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French Canadians and Their English


Goat James

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I probably should start off by saying that I’m a Swede living in Sweden, so my observations are done from afar.

 

I was browsing Instagram when I came across the Luke Robitaille Stanley Cup video and it got me thinking; his English is really good, especially his pronunciation. I remember reading somewhere that Mario Lemieux basically didn’t speak any English at all until he was a teenager, so I started wondering why do French Canadians have such good English?

 

In Sweden we’re taught English from elementary school, it (along with Swedish and math) is what’s known as a “core subject”, meaning you’re not allowed to fail it. Basically every Swede under the age of 70 is able to watch a movie in English without any issues. But (as I’m sure you’ve noticed with our hockey players) we can’t speak it nearly as well as we understand it. Apart from a few grammar issues (for example in Swedish we don’t differentiate between is and are) the main thing is that we’ve got a pretty wide (?) accent, you hear right away that it’s a Swede (or at least a Scandinavian) speaking when we do so (the only exceptions that I’ve come across are Nicklas Lidström and Gabriel Landeskog). 

 

I get that a lot of French Canadians probably are totally bilingual, but most aren’t, right? For example neither Roberto Luongo or Alain Vigneault seem to have English speaking parents, and they grew up in Quebec so they can’t have picked it up “naturally” either, and both their English are nearly flawless. Alex Burrows on the other hand has got a heavy accent, so this doesn’t apply to all French Canadians. 

 

My question is: is the “French Canadians have really good English”-thing something you guys agree with, and if so, why is that the case? 

 

Cheers!

 

Edit: I get that they don’t get amazing English if they stay in Quebec, but if they move their English becomes much better then that of say a Swede’s. 

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6 minutes ago, Gnarcore said:

They don't unless they spend time in areas that speak English. Much of that province, outside Montreal can't speak English....or French for that matter...for $&!#. 

 

Yeah I get that, but when they do their English becomes really good really fast. If you compare Roberto Luongo’s English to Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s then his is way better, and they’ve lived in English speaking places for roughly the same amount of time, right?

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24 minutes ago, The Game said:

I probably should start off by saying that I’m a Swede living in Sweden, so my observations are done from afar.

 

I was browsing Instagram when I came across the Luke Robitaille Stanley Cup video and it got me thinking; his English is really good, especially his pronunciation. I remember reading somewhere that Mario Lemieux basically didn’t speak any English at all until he was a teenager, so I started wondering why do French Canadians have such good English?

 

In Sweden we’re taught English from elementary school, it (along with Swedish and math) is what’s known as a “core subject”, meaning you’re not allowed to fail it. Basically every Swede under the age of 70 is able to watch a movie in English without any issues. But (as I’m sure you’ve noticed with our hockey players) we can’t speak it nearly as well as we understand it. Apart from a few grammar issues (for example in Swedish we don’t differentiate between is and are) the main thing is that we’ve got a pretty wide (?) accent, you hear right away that it’s a Swede (or at least a Scandinavian) speaking when we do so (the only exceptions that I’ve come across are Nicklas Lidström and Gabriel Landeskog). 

 

I get that a lot of French Canadians probably are totally bilingual, but most aren’t, right? For example neither Roberto Luongo or Alain Vigneault seem to have English speaking parents, and they grew up in Quebec so they can’t have picked it up “naturally” either, and both their English are nearly flawless. Alex Burrows on the other hand has got a heavy accent, so this doesn’t apply to all French Canadians. 

 

My question is: is the “French Canadians have really good English”-thing something you guys agree with, and if so, why is that the case? 

 

Cheers!

As Gnarcore pointed out, it has a lot to do with where in Quebec you're from. Luongo was from the Italian part of Montreal, which is a pretty big section of the city. Most of them are English speakers.

 

When I was 17, I played in a hockey tournament in Montreal. (actually in a suburb called Verdun) Most of the Montrealers I met were bilingual, although you did meet the odd one who spoke only French, or English. Ironically, the most trouble we had communicating was with the cab drivers, who all seemed to be Francophones from Haiti.

 

This particular tournament had four teams with french speakers. The host city, Verdun had mostly bilingual players as did the teams from Ottawa and Fredricton, New Brunswick. The team that had to win their way into the tournament was from Ste Foy, which is a suburb of Quebec City. None of them spoke English.

