By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax
If you’ve ever travelled or worked abroad, speaking and listening in a language that isn’t your own, you know the feeling of lying down at night exhausted. Your brain worked all day fumbling from one language to another. Every ounce of energy is drained. When your brain is that exhausted, you call home. You listen to your mother tongue. You listen without thinking – it’s a relief.
For Canada’s consistent stream of immigrants and their children, third language or “ethnic” media can be a refuge. It is news and stories in their language of comfort. Ethnic media -the official CRTC term – is defined as media that is not English, French or Indigenous. It is a collective of “others.”
The number of foreign-born Canadians has been increasing steadily since 1951. Today, metro Vancouver has almost as many foreign-born residents as the entire population of Nova Scotia. According to Statistics Canada, nearly half of the country’s population will be immigrants or children of immigrants by 3036. Of the 270,847 immigrants Canada received in 2015, 23 per cent had no working knowledge of English or French. For them, ethnic media is more than a haven, it’s a lifeline. The weight of this responsibility bears down on the journalists who work in ethnic media.
“It has always been the underdog industry,” says Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association and former national vice-president of Omni TV, Canada’s leader in multicultural programming. “Fraught with casualties, it’s never been easy.”
The state of ethnic media in Canada is as varied as its parts. Print is struggling to survive, radio is successful, online is innovating and TV has long been a quiet powerhouse.
Who is listening?
Across the country “good morning” is said in more than 200 languages every day. Buenos días is heard in Toronto, ਸ਼ੁਭ ਸਵੇਰ in Halifax and 좋은아침 in Vancouver. Omni TV in Ontario offers programming in 49 of those languages. The Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s directory of ethnic media outlets has 1,200 entries from B.C., Alberta and Ontario alone. Of the 1,609 Radio and TV Broadcast licences defined by content language, 275 are not English or French. There is similar momentum south of the border. In the United States there are over 3,000 ethnic media outlets, and since 2006 ethnic media is the only sector of print media that is growing.
Canada’s history of immigration is a history of storytellers. In 1835, Upper Canada’s first German weekly newspaper was printed in what is now Kitchener, Ontario. The Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung’s subscribers were hungry for news from Europe – in a familiar voice. “It’s a bridge to Canadian citizenry,” says Ziniak.
Ethnic media is a vital tool to connect citizens not only to their past, but to Canada’s present, and to one another. Most of the time, that bridge is built with content by minorities, for minorities and about minorities. This has helped and hindered ethnic media by giving it legs to stand on, but few places to go. But this is changing. Today, car radios play international news and music, weekly newspapers cover local politics and run helpful how-to stories. You can watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi from your living room on Saturday night. Ethnic media’s voices are here, they are speaking, and they are many.
The bridge that bends
George Abraham is a Canadian journalist who built a new platform. He started his career at the Times of India in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Twenty-six years later, from his office in Ottawa, Abraham runs newcanadianmedia.ca. Canadian media, he says, “is not inclusive enough.” The problem: “The mainstream speaks to the mainstream, and the ethnic speaks to the ethnic.”
Dr. Catherine Murray, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Enrolment Management and professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University was the principal investigator in SFU’s 2007 Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C study. She says the way different cultures are communicating within Canada is something all journalists – both mainstream and ethnic – will have to “struggle with” in their content.
Mainstream media is taking up the challenge. CBC launched a five-year strategy, A space for us all, in 2014. Its inclusion and diversity plan commits the CBC to “be relevant and representative of the population it serves.” It is starting with the people making the content. Canadaland found that, in 2015, 90 per cent of CBC’s staff was white.
Dr. Sherry Yu, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia,worked alongside Murray on SFU’s 2007 study. Yu says a “new stream” of ethnic media is emerging to cover issues that are misrepresented or not represented at all in mainstream media. It is driven by a younger generation of journalists whose content is online and in English. It is pushing the limits of ethnic media’s traditional audience.
