Bonjour, Hi! This is so wonderfully Montreal!

Xiaoke Sun

“Language shapes a city” (de la Hosseraye, 2015). While walking around,
Montrealers never feel too surprised to hear the bilingual greeting. I suppose “Bonjour, hi” is the most appropriate expression to depict the uniqueness of this city — of being fairly bilingual. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, the greater Montreal area has nearly 2 million bilingual people. Young Montrealers have a rate of bilingualism as high as 80% (de la Hosseraye ,2015). Beyond the obvious cultural richness that bilingualism brings to this city, it also creates an advantageous environment for learners to acquire French/English as a new language.

Being different from other multicultural metropolitans such as Paris or New York, Montreal is unique in its ability to incorporate both monolingual and bilingual (or multilingual) individuals. On one hand, most individuals are able to communicate bilingually. On the other hand, monolingual individuals never suffer from being linguistically excluded or segregated. As mentioned by Van Herk (2012), Montreal can be seen as a place where “multiple communities with different languages co-exist in a single society, sometimes, clustering in different regions” (Van Herk, 2012). Monolingual individuals are able to exercise their language skills within their community while being embraced as a crucial linguistic component.

For a long time, I believed that Montreal is the BEST place in the world for English speakers to learn french since almost everything is bilingual. English speakers are able to understand the French by the written bilingual labels without looking up the dictionary for its meaning. Moreover, this city provides people extensive opportunities to practice with local francophones. However, lately, this idea has been deeply challenged. I found that a bilingual city is not always beneficial for language learning because bilingualism enables French speakers to easily slip into the learner’s undesired use of English or vice versa.

A few weeks ago, I tried to order a drink in French. I said, “Je voudrais prendre une limonade, SVP”. However, instead of asking me “moyene ou grande?”, the girl answered “medium or large?” in English. On one hand, it is fully understandable that she tried to take my order faster by asking in English. Considering that confirming in French may cause her repetition and clarification, she deliberately switched into English for the smoother conversation to be continued. However, it discouraged my confidence in speaking French, indicating I have a noticeable accent. I do not know what would happen if I continued the conversation in French, but this experience makes me wonder whether it is always better to learn the acquiring language in a highly bilingual (or multilingual) context than in a monolingual context.

This experience reminds me of a language program from Middlebury University in Vermont, USA. All the Mandarin language learners have to fulfill a pledge. It strictly regulates no English use during their 6-month language exchange program in Beijing. Any English use, if found, would cause the termination of the program. Once they finished the program, a student told me he noticed his Mandarin proficiency considerably improved due to the enormous amount of input and output without code-switching. Teachers did not allow them to switch between English and Chinese, and people in Beijing loved speaking Mandarin with them. Therefore, they could solely rely on their acquiring language for the communication.

While comparing the two ways of learning, it is hard to draw a conclusion concerning how social language use impacts language learning. Therefore, based on the previous investigation, I invite you to go through your experience of L2/L3 learning, and you are welcomed to share any thoughts on the following questions:

1. Do you think a multilingual or a monolingual environment is more beneficial for language learning?

2. Do you have any experience facing an undesirable code-switching? If so, how did you cope with it?

Marie Brière de la Hosseraye (2015) “Bonjour/Hi Bienvenue à Montréal, ville bilingue”. Retrieved from

Polesello. (2011). “Montreal is the best city in Quebec to learn French”. Retrieved from

Polesello. (2013). “The ‘Montréal is a bad place to learn French’ myth debunked.” Retrieved from

Van Herk, Gerard (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

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