 

You mentioned Mario and it's interesting now, because he has almost no accent and he's pretty much synonymous with the city of Pittsburgh, but when the Penguins drafted him, he did not want to go. His lack of English was part of it, even though the status of the franchise was the bigger deal. Think Eric Lindros - Quebec Nordiques in reverse

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3 minutes ago, The Game said:

 

Yeah I get that, but when they do their English becomes really good really fast. If you compare Roberto Luongo’s English to Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s then his is way better, and they’ve lived in English speaking places for roughly the same amount of time, right?

I live in a town full of Quebecois. It takes years...it's not that fast. In many cases that strong accent doesn't go away. My buddy an Acadian has a terrible accent while his brother doesn't. They both been out west for 20 years. 

 

I personally picked up Spanish far better living in Mexico than many a Frenchie I know. 

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From what I understand, about 30% of people living in Quebec speak English fluently, so despite it being a "French" province, there's a good number of strong English speakers. I went to Montreal and Quebec City and found that in those larger cities, most people spoke English remarkably well and I could easily order food in English (though I sometimes tried in French). What others are saying about the area of Quebec being relevant makes sense. I suspect if you were to find a less "touristy" part of Quebec, you'd find far fewer English speakers and the Quebecois accents would be more pronounced when speaking English.

 

I think English seeps more into Quebec than it does into non-English speaking European countries due to it's proximity probably. It's completed surrounded by English speaking regions and even the primary language of its country is English, whereas Sweden is surrounded by water and other non-English speaking countries. For what it's worth, I find that Swedes learn English better than a lot of other nationalities.

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I think too many English as a first language speaking Canadians are limited to only the one language - English.  Everyone educated in Canada should learn (in school) at least one other language.  French would be great to know, but so would Spanish, or Punjabi, or Arabic, or whatever.  Being limited to only one language, in a country with such diversity of culture, is actually kind of sad.  

 

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4 minutes ago, Alflives said:

I think too many English as a first language speaking Canadians are limited to only the one language - English.  Everyone educated in Canada should learn (in school) at least one other language.  French would be great to know, but so would Spanish, or Punjabi, or Arabic, or whatever.  Being limited to only one language, in a country with such diversity of culture, is actually kind of sad.  

 

It might be different now, but when I was in school it was very very strongly encouraged that you take French class until at least grade 11, as we were told most universities wouldn't accept you otherwise.

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4 minutes ago, Alflives said:

I think too many English as a first language speaking Canadians are limited to only the one language - English.  Everyone educated in Canada should learn (in school) at least one other language.  French would be great to know, but so would Spanish, or Punjabi, or Arabic, or whatever.  Being limited to only one language, in a country with such diversity of culture, is actually kind of sad.  

 

Everyone does learn a 2nd language in school from grades 3 through 12. Some just don't carry on with it.  It is mandatory to have a 2nd language credit to graduate in BC. 

 

I was in french immersion but dropped out in grade 11 as it interfered with my preferred courses.  I ended up challenging French 12....it was what I leaned back in like grade 7 level. Also challenged Spanish. I had 12 extra credits and my last semester of highschool was a PE class and an art class.

I smoked a lot of weed that semester....lol 

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3 minutes ago, -AJ- said:

It might be different now, but when I was in school it was very very strongly encouraged that you take French class until at least grade 11, as we were told most universities wouldn't accept you otherwise.

I graduated in 1997 and I think it was mandatory to have a 2nd language credit to graduate. It was rather basic as I state above but still something. 

 

I still can speak and read french rather well and haven't used it much in 15 years after my french crazy ex tried to stab me. Never date a Quebecois red head...too much crazy going on there.....

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3 minutes ago, smithers joe said:

i’m french but can’t speak the language. if they learned english in school young, the french accent isn’t as pronounced. i know that german people that can speak english, still have trouble with V and W’s. 

Maybe they should change the name of a certain car brand then...

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Like others have stated; it depends on what part of the province they are from, as English is more prevalent in Montreal and the SW towards Ontario.  Also, consider that they are situated on a continent of(majority) English speaking people, so they have access to English tv and radio. Canadian French has a lot of english words, so that helps as well.  They certainly have an advantage in learning the language, for sure.

