Is Montreal Really Embracing Immigrants and Their Cultures?


Last week, we talked about language, space and the influence of globalization on languages. And we had discussions and activities in terms of dealing with the immigrant children depressed by French learning in Montreal and their culture loss. I can’t help asking myself this question: Is Montreal really embracing immigrants and their cultures?

When I first came to Montreal last August, I was surprised by its multilingual environments. I can hear people speaking various languages in the street: French, English, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, and others. People of different complexions greet each other at schools and workplaces. I thought that this city is embracing immigrants and welcoming people from all over the world. However, after a year, I felt that I am uncovering its veil gradually and there is a known secret, in which we are all a part of that: Montreal is not as friendly as it’s tagged.

First, I want to talk about the language environment in terms of French learning. In Montreal, we can speak other languages, but this city forces us (immigrants) to speak French if you really want to involve in. I remembered that last winter, when I was hurried to my train but lost my way, I had to ask a policeman for help. However, the two policemen that I asked for only spoke French to me. I could tell from their face that they really wanted to help me, but I had no idea what they were talking about. I was so much disappointed and sad for missing my train partly because I could not speak French. Why do I have to suffer from being in this bilingual city? In Montreal, not only adults, but also children, are experiencing such language depression. As Allen (2006) pointed that in response to language-based integration in schools, the new immigrant students expressed depression when they returned to accueil: an intensive French program. The student involved in that program expressed that they like here (Montreal), but they don’t like themselves (Allen, 2006, p. 259) because their French learning turned to become a failure. It’s not easy for them to catch up with other fellows in this program if they have psychological barriers. In addition, according to Allen, some of the students’ resentment can also be observed in their behaviours. Students may drop from the program and enrol in English-language college. Bill 101 is, to some extent, ironically playing as an obstacle, rather than a gateway, to legitimate education. In addition, we can also sense that there is continued ambivalence and hostility ESL and its teachers in Quebec (Winer, 2007). English, in this sense, is defeated by French in terms of language education.

Then, I would like to continue talking about the culture atmosphere here in Montreal. As an immigrant city, Montreal possesses lots of people who are required to share common values. They are encouraged to present their colorful cultures. But is Montreal ready to share these diversified cultures? Last month, I volunteered in the 2016 Festival de la Culture Chinoise. It was held on a Saturday at Angrignon Parc. Various cultural activities were organized by the Confucius Institute in Quebec. The commercial was in both English and French. However, most of the audience were still Chinese. We are depressed by the few Quebec culture lovers. I kept asking myself the questions: what if the immigrants, no matter Chinese, Japanese, Arab or others, find that their culture cannot be appreciated by the residents? If the immigrants are willing to stay here to face up to the French challenge, or move to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where they have more opportunities to work and live better?

Personally, I think that Montreal could embrace its immigrants by not refusing English so definitely. There is the fact that Montreal belongs to the inner circle of Kachru’s Circles of English (1986). And we could share the culture through the channel of English. French culture is brilliant and it’s one of most extraordinary merits of this city. However, since English is being accepted as a global institution, why don’t we take the advantage and embrace the immigrants? The host country cannot risk alienating the new immigrants that it depends on. Both sides could share the openness to diversity by promoting the mutual understanding to each other. English and French are not contradictory, but complementary.

What do you think in terms of English and French learning in Montreal? Think about your ESL class and teacher, and the language use in school and workplace, do these two languages are rivals? If not, why does Montreal have to suffer from the language battle and lost its immigrants and the beautiful culture?



Allen, D. (2006). Who’s in and who’s out? Language and the integration of new immigrant youth in Quebec. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(2-3), 251–263.

Kachru, B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon.

Winer, L. (2007). No ESL in English schools: Language policy in Quebec and implications for TESL teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 41(3), 489-508.

3 thoughts on “Is Montreal Really Embracing Immigrants and Their Cultures?”

  1. Hi Monica,
    Integration is a really complicated process and happens (or doesn’t happen) on many levels. Your response to Allen’s article, drawing in your own experiences in Montreal as an immigrant is interesting – how language policy is intertwined with integration, how individuals resist this (or don’t), where this positions immigrant-background Montrealers, etc. English and French languages are not rivals, but there is a history carried forward by some people that creates divisions that to many seem artificial (e.g., having two school systems – one French and one English – when it seems that most Montreal parents want their children to become at least bilingual). You’ve touched on some very real tensions and issues in Montreal, ones that people engaged in language education in this city should be aware of. Thank you.


    1. Hi Alison,
      Yes, I am very interested in the tension of Montreal. And I’m reading a book, which is quite interesting:
      Kymlicka, W. (1998). Finding our way: Rethinking ethnocultural relations in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
      It explores the merits of multiculturalism (such as the issue of integration and the limits of tolerance) and the “unhappy marriage” of Federalism and Nationalism in Canada. The author’s perspective is very interesting and I recommend it to you.

      As an international student here, I have heard from one of my Chinese immigrant classmates said that he hated French learning. Even though right now, he knows that this language is good for him, he still doesn’t like it. I can sense the tension between English and French here in this city. Personally, I like French learning and its culture, and it’s one of the most characteristics of Montreal. However, I’m a little bit of worried about this city since education lays the foundation of the future. How can we improve the attitude of immigrants to French learning? How can we motivate the immigrants to involve in this city and make contributions to the development? It’s a very good question to explore. Thank you.



  2. Bonnie Reimer

    Thanks for expressing your reflections, which have brought about a number of issues here in Montreal. First, from Allens (2006), it certainly does seems like the education system is failing some of the immigrant students, and other initiatives have to come into play so that these students don’t fall behind or feel isolated. Secondly, I would argue about Montreal being a bilingual city. I agree that many residents are bilingual, even trilingual though the city is still officially French. It’s unfortunate that the police were unable to speak English, but considering they are city police, French would be a priority, but certainly English would be a valuable asset. I know in Greater Vancouver, it’s an asset for city police to be able to speak Punjabi if working in Surrey or Mandarin if working in Richmond because of the dense speakers of these languages who tend to reside in these areas. It’s unfortunate that few Montrealers of other cultures attended the Chinese festival, but it think there are also other factors in play. I had not heard about it. When I’m in Vancouver, I always attend Chinese New Year celebrations, which are held all over the city and attended by a range of people from different cultures, not to mention American tourists, but this is a huge well publicized event bringing many economic benefits to the city. Montreal has a lot more cultural festivals, but many of them are small and only locally marketed, aside from the Jazz Festival. Finally, I would disagree about jobs being easier to find and life being better in Vancouver. Toronto and Vancouver have the highest costs of living in Canada, so life it better if you have a high paying job or are just massively rich, but salaries are not indexed according to the cost of living. In fact, the minimum wages are almost the same. Also, adult immigrant students face similar challenges as those in Montreal, only the barrier is English. For example, many professionals have difficulty working in their fields because their level of English is not high enough. However, the unemployment rate is lower in Vancouver than in Montreal.


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