Bill Would Allow Six Months to Learn French in Québec

A proposed language reform policy in Québec would give new immigrants to the Canadian province a pretty narrow timeframe to attain working proficiency in French: six months. Bill 96, a 100-page piece of legislation, aims to boost the status of the French language in Québec, but some argue that it could discourage immigrants from coming to the state, as it enforces a rather rigid framework for learning the language.

If passed, Bill 96 would require new immigrants to Québec to learn French within the first six months of living there—after that, the government would send all official communications to them in the French language, rather than in English or in translations into their native languages. Opponents of the bill believe this is too short a time period; while second-language acquisition is different for everyone, with individual factors such as language aptitude and personality playing a significant role, it is generally accepted that six months is not enough time to achieve a significant degree of fluency in a completely new language.

Still, the bill would make it considerably easier for new immigrants to learn the language, as Bill 96 also ensures that the government would offer French-language classes at no cost to the students. While the government currently offers French courses, learners must pay in order to enroll. In addition to offering free French courses and requiring new immigrants to learn French within the first six months of living there, Bill 96 would also change the language requirements for businesses, schools, and government agencies. If passed, the bill would require government agencies to use French as their exclusive language for written and oral communications.

The bill’s proposal comes at a pivotal time for the French language in Canada— earlier this year, the Canadian government proposed reforms to the nation’s Official Languages Act, which aimed to instill a sense of equality between French and English, the two official languages of the country. Québec remains the only province in Canada with a particularly robust population of French speakers, and the province does not recognize English as an official language. Andrew Warner

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