Immigrants can't be forced to learn French: Quebec language watchdog

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Oct 30 14:14:18 UTC 2007

Immigrants can't be forced to learn French: Quebec language watchdog
Last Updated: Monday, October 29, 2007 | 9:07 AM ET

CBC News

The head of the advisory body that oversees language policy in Quebec
says it would be unethical for the government to impose the need to
learn French on immigrants. Coercive language measures such as those
proposed in the Parti Québécois' Quebec identity act should not be
used, said the director of le Conseil supérieur de la langue
française, or the Superior Council on the French Language.

"The choice of language, we can't impose that," council director
Pierre Georgeault said in a French interview with CBC News. Only half
of all immigrants to Quebec use French when they shop and use public
services, but forcing them to change through legislation would be
unethical, said Georgeault.
The Quebec identity act, known as Bill 195, would withhold the right
of new citizens to run as candidates in elections and raise funds for
political parties unless they pass a French test.

The way to encourage more people to speak French is to teach them how,
Georgeault said, and Quebec's public language training programs are
underfunded and poorly organized. The PQ has vigorously defended its
proposed laws despite mounting criticism from law experts, opposition
parties and civil rights groups. "If you want, really, to be part of
Quebec society, I think you have to make an effort a little bit, to
speak French," said PQ immigration critic Martin Lemay.

But that may discourage foreign skilled workers from choosing Quebec,
said Harjeet Bhabra, an economics professor at Concordia University.
Bhabra, who immigrated to Quebec a decade ago, said it's not really
essential to speak French in order to live comfortably in Quebec. "You
can work, and you can have a good social life, and enjoy the culture,
without having invested much in learning French," he said.

It is difficult for newcomers to learn French because the provincially
sponsored courses are inconvenient, especially for those who find some
kind of work when they first arrive. "You can only [attend classes] if
you are not working and I'm not sure that a lot of immigrants can
afford to do that," he said.

"If it were more spaced out, let's say, or an evening program, and you
encourage them to do that, in addition to working, and learning at the
same time, I'm sure everybody would be interested in doing it."

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