Rooting for the underdog
As waves of immigration shift Canada’s idea of identity, daily and weekly newspapers pop up and go under in steady rhythm. In 1840, Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung was sold to Heinrich Eby. It changed hands three more times before 1865 when a competing German newspaper, the Berliner Journal, forced it to stop printing. Today, the steady stream of immigrants is causing saturation in already niche markets. The 2007 study Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C. found that 28 ethnic media outlets were serving Vancouver’s 50,000 Korean residents. (North Bay, Ontario also has 50,000 residents, but only three mainstream outlets.) There are only so many Korean restaurants, travel agencies and businesses in Vancouver. Yu says this makes competition for advertising revenue “huge.”
For Halifax’s first and only Arabic radio station, 99.1 Radio Middle East, saturation isn’t the problem. Arabic is the second most-spoken language in the city, but Oudai Altabbaa, the station’s accounts manager, says it’s “extremely hard” to introduce ethnic media into Halifax’s traditional economy. Still, he sees ethnic media as a way to “refresh” the economy, bringing in new ideas and new money. “A new way to communicate things to get people a little bit closer to each other.”
Altabbaa is optimistic. Working in radio, he has good reason to be. From 2011-15, third-language radio stations across Canada actually made money. Their English and French counterparts did not.
Other Canadian media outlets turn to funding from organizations like the Canadian Media Fund in order to innovate and stay open. The Canadian Media Fund is mandated by Canadian Heritage and funded by Canada’s TV companies and the federal government. It contributed $371.7 million in funding to Canadian television and digital media projects in 2015-16. Only $2.5 million went to “diverse languages.”
Money is a chief concern across all media, and ethnic media is well rehearsed in the pocket pinch. Many organizations “operate on a shoestring” says April Lindgren, associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism. Having time and resources to do good quality, timely and verified news “can be a challenge if you are the editor, the publisher, the reporter and the ad salesman,” says Lindgren. If the money runs out, so does the ink.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents more than 500 members of the ethnic press and media. In 2012 it asked its members about business challenges. Forty-three per cent said they weren’t earning money for their work.
Waves of immigration sway ethnic media’s successes and failures. In 1958 Canada had more new Italian immigrants than British ones. At that time Canada’s third language press was building a national presence: there were 250 newspapers, representing more than 50 cultures. The “fiercely Canadian, proudly Italian” daily newspaper Corriere Canadese was started in 1954 by Dan Iannuzzi. In 1995 it revamped, adding Tandem, an English-language weekend edition –aimed at their readers’ kids and grandkids. In 2013, after funding cuts, Corriere Canadese joined the ranks of retired Canadian ethnic newspapers. It looked like the end of an era. Except, six months later, it was revived – and is in print today.
Sitting in corner stores and restaurants, it reaches 30,000 Canadians daily. As Sherry Yu says, ethnic media is “volatile.” It is also unpredictable, persistent, and necessary.
At once, a commodity and a social movement, increasingly important ethnic media in Canada is more important than ever. Ethnic media outlets, like immigrant communities, know that to survive is to adapt. They have learned this the hard way. If they don’t survive, says Yu, “nothing comes after.”
This article was republished under arrangement with the Signal.
By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia
The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.
So what to make of these shifts?
On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.
To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).
According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.
Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.
It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.
Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.
There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.
Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.
By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.
This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.
The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.
We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.
That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.
It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.
We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.
These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.
The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change?
Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.
by Our National Correspondent in Ottawa
Lucile Davier, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, has spent many years looking at journalism that relies on translating from a foreign language. In a sense, her work examines the implications of reporters and editors working in multilingual settings. She has authored two studies, both of which looked at journalism in Switzerland, including stories leading up to the 2009 minaret ban in the central European nation.
New Canadian Media interviewed Davier by e-mail to better understand her findings and any lessons Canada can learn given its own multilingual-multicultural context.
Questions relating to The paradoxical invisibility of translation in the highly multilingual context of news agencies (2014)
1. Your study focused on two news agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Agence télégraphique suisse (ATS) in Switzerland. Why did you choose these two news agencies?
I wanted to investigate multilingual news agencies based in Switzerland and their coverage of a Swiss political event. The Swiss bureaus of Associated Press (since 2009) and Reuters only produce news in English. This leaves us with two multilingual players: the global Agence France-Presse (AFP), which has a regional bureau in Geneva and produces information in French and English, and the national Agence télégraphique suisse (ats), which covers Switzerland in German, French and Italian, the three official languages of the country.
