Time to parler Anglais?

March 22, 2002

Globalisation has increased the need for better communication. THES reporters look at universities that are promoting English as the common language.

Montreal's French-speaking students have been taking English courses in unprecedented numbers in the past decade, despite living in a province that stripped English of its official-language status 30 years ago.

The Université de Montréal's English department has enjoyed a ten-fold increase in student enrolment in the past decade. Ironically, the university is about to ratify a miniature version of the province of Quebec's language law, declaring French to be the official language of the university.

The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the city's other French-language university, said interest in English was exploding. It has seen nearly triple the number of students taking English since amalgamating its language courses into a single programme almost three years ago.

Young people in Québec, which has fought hard to preserve the one strong French enclave in North America, take English courses hoping that learning the language will open up more job opportunities for them. They have also flocked to Montreal's English-language universities.

Robert Martin, head of Montreal's English department, said: "There is a political need for the government to say it wants to preserve the French culture but the impact of globalisation is so enormous and the need for mobility is so great. Many people know perfectly well that if they want to get a job in a number of fields they have to speak English."

Steve Bourdeau was in a minority among students studying English at francophone universities. As an undergraduate at Montréal, he said he was not satisfied with a commercial language school-style approach and began to study English literature. He preferred the way Edgar Allan Poe sounded in English and owned all the original editions of the Thomas Wolfe novels. While he lamented the fact his fellow francophones wanted to learn English for more utilitarian reasons, he benefited from it.

He teaches corporate executives English in his spare time. To study English literature at higher levels requires technical and cultural familiarity that may elude some French-speaking students. Many grew up in the unilingually French regions of Quebec, where English-language instruction has been less than accomplished, while others went to school in Montreal and began their second-language development late due to a government that fought off calls for early English instruction.

Dr Martin said the traditional undergraduate English degree was giving way to English minors, as students in various departments combined English with their field of study. Aside from the job opportunities, many wanted the language skills to publish in English and attend international conferences.

When the university unsuccessfully attempted to amalgamate Dr Martin's department with other modern languages a few years ago, he argued that Quebec might appear like other societies that counted English as a minority language, but being bombarded with American pop culture and possessing a large English minority population, Quebecers found themselves very familiar with English.

"English has a different status in Quebec society. It could not be compared with the German language. All of our students have watched TV or film and lived partly in English."

At UQAM, Gerald Rosenau, head of the English section in the university's language school, has received calls from department heads who want to have an English component to their programmes, something that has been implemented already in UQAM's public relations department and school of management.

Mr Bourdeau said he was planning to pursue graduate studies at Montreal, a feat few francophones attempt. His teachers enthused about teaching someone who simply loved the sound of the English language.

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