Multilinguals: More options, more concerns?

Yating Xu

If the word “multilingual” is defined as “being able to use several languages especially with equal fluency”, then I have to admit that I’m not a multilingual in the strict sense. I grew up in China, Mandarin is my native language, and I’ve been learning English since primary school, though still not being able to achieve a native-like proficiency, for sure the time is long enough for me to be equipped with adequate language skills to survive in Montreal. 

In the past year, the experience of studying and living in Montreal offered me a lot of opportunities to be exposed to an environment where the conversation flows with diverse languages, as well as the chances to get acquainted with a number of REAL multilinguals. By talking with them, listening to and being a part of their conversations, I have witnessed and observed some fascinating moments about these multilinguals and their language choices, and most importantly, the respect and inclusiveness I felt when being around with them.

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Findings during the trip in Toronto

Mengting Liu

I went to Toronto several days ago and I was so impressed by how modern and big Toronto is as an international metropolis (especially how wide and flat the road is). I was also shocked by how different it is compared to Montreal concerning not only the general vibes it gives, but also the language environment. If we say Montreal is a bilingual city where French and English are its official languages, Toronto can also be bilingual to some extent, especially in shopping malls, because Mandarin is EVERYWHERE! When I was walking on the street, I always thought, “Did I just took a 6 hour ride and got back to China?”

With a large amount of Chinese immigrants flooding in Toronto, the society exerts a profound influence on its language. There is no doubt that Chinese culture and language take an indispensable proportion in this multicultural and city. In Yorkdale shopping centre, it is not difficult to find signs written in Chinese. In the MAC cosmetic store, I saw a line of Chinese “魅可樱花全樱绽放系列” follows a line of English which said “MAC Boom Boom Bloom”. Every luxury store in the shopping centre is equipped with at least one shop assistant who is Chinese and provides Mandarin services. This phenomenon, to a large extent, can attribute to the enormous purchasing power of Chinese immigrants or travellers, among whom English may not be the language they are familiar with. I was told that in Vancouver which has more Chinese immigrants because of its more pleasant weather, Chinese people can totally live without using English.

I realize that the protection of French in Quebec is actually protecting the culture. Although I always feel struggled when learning French, I still find it is worthy to do, because it is an essential way to maintain the culture and the uniqueness of Montreal.

Does the accent really matter?

By Yunjie

In a daily chatting with two of my best friends in college, I found both of them are now learning the British accent. When asked about the reason, one girl working in a private English education institute in China explained, “English teachers with the British accent are relatively rare, and consequently seem to be more advanced and fancy, therefore they are more welcomed by students, parents, and the school”, while another girl who is attending graduate school in London told me that “I try to learn British English because the teachers here pay more attention and give more compliment to international students speaking British English”.

Based on that, I did a simple follow-up research on the Internet trying to see different people’s perspectives on different English varieties. It looks like US websites enjoy publishing articles such as “30 Awesome British Slang Terms You Should Start Using Immediately”, while the British media has a fondness for articles such as “40 Things That Americans Say Wrong”. And in Chinese websites, there are tons of posts discussing about whether to learn British English or American English. Agree or not agree: a hierarchy of English varieties does exist. First British English, then American English, finally comes with some other non-standard English varieties.

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Code-switching: showing off?


The discussion of code-switching in class was quite interesting and it triggers some further thoughts.

An interesting fact is the mention that adding English words in conversations in China is regarded as a kind of showing off. This may sound very weird to people who have long been living in a neighborhood where shifting between different languages is a common practice. The perception is probably derived from the distorted imagery of some TV shows that depict a figure who likes to combine some English words into every sentence he or she speaks, mostly in a funny way, to demonstrate that he or she can speak the language. Criticism also comes from teachers and parents, saying that if the students mix two languages together, they are not learning either language well. Currently in China, although some people still hold this kind of stereotype, more people are accepting this phenomenon as a common scene in the workplace or even daily life.

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The advantages of being multilingual


On my last trip to Cuba, I was struck when the tour guide on the bus was introducing the whole trip to us in very fluent English, French and Spanish. He explained everything in all three languages, in an order based on the number of people who can only understand a certain language. He seemed to have no troubles traveling through these three languages. And with the ability to entertain his target audience in each language, he gained an abundance of tips at the end of the trip.

