters eight languages.

Amina can speak seven.

The two ambassadors and their colleague Guy are gathered in a room of the L’hirondelle organization.

Quickly, I understand that there is a deep desire among the three guides to help their neighbors.

Shahista saw his father struggle when he arrived in Canada, he who only spoke English and Swahili. She wants to break this cycle of isolation. Guy, originally from Cameroon, also knows how alone one can feel, far from his family. According to him, practicing speaking French allows you to socialize: “After a journey like this, people can at least greet others, take the bus, buy things, ask for directions…”

Allophones lack the space to start a conversation while giving themselves the right to make mistakes. We must reduce their “shame”, their “fear” and their “embarrassment”, according to Amina.

The idea is that language is not confined to classrooms.

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PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, THE PRESS

Kade

“If you stay at home, you don’t learn anything,” adds Kade. You can’t move forward! » Amina’s student left Guinea in 2017. She spoke neither French nor English at the time. She arrived in Montreal in the middle of January, alone and pregnant. It was the organization La maison bleue that helped her navigate the storm. She now goes to school and speaks impressive French. She still has to write it, she insists. The Marking project notably allowed him to finally understand the signs in the metro. She has gained in autonomy, even if her youngest continues to take her back when she opts for French, she admits with a laugh.

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PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, THE PRESS

Baljit

Baljit does not yet have the necessary papers to register for French studies. In the meantime, she is happy to have been able to learn common expressions. She puts on, smiling: “Hello! I am Baljit, how are you? Have a good day, good evening, thank you! »

Her 19-year-old daughter only came to join her last January. However, Mandeep is already able to answer me in a mixture of Franglais: “I am learning French to integrate into Quebec society. I really want to learn French and I am learning! »

All the speakers in the room insist on the importance of increasing the number of tools to help people who, like these students, wish to master the language of this place that has become their home.

The workshops for the second cohort of the Marking project ended last April and the team is currently evaluating the impact of the pilot project to determine whether it will be renewed or not. One thing is certain, activities to practice speaking French in the library will continue until next October. Amina proudly specifies that several of them will be aimed at parents and their children.

“Congratulations for your commitment.

“It’s important to give what you have,” she replies simply.

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