French: A Lifelong Language Struggle (by Dairn Alexandre)

Kananaskis in Red (original artwork by the author)

Dairn Alexandre (a pseudonym) is a regular BILD guest blogger; for more information about Dairn, and to read his earlier posts, click here. Dairn has taught in Quebec and now works as a teacher in Alberta, where he lives with his wife, two kids, and dog.

My relationship with the French language has historically been problematic.

Even during my early years as an Anglophone kid in the English schooling system in Quebec, I had a series of seemingly ineffective and incompetent French teachers. This skewed how I perceived the subject, since I found little to no success in those formative years of learning the language. Eventually, my mother was my French teacher in grade 4, which made dinnertime conversation about our day at school awkward. By that point in time my lack of success with the subject coupled with my growing frustration with trying to catch up with the other students in my class made me resent learning a second language altogether. It was really tough to make any headway when everyone else seemed to be learning so effortlessly. 

In an attempt to not fail her youngest child – the only one of her three children that she would ever teach in her 30-year career – my mother tried to support me in my studies both at school and at home as best as she could. Except that language was something that needed to be acquired slowly over time, not intensively drilled into someone over the span of one year. And even though the professional and ethical thing to do as my teacher would have been to fail me, my mother just couldn’t bring herself to do it. This would have likely resulted in me having to repeat grade 4, since French is a required course in Quebec and failure was certainly a possibility for Quebec students in the ‘90s. Not only that, I needed a certain level of French proficiency in order to graduate high school. I realized early on that there was no way I was going to be able to do any of this. I barely eked by, getting marks that always teetered on the brink between passing and failing. I rationalized that learning French didn’t matter to me. I had decided early on that I was not going to live in Quebec, so learning French had no utility for me whatsoever. Ultimately, my goal was to survive and then move as far away from Quebec as fast as I could. 

And I almost succeeded. Until the day that I didn’t.

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From language learner to language speaker: An impossible task? (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a pattern I’ve been noticing—but low-key ignoring—in my daily linguistic interactions with some Montrealers. That is, for some reason, my interactions would almost always start in French, but will never end in French. Instead, such interactions would typically switch into English within 5 seconds.

But I suppose it’s not just “for some reason”. Flores and Rosa (2015; Rosa & Flores, 2017) coined a phrase to describe what I’m talking about here—raciolinguistic ideologies. Raciolinguistic ideologies explain the co-construction of language and race, which help reveal how language users associate certain speech acts to specific racial categories. Looking through this lens, I argue that the reason for why my typical language encounters start in French but continue and end in English is due to the raciolinguistic assumptions that inhabit the contexts in which I use my languages with others.

To give you an example, here’s a poem I wrote, inspired from a recent real-life incident at a store in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). I took some creative license to edit the conversations a bit to fit the poem and edit out miscellaneous or identifiable details, while still retaining the gist of what happened. I also added, in italics, the thoughts that were running through my mind during this incident, as well as those that ran through my mind as I was writing about this experience.


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This is (not) (hi)story, this is a life being lived – Queeribbean Quotidians, Caribbean Inheritances (by Linzey Corridon)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Our guest blogger this week, Linzey Corridon, is a poet, Vanier Canada Scholar, and PhD Candidate in the department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. His critical and creative works can be found in Canada and Beyond, SX Salon, Wasafiri, The Puritan and more. A born and raised Queeribbean man from the polymorphic island nations of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he now resides in Ontario, Canada. You can read his previous BILD guest post here.


The night is cool, some fifteen minutes past nine. I’m dressed in all blue, navy shorts and a Euro-fit polo shirt. I slip a classic pair of white leather Converses onto my feet. A Sleek and inviting look for yet another evening out on the town. I am heading to dinner in Baie Orientale, Saint Martin, by car. With me is my fiancé and Vincentian partner of fourteen years, Kevin. Accompanying Kevin is his friend of twenty-six years, Michael, a man also born and raised in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who is visiting Saint Martin from the neighbouring Caribbean island-nation of Guadeloupe. Michael has taken a particular liking to Shay, a first-generation Jamaican Canadian, one of my closest friends and confidants since I left Saint Vincent for Canada. Michael and Shay are wrapped up in each other over conversation. Driving the car is Davis, a French-Caribbean local and close friend of Shay’s, now my acquaintance of some ten months. In the passenger seat, opposite Davis, sits his partner, Joshua. Joshua is Anguillan, visiting from the neighbouring island-nation just a fifteen-minute ferry ride away from SXM. The two have been dating for approximately eight months. They are madly infatuated with one another, and the duo steal every opportunity they can find to recite their desires for one another to those sitting behind them.

A map of the Caribbean islands
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Holding fast to whose truth? Resistance to caste and communalism as personal satyagraha (by Dr Mela Sarkar)

“…while always travelling seriously, he was always travelling light.”
(Williams, 1971, p. 88)

One way to travel light—a cycle rickshaw in Jadavpur, South Kolkata, viewed from our family’s fourth-floor apartment.

The serious traveller who always travelled light was George Orwell; writing in 1971, socialist critic Raymond Williams unravels Orwell’s multifaceted history and reveals aspects of his life and work I had not known about, in under 100 informative pages. I took the book along with me to India in mid-December 2022 primarily because it was so tiny. I also was attempting to travel light. I hope I may say, to travel seriously as well.

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When you are the first generation in your family to be able to attend school (by Dr. Mela Sarkar in collaboration with Chhanda Bashuri, Titli Das Bairagya, Aduri, Bharati & Puspa Mirdha, Shraboni Mondal, and Manjari Roy Chowdhury)

Introductions at the ISW Chella site. Left to right: Bharati, Puspa, Aduri, Sitola, Shraboni & Chhanda

A village in rural West Bengal, India, where as early as February the temperature goes up to 35 degrees Celsius or so every day, with no prospect of rain until April or May, is about as far from a Montreal winter as one can imagine. It’s where I have just spent four weeks working with several gifted and enthusiastic young women who teach at supplemental schools run by a local NGO, the Institute of Social Work (ISW). Like many NGOs across India and in the developing world, ISW works in the local language (here, Bengali) and draws mostly on local resources. My cousin Nupur Sarkar has been part of ISW since its inception in 1978; I am much indebted to her for having made it possible for me to spend time at ISW’s Birbhum-district schools. After a previous visit in 2019, I wrote about the experience here on the BILD blog, and have dreamed ever since then of coming back and staying awhile.

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