Canada: Arabic second only to French by '06 in francophone schools - The Gazette, Canada
- Arabic second only to French by '06 in francophone
'Arabophones' welcome because they like to learn
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
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,"
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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