Proposed language reform gives immigrants 6 months to learn French

Under Bill 96, all provincial communication with immigrants will be solely in French six months after they arrive in Quebec.

Further French-language restrictions could deter people from immigrating to province, advocate says

Abiodun Gaji, a 43-year-old immigrant, says he loves learning French but his kids are having an easier time picking it up. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Abiodun Gaji spent nine months learning French after immigrating to Quebec from Nigeria last year.

"French is a beautiful language," he said. "I love it and learning French is interesting and it's a challenge."

He enjoys that challenge and so does his wife, he said, but admits he's not able to learn the language as fast as his three kids.

"Within three months, they started speaking well and they started teaching me one or two words," he said. 

Under the Legault government's Bill 96, people like Gaji will have six months to get fluent. After that, all communication sent to them by Quebec will be in French only.

While his kids are offering him a few tips, Gaji said learning a new language is a longer process for adults. He said he hopes the government will reconsider the six-month time frame, and extend it to at least 12 months.

"I support the government. I support the speaking of French. I support protecting the language. It's a very good idea, but the government should please extend it further."

French-language classes free under proposed bill

Bill 96 would also make access to French classes a whole lot cheaper. The bill stipulates that the classes be not only available, but offered for free by the government.

Currently, Quebec offers various French courses both in school and online, but they come at a cost. However, the government does offer financial assistance.

Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette and the Legault government tabled Bill 96 on Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Luis Miguel Cristancho is the executive director of Bienvenue à NDG, an organization that helps new immigrants settle in the city's west end. Providing government-sanctioned French lessons is a key component of the organization's outreach.

Cristancho says learning French is essential for new immigrants, as it is the main way to communicate in Quebec. 

He said he hasn't looked closely at the proposed bill yet, but if "the government wants to encourage French learning, they need to recruit more teachers and open more groups."

Could deter new immigrants, advocate says

Joseph Gonzales said Bill 96 may deter non-French speaking immigrants from settling in the province.

"All of them actually fear coming here already," said Gonzales, vice-chair of the Filipino Association of Montreal and Suburbs. 

French is a struggle to learn, his organization hears time and time again from new arrivals, he said. 

The 100-page bill, if passed, would toughen sign laws and strengthen language requirements for businesses, governments and schools. 

It would create a new French-language commissioner and extend language requirements to businesses with 25 employees or more, down from 50.

Government agencies would have to use French exclusively in their written and oral communications, with few exceptions, while businesses would have to ensure the "net predominance'' of French on signs that include more than one language.

Other provisions would cap enrolment at English CEGEPs and grant new powers to the French-language watchdog (OQLF).

CBC News contacted a handful of organizations that assist new immigrants in Quebec, and all said the proposed bill is still under review.

With files from Kwabena Oduro


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