In CRBLM Research Spotlight articles, we provide accessible summaries to highlight current and ongoing work being produced by our members on various themes. “Research-Policy Connections” posts each focus on a single published article, giving a very short summary and highlighting potential applications to real-world policy matters.
Research-Policy Connections: Official and Family Language Policy in Quebec
Blog post by Mehrgol Tiv
Reference article: Ballinger, S., Brouillard, M., Ahooja. A., Polka, L., Kircher, R., & Byers-Heinlein, K. (2020). Intersections of official and family language policy in Quebec. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2020.1752699 Preprint: https://psyarxiv.com/bjxm8/
How do parents raise their children with more than one language in Montréal, Québec? Through a series of interviews, researchers at McGill University, Concordia University, Fryske Akademy, and the Center for Research on Brain, Language, and Music found that some household language practices and beliefs align with Québec’s language policies whereas others differ.
Since the 1970s, French has been the only officially recognized language of public schools, government institutions, and the workplace in Québec. This culture has been upheld by a series of provincial language policies that aim to preserve the status of French over English and other languages. Most families with children experience the daily impact of these policies through the educational system, as the majority of Quebec students attend school in French, and opportunities for English, bilingual, and other language education are limited.
In this study, some home language practices aligned with these official language policies, including the preference for French to be learned formally at school and English to be learned informally through media exposure. Many parents suggested that English was easier to casually pick up because of its prevalence on the Internet and in the media, unlike French. In this same manner, parents recognized and valued the importance of strong French proficiency in Québec society.
Other home language practices differed from the official language policies, including positive beliefs about the value of bilingualism. All parents believed that learning more than one language would be beneficial for the child. There was particular interest in more formal opportunities for bilingual education, bilingual parenting resources, and bilingual communities, particularly among parents who spoke a home language other than English or French. Many of these parents mentioned the challenges of being solely responsible for passing their home language to their child without many formal support systems. Others indicated interest in broader access to learning materials, including children’s’ books, and supportive communities to discuss best practices for raising their child in more than one language.
This paper has clear implications for Quebec’s language policies, some of which may soon change with the proposal of Québec’s Bill 96 and the city of Montréal’s new action plan for the promotion of French culture and language. For instance, the findings suggest that many families favor legislation to expand formal educational systems to languages other than English and French, including more bilingual education programs. The findings of this paper also hold direct relevance to educators. The results indicate that while inclusion of home languages in schools and educational contexts can aid families to keep their linguistic and cultural traditions, more diverse language exposure at school may also promote greater academic achievements for students. Finally, these results are pertinent to community leaders, businesses, and other local institutions. According to the findings, parents of bilingual children want more community events held in both English and French. Additionally, parents want more resources for raising their bilingual children. Local communities and institutions can lead this change by inviting language scientists and other experts to openly discuss these practices.