Urban Myths Die Hard!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I was in Montreal for the long Canada Day weekend… Every time I have a few extra days off, I do love to go back “home”. I got used to my life in Ottawa, but something is missing… it is not quite a city yet (though we now have our share of murders!)… anyways nothing to compare with Toronto or Montreal.

My Montreal’s friends still wonder why I moved in Ontario (I had my personal reasons): we always end up by having those heated conversations around English vs French… they cannot understand why I do not insist on living in French all the time! Well… it would take too much of my energy and… I do not mind switching to English when I cannot get my message across in my mother tongue.

One of them now works for an Association with two branches (Canada and Québec). Of course he has to come to Ottawa often and, on the weekend, he was complaining about the fact no one dares to even try and speak French to him… colleagues as well as Government representatives. Like many other Québécois, he is convinced Anglos are too arrogant to learn and, if they do know French, they will not make an effort.

Do I agree with him? Not quite… Actually those people are terrified! They do not know enough to feel at ease with their second language. Perhaps they would try in a casual setting, but certainly not in a formal meeting!

One of Ottawa’s urban myths is that Anglophones can learn how to speak, understand, read and write French in four months of full-time training! Where does this weird statement come from? I have absolutely no idea! The only thing I am sure of is that every single soul in this town does believe it! Was there someone out there who achieved such a hard task years ago and, then, set the standards for the whole Public Service? God knows!…

Is it ever possible? Unless someone is what I call a faux-débutant, no way! Someone with no knowledge of French (except for a few basics learned in high school) cannot learn in either 4 or 6 months… But! The Public Service of Canada does believe it can be done! The language schools promise they will bring people to a B level in this amount of time (useless to say they do not believe in what they promise!)… and the trainees themselves believe so, until they realize (normally after a few weeks) they will not be able to make it (then, it is the ensuing series of panick attacks and disgust!)…

Consequently, training contracts are extended endlessly until people get their required level. Learning French this way is a traumatic experience, nothing else! For months, they have trainers (who would need serious training themselves!) forcing abstract notions down their throats until they can pass the tests! Therefore… what do you think happens once this dreadful process is over? What would YOU do? Exactly!!! Since they feel inadequate in their second language, they prefer to stick to English!

To my friend in Montreal, I will just say that people he sits with in meetings simply do not know how to use French in real life contexts… Yes! they had training but they never learned how to communicate. Who’s fault is it? Not theirs!… Once again, the system is responsible for this national failure. Why? Because no one seems interested in reviewing an obsolete process that has been in place for so long… Pure laziness? or… refusal to admit one’s guilt?

Until the day someone will stand up and ask for change, this Ottawa’s urban myth will be around and well alive… Who will be brave enough to stop feeding it?

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…



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