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Today, Statistics Québec (a provincial government statistics agency) published Québec’s most recent immigrant numbers. The largest single source of immigrants for Québec in 2013 were:
- 1st place: China (9.9% of immigrants)
- 2nd place: France (8.7% of immigrants)
- 3rd place: Algeria (8% of immigrants)
In Québec, the children of these immigrants will be doing their school entirely in French. These immigrants have chosen Québec in this context.
What I find interesting, however, are questions I receive from Chinese immigrants outside Québec, regarding French in Canada. They’re very curious and it’s a topic of discussion many like to talk about. I’m kind of in a unique position to be able to speak a bit about this.
When I entered private industry and went back to China as part of my second career, for all intensive purposes, I was only one of the 0.5% of foreigners in China who “immigrated” there – residency, house purchase, vehicle purchase, Chinese “job” and all (when most foreigners go to China, they are only there on a short-term basis on a working permit, with little or no integration into Chinese society). As part of the process, I was given 2 years to get my Mandarin Chinese up to a level in which I could do all of my work in Chinese without difficulty (meetings, reports, email, giving training, everything really), or I’d have to leave. That is a pretty blunt option – but I had been working on my Chinese for a number of years in my previous career, so I already had a pretty good base. But it was a challenge nonetheless – and one which I did manage to overcome. Overall, I was only one of two people who spoke English in our company of 350 workers. It was quite an experience. On top of that, I lived in a city and district with very few other foreigners (I would sometimes go weeks without seeing another foreigner or hearing English). For many years, my friends, social life, and work were only in Chinese.
I say this because I can completely sympathize with new immigrants to Canada. I have gone through the exact same experiences… perhaps even more extreme than what many of them go through (I didn’t have a lot of the same support networks around me in terms of foreigners who were going through what I was experiencing).
In Canada’s context, French and English, and Canada’s bilingualism must be a bewildering topic for many new immigrants, especially those who chose to immigrate to Anglophone regions and provinces outside Québec. Not only do many immigrants come from multi-language countries where only one language has legal precedence over all the others (such as China, were Mandarin is the only language allowed to be spoken in education, health-care, or any official services, thus relegating other languages like Cantonese to being a non-protected folk-language, even in Cantonese-majority areas), but to be a immigrant to Canada and to be asked to learn two languages at the same time (French and English) must simply be out of the question for many people. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if I was asked to learn both Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time, with the justification being that it was part of my “civic duty” to China. I was having enough trouble just learning one language, Mandarin, in the first few years – let alone having to contemplate taking on another difficult-to-learn language.
Since moving back to Canada in 2013, I have met many Chinese immigrants whose experiences here are parallel with my experiences there. When we share our stories, one thing that comes up from time-to-time is Canada’s linguistic duality. You would think that if someone was going to pack up their life and start a new life in a country on the other side of the world, that they would do a lot of research beforehand – but surprisingly, many do not. Therefore, many people who I speak with are at loss for how to view or understand Canada’s bilingual nature. They come from a country with many languages (China is a country of many languages, with some having more than 100 million speakers), but they are only “allowed” to speak one language in anything government related – Mandarin. Many people in China have lost their local languages because of this. But China’s history and Canada’s history are very different. The reasons behind the systems and cultural paths we chose to maintain are also very different. It is this difference which is often poorly understood on the part of Chinese immigrants (as well as on the part of other new immigrants). Chinese immigrants often assume Canada’s and the United State’s linguistic situation is the same, without realizing that English and French have equal status at a government level, and, depending where we live in Canada, at a societal level as well. I’m told time and time again by newcomers that the idea of two lingua-francas has left them perplexed – especially when I speak with new immigrants who settle in areas where other people from their country also settle, thus giving them little exposure to Canada beyond those areas. I suppose it’s natural – and I can’t fault them (heck… the number of Canadians I met in China who “refused” to live or integrate into areas or neighbourhoods of China without other foreigners would astound you — they looked at me like I was from another planet when they found out my own situation in China).
I know my blog is being read by some fairly new immigrants to English-speaking Canada — it’s a curiosity for them, and they’re trying to learn more about realities on the ground. They know their children will be learning French at school, and they’re looking for a bit more context, considering their children will be exposed to a different reality (the second generation’s experiences are often completely different from that of first generation immigrants – which is why I don’t have problems with the concept of official multiculturalism… things work themselves out over the course of two generations). They know the cultural differences between them and their children could be as large as the ones I had with my grandparents (or even great-grandparents), and so they want more information — they want to know what their children will be experiencing as they grow up… that’s natural and it’s a sign of good, concerned parenting.
Canada’s Chinese population is quickly approaching 2 million people (the United States, with almost 10 times the population of Canada, only has 3.5 million people of Chinese decent). Chinese is the third most spoken language in Canada, and some large areas of Toronto are over 50% to 60% Chinese (some areas of Vancouver are also experiencing similar trends, and Canada’s other major cities are also receiving large numbers of Chinese immigrants). The Greater Toronto Area has almost 1 million people of Chinese decent — the new beefed-up, super-sized 626 of the North (who needs the San-Gab Valley when you have the big TO!?). With Toronto’s largest two ethnic groups being from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), and East Asia (China & Korea), culturally, Toronto seems to have more and more in common with Singapore.. well, a snowy one at any rate — with an increasingly similar demographic mix — than it does with Chicago (a city of a similar size — but… also a snowy one 😉 😉 😉 ). I think it’s great – and makes the city so unique.
The rest of this post will therefore be written for first generation Chinese immigrants who are reading this blog outside Québec (see JD… told ya I’d throw one in here for ya)… giving a bit of background and the lo-down on French in Canada, and using some comparisons between China and Canada as base reference points.
虽然在许多情况下, 这可能是适当的对策, 但每个国家的历史和状态，包括加拿大，不一样。
在加拿大，我们也有一种的“方言”情况，英文和法语，可是没有一个“普通话”。在这方面来看，加拿大的语言情况同中国的清朝那时语言情况非常类似（新中国以前的清朝也是一个无有普通话的时代）。英语和法语的差别同汉语和粤语的差别一样大，甚至也可能更大。所以呢，为什么加拿大没有推行一种公共语言计划，采用一种通用的普通话的政策？ 英文不是加拿大的普通话吗？ 实际上，不是。为什么？是一个历史的问题。我做些解释，你很快就会明白我的意思了。
如果你是新移民人，你可能住一个那儿有好多移民人的区域（比如万锦市 [Markham]，列治文 [Richmond]，等等）。所以，英法双语可能在你的区域里不太明显，可是十分可能你的孩子在学校里在学法文。那是非常好，一个非常“加拿大”的重要公民义务。你的孩子就业技能，国家意识，及公民义务意识会更好。这个是一个跟美国请款很大的差别，历史上是一个非常大的差别。这个方面，加拿大和美国完全不一样，所以，为了成功，这个情况我们并不能对待一样。