I don’t know how many times I have been told that there is no point in trying to learn French. You see, they say, the French spoken in Québec is so different from the French spoken in France that they cannot understand one another. If you study Parisian French in school, people in Québec won’t understand a word you say. For proof, they may recount some story from years ago of a group of students from Saskatchewan who had studied French in school and then visited Québec with their teacher. They couldn’t understand a word that was spoken by Quebeckers and the Quebeckers could not understand them.
There you have it, irrefutable proof that it is no use trying to learn French. A large number of English Canadians have been told this so often that they know it is true beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Permit me to introduce some doubts. If such a language barrier exists, why are there plane loads of people going back and forth between France and Québec every day? Entertainers, politicians, tourists, all kinds of people, they don’t seem to have any difficulty understanding or being understood. Why is it that immigrants from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Congo and many other Francophone countries, have no problem living and working with the French-speaking people of Canada?
I took French for five years, grades 8 to 12, in a small town school here in Saskatchewan. I did not learn to speak French, nor to read it. I could understand a few words of what was said on French language radio, but I was nowhere close to being able to speak it. That takes a lot more than a couple of hours a week studying the basics of French. Years later, when I became more serious about learning French, I found that some of those basics had stuck with me.
A teacher cannot just pour French into the brain of a student, that student has to be able to practice as he learns. That is why French immersion works. Students are taught all subjects in French, except English. They speak French in the lunch room and on the playground. When they graduate, they are able to communicate freely in French in any situation.
By the way, studies show that students who learn to be bilingual do better in English and all other subjects than those who speak only English. Learning a new language appears to wake up areas of the brain that we might not otherwise use.