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Canada: Arabic second only to French by '06 in francophone schools - The Gazette, Canada

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  • Zafar Khan
    Arabic second only to French by 06 in francophone schools Arabophones welcome because they like to learn JEFF HEINRICH The Gazette Thursday, March 31, 2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2005
      Arabic second only to French by '06 in francophone
      'Arabophones' welcome because they like to learn

      The Gazette

      Thursday, March 31, 2005


      English won't be No. 2 for long; Curbed by
      immigration, education policies, the language of
      Milton just can't keep up with that of Mohammed: Sarah
      Hoballah, 11, stands at the blackboard as Ibrahim
      Awada teaches an Arab-language class at Ecole St. Remy
      on Rome Ave. in the north end. The special language
      classes are given at lunch hour and after school, five
      days a week, at the primary school, 44 per cent of
      whose 650 students speak Arabic as a first language.

      A quick quiz: What is the second most common mother
      tongue of students in Quebec's French-language school

      If you answered English, you are right. But it won't
      be for long, new Education Department enrolment
      figures show. By 2006 at the earliest, the most common
      mother tongue in schools after French will be Arabic.

      Not Spanish - Arabic outpaced it already four years
      ago. Not Italian, either, or Creole, or any of the
      Chinese languages.

      Though still far behind the language of Moliere that
      is the vast majority's mother tongue, the language of
      Mohammed is about to overtake the language of Milton
      in Quebec's francophone primary and secondary schools.

      Hobbled by immigration policies that favour applicants
      from French-speaking countries, including Arab ones
      like Algeria and Morocco, and by education policies
      that send most immigrants to French-language schools,
      English has not been able to keep up.

      "It's an interesting milestone," said Jack Jedwab,
      executive director of the Association for Canadian
      Studies, which has analyzed the phenomenon.

      "A decade ago, people in Quebec were talking about the
      growing importance of Spanish in our system. But with
      changing immigration patterns, it's actually Arabic
      that's eclipsed Spanish and now will eclipse English,"
      he said.

      This year, 18,649 students in the French system speak
      English as their mother tongue, compared with 17,313
      in 1999 - an increase of only about eight per cent in
      five years, according to 2004-05 enrolment figures the
      Education Department made public last week. By
      contrast, Arabic as a mother tongue has jumped more
      than five times as fast, by 42 per cent. It's now
      spoken by 18,084 students, compared with 12,731 in

      In the English system, Spanish still outpaces Arabic -
      971 to 631 in the current school year - but that masks
      the deeper reality: Spanish is in decline while Arabic
      is on the increase. (Italian is still tops, with more
      than 9,200 students.)

      A study made public a year ago by the Comite de
      gestion de la taxe scolaire de l'Ile de Montreal
      revealed that more than one-third - 36 per cent - of
      students in Montreal schools in 2003 had a mother
      tongue other than French or English.

      As well, the study showed that just over half of all
      students in the Montreal public school system were
      either born abroad or born into families in which one
      or both parents are foreign-born. The school boards
      with the highest multicultural populations are all

      One of the schools where the change is obvious is
      Ecole St. Remy, a primary school on Rome Ave. in
      north-end Montreal. Forty-four per cent of its 650
      students are "arabophone," as they say in French,
      mostly belonging to immigrant families from south

      By religion, the majority are also Muslim, a fact
      evident in the hijabs worn by many of the girls. The
      school's principal is Arabic-speaking, too, but
      Catholic, an immigrant from Egypt 35 years ago. His
      goal is integration of all the minorities in his
      school, including the Arabs.

      "We're not here to create a ghetto, a little Lebanon,"
      Raouf Absi said. "We're here to help these people
      integrate and make a life in Quebec and Canada."

      To that end, the principal has made it a rule that
      French is the only language allowed on school
      property. The only exception is during special Arab
      language classes given at lunch hour and after school,
      five days a week.

      This year, 123 students are enrolled in those classes.

      "Our children were born here; they don't know how to
      write Arabic as well as they should," said Youmma
      Hoballah, a Lebanese immigrant whose daughter, Sarah,
      is in Grade 6 and who has a son in Grade 3. "If they
      go to Lebanon, they'll have to be able to read the
      signs in the street."

      High schools, too, like Ecole Evangeline in St.
      Laurent - the city's most multi-ethnic school, with a
      majority Arabic-speaking population - and Ecole Henri
      Bourassa in Montreal's north end - the city's largest,
      with 2,050 students - have seen a similar boom in the
      number of Arab-speakers.

      "It's a phenomenon," agreed Said Cherkaoui, a Moroccan
      who is chairperson of the school's board. "It's linked
      to the fact that Quebec is accepting more and more
      immigrants from the Maghreb. We speak French, but our
      mother tongue is Arabic."

      In France, where Cherkaoui studied information
      technology before coming to Canada, Arabic is
      increasingly being seen as a threat to the French
      majority, he said. But not in Quebec.

      In fact, some teachers value the presence of
      Arab-speakers in their class, because they generally
      come from cultures where education is valued highly.

      "The Arab students recognize that power comes from
      knowledge; they associate one with the other," said
      Absi, who did his master's thesis on immigrants in
      Quebec's education system.

      "In their school, the language is French, and at home
      it's Arabic, and in the end that gives them the best
      of both worlds."


      - - -

      Evolution of language in school

      Already more common than Spanish, Arabic is poised to
      overtake English as the second language of students in
      Quebec's French schools. Here's the evolution since
      the 1999-2000 school year of how many students had
      those languages as their mother tongue:

      1999-00 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05

      English 17,313 17,455 17,585 17,801 18,322 18,649

      Arabic 12,731 13,724 15,127 16,255 17,215 18,084

      Spanish 13,528 13,894 14,257 15,111 15,789 16,555

      Association for Canadian Studies, Quebec Education
      © The Gazette (Montreal) 2005

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