Study shows francophones in Quebec City more bilingual

A francophone in Quebec City is often more equipped to reply "Hello" and have a conversation with someone in the street than an anglophone in Ottawa is to speak with someone who says "Bonjour," according to a recent study on the bilingualism levels in the nation's capital region that made a comparison with those in Quebec City.

Some 32 per cent of francophones in Quebec City have a knowledge of both English and French, whereas only 28 per cent of anglophones in Ottawa had a knowledge of both languages, according to a study released two weeks ago by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, a Montreal-based public policy organization.

"I was very surprised by that," said Jack Jedwab, author of the study based on census data from between 2001 and 2006 gathered by Statistics Canada.

"The irony is, once you hit (people in their) early twenties, francophones in Quebec City are more bilingual than our anglophones in Ottawa," Jack Jedwab, author of the study, said of the study results in an interview.

While Quebec's official language is French, federal government agencies and departments in Ottawa must operate in both official languages under Canada's Official Languages Act of 1969.

Some seized on parts of the bilingualism study to make a point last week after a spirited debate developed following remarks made by Daniel Petit, the Conservative MP for Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles, about second-language "illiterates" in Quebec's French schools.

Petit had deplored the level of English teaching in Quebec's French schools during a meeting of the Standing Committeee on Official Languages.

"Whether in elementary or secondary (school), English is practically swept under the rug," Petit said. "At the university level, it's even worse. We have illiterates of the second language."

"For the love of ...," Coderre was reported as telling the press in Quebec City later that week. "Quebec City is more bilingual than Ottawa."

That statement isn't entirely true, however.

While francophones in la vieille capitale are more apt to speak Canada's second language than anglophones in Ottawa, in overall population terms, Ottawa is more bilingual than Quebec City with 38 per cent of residents speaking the language, according to Jedwab's crunch of the census numbers.

That compared with 33 per cent of all residents of Quebec City found to be bilingual in the census findings.

As for members of Quebec City's English-speaking community, the latest numbers from the 2006 Census used in the study indicate younger anglophones record very high levels of bilingualism across the board.

The study found that 98 per cent of anglophones between the ages of 30 to 34 were bilingual. For English-speaking Quebecers aged 15 to 19, the total number was a bit lower, with 93 per cent of teenagers reporting a knowledge of both languages.

The study's depiction of the usefulness -- if not necessity -- of bilingualism for Quebec City anglophones and francophones is hardly surprising, said Jean Sébastien Jolin Gignac, executive director of the Voice of English-Speaking Québec.

"The English-speaking community (in Quebec City) is one of the most open and integrated communities in Quebec," said Jolin Gignac.

"In the francophone community, I personally know people from my generation who know the increasing importance of learning English," he added. "People are learning the language whether they need it for work or not."

The VEQ executive director said the study findings should have "a positive result for Quebec City."

"More francophones will realize that anglophones are bilingual," he said -- something which should ideally translate into more jobs for them in the city.

Allophones in Quebec City, meanwhile, showed a lower knowledge of French (and Englis) in 2006 than anglophones. Only half of allophones aged 15 to 19 reported a knowledge of both languages. The highest recorded knowledge of English and French -- 56 per cent -- was determined to be among those aged 25 to 29 years old.

The city of Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa in Quebec, posted the highest level of bilingualism of the cities included in the study, with 65 per cent of the total population fluent in both languages.

Montreal recorded a lower level, with 52 per cent of the population reporting themselves as bilingual, according to the study.