Quebec parents say raising bilingual children is a priority

Click to play video: 'Many Quebec parents feel raising bilingual children should be a priority' Many Quebec parents feel raising bilingual children should be a priority
The National Assembly will begin public hearings in September on the government’s new language reform bill that aims to reinforce and protect the French language. Many parents, however, worry about the quality of English instruction. As Global’s Raquel Fletcher reports, they feel the focus should be on raising bilingual kids – Sep 3, 2021

Quebec will begin public hearings this month on its proposed reform to Bill 101. The goal of the reform is to protect and strengthen the French language, but many Quebec parents are feeling unheard in their quest to raise bilingual children.

Read more: Quebec tables sweeping bill to reinforce and protect French language

Andrew Holman is from the United States and speaks English at home. He is now a Canadian citizen, but his children are not eligible under Bill 101 to attend an English school.

He is concerned about the quality of English instruction in his son’s French school, where a one-hour class is offered once every two weeks. The class is not at the level of Holman’s children’s English.

“We learn stuff for babies,” Holman’s seven-year-old, Aiden, explained.

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“(They are) learning colours, learning days of the week, those sorts of things, vocabulary words they already knew,” Holman said.

He wants his kids to have a strong command of both languages, but worries about the level of their written English.

“I can’t depend on the public school system for my kids to be proficient in a way that would meet the standards of higher education,” he said.

Read more: Bilingualism on the rise among young Quebecers and New Brunswickers, Statistics Canada says

“Language learning is important for parents in Quebec…. Bilingualism is extremely important,” said Andréanne Langevin, a McGill University master’s student in education.

She is researching language policy and parents’ opinions about Bill 101. Her thesis will soon be published. Her findings show Quebec parents — anglophone, francophone and allophone — want their kids to be bilingual.

However, whether or not their children succeed is a question of privilege, she said.

“For parents who are ineligible, there is the option of sending their children to a private school, which will essentially fly under the radar of Bill 101 if it’s unsubsidized,” she said.

She added that other parents will pay for tutors or extracurricular activities.

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Ira Turculet, a mother in Pierrefonds, sent her kids to bilingual daycare and enrolled her daughters in Girl Guides.

“They have a good command of English because we made an extra effort,” she explained.

Immigrants from Moldova, which was part of the former Soviet Union, she said she and her husband specifically chose to move to Quebec to raise their family because they wanted their children “to be raised in a multicultural, multilingual environment.”

However, she said she’s not satisfied with the 90 minutes of English instruction her kids get per week.

“I’m not sure this is enough to be accepted into a university, especially now that they risk not being able to go to an English CEGEP,” she said, referring to Bill 96, the province’s proposed language reform.

Read more: Quebec language reform aims at capping English CEGEP enrolment

Premier François Legault acknowledges the need to improve the quality of English language instruction.

“We have another challenge, which is teaching better English in primary and high schools,” he said during a press conference on May 13 at the national assembly.

However, this is not something his government has addressed in Bill 96. Instead, it aims to restrict access to English CEGEPs.

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Legault said this is important to protect the French language, even though he said he understands why so many francophone students want to study in English.

“Some French people, they like to go to English colleges in order to have better English. Maybe I should have done that also,” he said in May.

Langevin said that if students “want to perfect their English then logically we can assume that it’s because they find it inadequate.”

She said the proposed reforms miss the big picture.

“Would we really be having this conversation if quality ESL, English as a second language education was available and bilingualism was a guarantee?” she asked.

Read more: Quebec urged to improve access to French classes, tailor policies to help anglos on the job hunt

A francophone parent from Saint-Agapit, a rural community close to Quebec City, said she’s worried about her children’s future job prospects. She said more and more companies based in Quebec have international clients who speak English.

“It could cut them off from pursuing some career paths,” she said. “And right now, when they are kids is the best time to learn English. They are like sponges.”

For Holman, there’s another worry that hits more emotionally: that his children will choose post-secondary schools — and careers — outside of the province.

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“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my kids,” he said.

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