2. What would you say were your three main findings from this study?
To start with, I think it is important to clarify that these wire agencies are B2B services: they sell their stories to other media outlets, large companies and governmental offices. In other words, their stories are circulated very widely in the media.
First, I confirmed that translation is everywhere in news agencies: editorial meetings are multilingual, reporters deal with sources in a second language every day, most quotations are translated, etc.
Second, I showed that translation is hidden: it is never mentioned as such neither in the stories nor in the newsroom, and it is considered by the staff as simple and straightforward.
This combination of high multilingualism and invisibility of translation may distort the information. When they are not sure they have understood a source correctly, journalists (especially young ones) are afraid of asking colleagues because translation is supposed to be so easy. Moreover, their stories are not subjected to bilingual revision, so inaccurate translations can go past unnoticed. Eventually, journalists avoid sources in a second language as much as possible in order not to have to deal with translation.
3. What do you think are the implications from your findings? What do journalists who work in multilingual contexts need to know about translations in their reporting/editing? Is there something like "lost[to readers] in translation"?
There are important implications for the training of journalists in Switzerland, and possibly in other multilingual countries (I am currently conducting a similar study in Canada). I believe that the language proficiency of journalists should be enhanced during their education. Their translation skills should be developed as well: I am a translator myself, so I can tell that mastering a second language is not a sufficient condition to be able to translate.
I would like to help audiences read news from multilingual media or in a multilingual country with a critical eye. There is a loss in every translation, even good translations, because information gets lost, added and changed when it crosses linguistic and cultural barriers. If you read online news, try to be critical: for example, did the President of China speak in English? Or was his speech translated? By whom? By the Chinese government? By a news agency?
Questions relating to 'Cultural translation’ in news agencies? A plea to broaden the definition of translation (2015)
1. This study examined the role of culture in news translation, in the specific context of a debate in Switzerland (2007-10) over banning the building of Islamic minarets. What do you think were the 3 main findings?
Reporting about a foreign event for a local audience means crossing two borders: a language border and a cultural border. This study specifically looked at cultural borders. Given the time and space constraints newswire reporters face, these changes can be spotted in three textual phenomena.
The most common place for cultural information is background paragraphs. Background paragraphs are mostly situated at the end of a story and give general information about a region or a happening. My study showed that these paragraphs influence the way the readers understand the story. For instance, a paragraph saying that Muslims in Switzerland are “mainly from the Balkans and Turkey” may convey the idea for the readers that Muslims are foreigners.
Journalists also need to categorize sources for readers who are not familiar with them, for example to explain if a political party is left-wing or right-wing. In the case of foreign news in particular, these categorizations cannot include very detailed information and guide the reader towards a biased interpretation.
While reporting about a foreign event, journalists come to grips with culture-specific terms. They can either borrow a foreign reality and explain it (e.g., “the Federal Council – or Swiss government”), or substitute it with a word referring to a known reality (e.g., “the Cabinet”). Replacing a foreign notion altogether with a familiar concept may be easier to understand for the readers, but it also unfairly makes them believe that the notion is similar to what they know. For instance, using the word “referendum” in French refers to a rare political event in Canada and France. In Switzerland, however, a “votation” is a form of referendum but is organized at least four times a year, which is typical of a semi-direct democracy.
2. Do you think the debate over the minarets would have been different had reporters accounted for cultural factors in their reporting/translation of interviews?
This was not covered in the article under discussion, but is the subject of a broader research which will be reported in a book coming out this April. It will discuss how the representations journalists have of translation influence the choice of their sources. To cut a long story short, journalists have negative conceptions of translation: they find it dull and tedious, so they try to avoid it whenever they can. As a result, they unconsciously favour sources able to speak their native language. For instance, French-speaking reporters quoted a disproportionate number of French-speaking Muslim representatives, who traditionally hold more radical views of Islam than their German-speaking counterparts. Had they translated more, they would have given a voice to more moderate visions of Islam in the country. Who knows, it may have made Swiss voters more empathetic towards the Muslim population.
