Friday, June 3, 2011

Survey of recent immigrants shows they thought all Canadians would speak both French and English

Immigrants expect Canadians to be bilingual

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick, June 2, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - A survey of recent immigrants in Calgary shows many of them arrive expecting Canadians to be able to speak English and French as a matter of course. And while they are confused by Calgary's overwhelmingly English-speaking reality, many say bilingualism is something they aspire to - for themselves or their children.

The survey was conducted by Albert Galiev, a doctoral student at the University of Calgary studying second-language teaching. He is presenting the results at the 2011 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Galiev says his survey shows immigrants generally arrive believing that bilingualism in Canada is what he terms 'personal bilingualism' - that is, that individuals themselves speak both official languages.

"They don't see bilingualism as something the federal government is supposed to do," he said. He explained that the way that Canada promotes itself abroad has led to a perception that all individual Canadians are bilingual.

For example, he quoted one person he interviewed as saying that "in Mexico, when somebody talks about Canada, we know everybody speaks French and English."

Immigrants landing in Calgary are therefore confused by the dominance of English in that city, and express puzzlement that they don't hear much French spoken on the street or in buses. They wonder, under those circumstances, why Canada calls itself bilingual.

"They want their children to learn French for reasons of employment," he said, adding this was particularly true of people who did not want to limit their employment options to one part of the country.

Galiev says it may be productive for the debate on bilingualism to include immigrants and their experiences in the discussion.

Get more from the 2011 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Organized by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together scholars, graduate students, practitioners, and policy-makers to share ground-breaking research and examine the most important social and cultural issues of the day. This year's Congress is co-hosted by the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University and runs from May 28 to June 4.