 

Luke Robitaille was born in Montreal and played his entire NHL career in the US, so he is completely bilingual with hardly a trace of an accent. 

 

 

 

 

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5 minutes ago, -AJ- said:

It might be different now, but when I was in school it was very very strongly encouraged that you take French class until at least grade 11, as we were told most universities wouldn't accept you otherwise.

I stopped taking French after the 8th grade (like an idiot). Here we are years later, and I've gone the Duolingo route. Can't speak it very well but my reading/writing aspects of it are much improved. :lol: Also did some Dutch for a while, and a little Spanish.

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Just now, Gnarcore said:

I graduated in 1997 and I think it was mandatory to have a 2nd language credit to graduate. It was rather basic as I state above but still something. 

 

I still can speak and read french rather well and haven't used it much in 15 years after my french crazy ex tried to stab me. Never date a Quebecois red head...too much crazy going on there.....

Yeah I know I took French as long as I did largely because I wanted to attend university, but I know some students intent on taking over the family farm dropped out of French class in grade 9, so it wasn't necessary to graduate. Because we were told we only need up to French 11, very few students actually took French class in grade 12.

 

I seem to recall hearing, shortly after I graduated from high school (in 2011), that universities weren't requiring a 2nd language anymore, but I don't have any concrete evidence for that.

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8 minutes ago, -AJ- said:

Yeah I know I took French as long as I did largely because I wanted to attend university, but I know some students intent on taking over the family farm dropped out of French class in grade 9, so it wasn't necessary to graduate. Because we were told we only need up to French 11, very few students actually took French class in grade 12.

 

I seem to recall hearing, shortly after I graduated from high school (in 2011), that universities weren't requiring a 2nd language anymore, but I don't have any concrete evidence for that.

Fair enough.  It was awhile ago so I might be confused that it was just for university prereqs. 

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Just now, Gnarcore said:

Fair enough.  It was awhile ago so I might be confused that it was just for university prereqs. 

We also graduated 14 years apart so regulations may have changed in that time.

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Quebec is interesting as they speak an archaic dialect of French (about equivalent to Shakespearean english) and often have a willful desire to not learn English.  To be surrounded by English in a mostly English speaking country and not learn English is challenging and requires effort especially in the internet world.

Many do learn English though, rural kids often will do English summer camps to help.

In my experience many also intentionally keep their accents as an affectation.  It helps define them as french Canadian.  I have some French Canadian friends who grew up together, did the same English camps and lived in English speaking Canada for the same amount of time.  One keeps a thick accent, the other speaks with almost none.

It is actually striking to see how much better European countries do with teaching languages.  I have a lot of in-laws in France and they learn English with a very strictly defined London accent.  Like you said it is usually safe to assume German's and Dutch speak English and usually very well.

French language teaching in English Canada is often embarrassingly bad.  My kids grew up bilingual from day one (a feat I have yet to master but that is the result of spending time in the US education system) and they are often correcting their teachers.

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49 minutes ago, DrJockitch said:

Quebec is interesting as they speak an archaic dialect of French (about equivalent to Shakespearean english) and often have a willful desire to not learn English.  To be surrounded by English in a mostly English speaking country and not learn English is challenging and requires effort especially in the internet world.

Many do learn English though, rural kids often will do English summer camps to help.

In my experience many also intentionally keep their accents as an affectation.  It helps define them as french Canadian.  I have some French Canadian friends who grew up together, did the same English camps and lived in English speaking Canada for the same amount of time.  One keeps a thick accent, the other speaks with almost none.

It is actually striking to see how much better European countries do with teaching languages.  I have a lot of in-laws in France and they learn English with a very strictly defined London accent.  Like you said it is usually safe to assume German's and Dutch speak English and usually very well.

French language teaching in English Canada is often embarrassingly bad.  My kids grew up bilingual from day one (a feat I have yet to master but that is the result of spending time in the US education system) and they are often correcting their teachers.

My daughter went through French Immersion, right from kindergarten to graduation and you're correct.....they teach a Quebecois sort of French (mainly because most of the teachers are from Quebec).

 

The one time my daughter had the opportunity to use her second language, was with a family of tourists from France and they had a hard time understanding each other. She did much better when visiting Montreal/Quebec City...

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