I was surprised because in China, normally mastering English, a language most people learn since primary school, is not common and can be regarded as a great attribute. However, the first Cuban guy I met can speak three different languages in such a good way. Does it mean that in Cuba, even to be a tour guide, there is a such demanding requirement of being multilingual, or most people there actually are good multilingual speakers?

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A letter to fluent trilinguals

Mengting H.

Hi trilinguals,

As a bilingual person who can speak two languages (English and Mandarin) quite well in Montreal, I am very jealous of you who can also communicate fluently in French. I have lost many study/job opportunities, since I am not qualified enough in French, or sometimes even in English. Sometimes, I wonder how much better my life in Montreal will be if my French can also be native-like.

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The Quiet Group


According to Tani (2005), One of the most visible differences that Asian students bring to class is a low level of in-class participation. Lei (2003) also reveals a stereotype in the USA that there was a prevailing image of black girls as “loud” and “visible” and Southeast Asian male students as “quiet” and “inconspicuous”. It is not hard to notice that most Asian students in our classroom are also quiet and reluctant to express our thoughts unless we are called to. At the same time, we are talkative outside the lecture time and during small group discussions. What are the reasons?

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Indigenous Language Revitalization and the Internet

By Anonymous (EW)

There was an interesting article by Ravindranath (2015) about language contact that we read this semester. According to this article (which is backed up by research of course), languages in contact don’t always necessarily change each other. Languages also evolve internally over time, and if contact does cause a change in the languages, it may be hard to tell if it is because of the amount of time the languages have been in contact or the similarities between them. The article examined many social and linguistic factors to examine to determine whether a change is due to internal evolution or contact with other languages. It ends with a discussion of how globalization is both creating new multilingualisms and at the same time resulting in massive language extinction which has implications for culture and society at large.

This was a good article to preclude the other reading that was assigned for that week about Facebook as a platform for Mayan language revitalization in Mexico by Cru (2015). Youth are using Facebook as a platform for a grassroots movement for the advocacy, destigmatization, and promotion of their ancestral languages while developing multilingual literacy skills that draw on their full repertoire of linguistic resources. It is a resource that adolescents perceive as cool during a critical period of personal language choice, it has the potential to create an ideological shift by reaching a wide audience via the worldwide web, and it is part of the young people’s process of social identity formation. I found this article fascinating, because I have been interested in Indigenous language revitalization since the start of my master’s program at McGill, and because I love the internet… almost too much. The amount of time I spend on it is a bit alarming, even to myself, and YouTube is my greatest weakness.

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language is a tool not a status symbol

by: anonymous

One of the articles I found most compelling this semester was the Allen (2006) piece about immigrant student integration in schools in Quebec. In this study the researcher observed and interviewed five students in the accueil program who were over the age of sixteen, eager to complete their secondary studies like their peers in their home countries, and barred from mainstream classes in their second year in Quebec because of their “inadequate” French. These students expressed feelings of discouragement, depression, anxiety, and disappointment. Because they were delayed and held back, many of the students viewed French as a barrier to learning rather than an academic tool for success. What I found the most heartbreaking was a Korean girl’s descriptions of her feelings of failure, blaming herself for her circumstances, and not feeling smart like she had in her home country (Allen, 2006).

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Last year, one of my professors – that I am going to call Rosseforp* – apologized in class because they would not have a potluck party on the last day of class like one other professor was going to do. On the day of the party of this other professor, as the whole department had been invited, Rosseforp showed up. I approached them and said “You should ‘borrow’ this party”, and they promptly answered “It’s not ‘to borrow a party’, the correct expression is ‘to crash a party’”, and went away, leaving me with my mouth open, ready to answer that that was not what I meant. I was trying to suggest to Rosseforp that they should “use” the party as if it was their own (thanking people for coming, for example) because most students were in both classes anyway. Isn’t that what the word “borrow” means? We certainly use it more often with concrete objects, as in “borrow a pen”. But it can also be used figuratively, as in “borrow a word from another language” or “borrow an idea”. However, I guess, being a non-native speaker, any deviation from the standard or “acceptable” language (as usually decided by whomever is the self-proclaimed language expert available in the area) will be regarded as a mistake and there will be no attempts to recognize any possible intentional meaning behind the words chosen.

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