3. What do you think are the implications of this study for journalists working in multicultural contexts like Canada?
Cultural explanations may look more important than “linguistic” translation, but I believe both phenomena are just two sides of the same medal. My study showed that news agency journalists tend to copy and paste the same explanations about an event from one news item to the next one, which can reinforce cultural prejudices. However, if reporters integrate new background information from time to time (let’s be realistic…) by translating it from other stories (from other language communities or regions), they may introduce new points of view and widen the mindsets of their audiences.
Readers could also learn to be more critical about the concise background information they are given in a news report. When you come across cultural explanations, you can try to figure out what information was included or left out given the time and space limitations the journalists need to work with. Could this explanation be a caricature of a more complex reality? Where could you find more detailed background information?
Lucile Davier is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and a lecturer at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). In 2013, she earned a joint doctoral degree in translation studies and communication studies from the University of Geneva and the University Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). During the academic year 2012-2013, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Her research interests include news translation, convergent journalism and ethnography of translation/journalism. She has also freelanced as a professional translator (language combination: FR-DE-EN-ES) since 2006. Davier can be reached at LDavier@uottawa.ca
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real-time interpretation apps, even launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are getting fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.
Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has begun operations in Vancouver and Toronto. It is the very first Chinese-founded and -invested bank in Canada, a federally chartered Schedule I Bank under the Bank Act and regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
The man behind it, the founder and also the Vice Chair of the WOBC Board, Shenglin Xian, says from his Vancouver office that there are only 28 such foreign banks in Canada. “It is a historic moment for the Chinese community.”
Shenglin Xian, who is a well-known Chinese community financial advisor, has his own company Shenglin Financial Group Inc. located in North York, Toronto. He got into financial consultancy after he immigrated to Canada in 1990.
Same language, better understanding
“Currently, we will focus on serving the Chinese Canadians from the Great Vancouver Area and the Great Toronto Area. We will hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking employees. Our service slogan is ‘same language, better understanding (translation)’,” he continues, explaining what he envisions as a respect for Chinese values and culture.
“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.
Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in early 90's like Shenglin, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks for their Chinese language website.
He completely agrees with the fact that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems: Canada’s and the immigrant source country's.
“China’s (banking system) is even more different. The policy and products are very much in the different zones as well. Service literally translated into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the meaning behind. For example, credit rating in Canada is very critical for banks to determine whether or not applicants can apply for line of credit and how much they can get. One SIN number check will bring up a very detailed credit history of the applicant. However, it doesn’t really exist in China’s banking system, letting along for Chinese newcomers to understand the importance of credit rating,” Ming explains.
Maggie Yuan works at a public relations firm which provides multi-language translation services for corporate Canada's ethnic marketing needs in the Chinese and South Asian markets.
“For economic reasons, mainstream comapnies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts, I have been dealing with, especially in bank, insurance, public service, entertainment industry, the needs to have Chinese language translation have always been increasing. Companies strategically promote their investment in diversity to gain positive image in immigrant community. It’s quite political, but it’s also about business,” she says.
Overcoming language, culture barriers
The major Canadian banks are also stepping up, developing faster and more convenient tools to woo immigrant clients who face a language barrier. Just last month, Royal Bank of Canada, which already has a Chinese version of its website besides the official English and French language, introduced a new app – the first of its kind in North America – that provides clients with real-time video access to qualified interpreters.
Christine Shisler, RBC's Senior Director of Cultural Markets, explains why such a language app makes business sense.
“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our client – especially newcomers – understand how banking works in Canada.”
Shisler stresses out that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all of the important firsts – from first bank account to first home purchase. That means a lot of tailored service in language and cultural senses.
Going further, the bank’s Beijing staff, for example, will help students and family initiate their financial transition even before they arrive in Canada, a more aggressive business approach similar to what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing in the reverse direction.
Most language learners today are no strangers to phrasebooks, immersion programs, or Rosetta Stone, but how about using First Nations language learning apps, or watching ultrasound imagery to speak Cantonese, or adopting an Arabic conversation partner? In today’s globalized world where the value of multilingualism is increasingly palpable, technology advisor Costa Dedegikas, linguist Heather Bliss…
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by Matt D’Amours in Montreal
Is there any topic touchier in Canada than Quebec’s identity politics?
It might be easier to answer this question from the outside looking in, but for us Québécois, conclusions are a bit harder to come by than they might be in what is (mostly) affectionately referred to as the “ROC,” or the “rest of Canada.”
Questions of identity become even harder to reconcile when, as in my case, a person is saddled with dual identities that appear to be at odds.
On one side, I am an “old-stock” Quebecer – a descendant of French settlers who were sent to establish fishing operations in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region hundreds of years ago. On the other side, I’m the grandchild of Italians who left behind farmland in Italy to immigrate to Canada in the mid-20th century — with only $5 in their pockets, as our collective mythology never fails to underline.
Then there is the ever-divisive issue of language. I grew up in a household where Dad spoke to me in French and Mom spoke to me in English. Having learned these languages at the same time, my speech is accent-free on both sides, leading Francophones and Anglophones to simultaneously conclude that I’m “one of them.”
Somehow, I’ve always maintained a delicate balance between these two backgrounds, and the question of identity has never preoccupied my life. However, I’m fascinated by the issue of Québécois identity, which is often presented to Canadians through the lens of inflammatory think pieces in Anglophone media.
I was delighted, then, to come across the thoughtful book by Akos Verboczy titled Rhapsodie Québécoise, in which the author explores the dimensions of identity — politics, heritage and language — from the perspective of a Hungarian immigrant who “became” Canadian.
Or, rather, became Québécois?
A Hungarian in Montreal
Verboczy’s account of moving from Hungary to Canada in the 1980s examines many issues that remain hot buttons. As a pre-teen, the young Hungarian arrived in Montreal when opposition was growing against Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, the infamous language law passed in 1977 that gave French precedence in the province. As a result of this law, immigrants are required to send their children to French schools in order to ease their integration into Quebec society.
Verboczy writes that immigrants were quickly informed by others in their new communities that Francophones were “principally welfare-receiving, uneducated racists” — a sign of resentment against Bill 101 and its purveyors.
But Verboczy ended up embracing the language which he was forced to learn, and spends many pages sympathizing with the concerns that led to the language law’s creation. He points to the monolithic influence of American products in Quebec and the resulting dominance of English-language culture.
“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture — anxieties that persist today.
Is Quebec really racist?
From my observations, the suggestion of overwhelming racism in Quebec seems to have been adopted as pure fact. I’m reminded of a recent column on Gawker, which offered Americans a guide to moving to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. When Quebec is brought up, it’s framed as an unwelcoming society, and the article’s comments mirror this characterization.
The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well. Verboczy decries a speech made by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — the student spokesperson of the 2012 “Maple Spring” — in which he proclaimed that “if there is a Québécois tradition to conserve, it isn’t poutine or xenophobia.”
“Pardon? Xenophobia, a tradition?” Verboczy asks in response. “In my view, we’re actually thinking, disgusted, of that uncle at Christmas lunch who said that it’s unbelievable, this unreasonable business of Hassidic Blacks who impose themselves with their halal pork.”
He argues that caricatures of a rustic Quebec that is closed-off to foreigners have become accepted conventional wisdom over the years.
Where are we going?
Such is the title of Verboczy’s final chapter, in which the immigrant-turned-defender of the French language and Québécois culture reflects on modern questions of integration.
He points to the unique challenges posed by 21st century communication technologies, which allow newly arrived immigrants to remain in constant contact with their countries of origin. Verboczy says this can slow down the integration process for immigrants, as it can “give the illusion that they never left their countries.”
In response, the author places a greater onus on immigrants to adapt to their new surroundings, arguing “they must accept that their identity will change, and that it will have to superimpose itself on a backdrop that already has its colours and reliefs.”
Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions. However, Rhapsodie Québécoise explores these issues with boldness, nuance and humour that is, in my view, mostly absent in mainstream media analysis.
Verboczy confidently strikes back against charges of an intolerant Quebec, offering an important perspective that is often drowned out in polarized debates surrounding the province’s identity politics.
Matt D’Amours is a Montreal-based journalist who focuses on politics, social justice and Montreal’s protest movements. He was born and raised in Montreal’s multicultural borough of Ville Saint-Laurent, where cultural diversity is an everyday fact of life. Growing up speaking English and French simultaneously, D'Amours inhabits a space between Anglophone and Francophone – between Canadian and Québécois – which affords him a critical eye towards identity politics.
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