Who studies in English will work in English?

The language of instruction in CEGEP continues to make headlines as Quebec prepares to pass Bill 96, which aims to modernize the Charter of the French Language. A provision requiring English-speaking students to take three university-level French courses has been far from consensus.

Liberals, representatives of the Anglophone community and Aboriginal leaders denounced its ‘discriminatory’ nature and called for its complete abolition. The Parti Québécois, teachers’ unions and francophone interest groups argue that post-secondary education in English is an important source of assimilation. Therefore, in their view, it is absolutely necessary to extend the same rules for CEGEP as for primary and secondary education, namely the obligation for non-English speakers to follow their higher vocational education in French.

The Avenir Québec coalition is instead calling for a 10-year freeze on Anglophone colleges. Prime Minister François Legault recently justified this position by recalling that the demographic weight of the Anglophone community is about 9%, while Anglophone CEGEPs represent 17% of university places.

A study by Statistics Canada published in April sheds some light on this often emotional debate: the chances of working in English after studying in this language at CEGEP are high, especially if the student is not an English speaker. An allophone graduate is seven times more likely (46%) to work primarily in English if he obtained his final degree from an Anglophone rather than a French-language post-secondary institution (7%). Nearly a quarter (23%) of French speakers work in English after studying in that language, compared to 4% for those who have followed the same training path in French.

“We can speak of a strong quantitative relationship between the language chosen for post-secondary studies and the language of work afterwards,” summarizes Étienne Lemyre, an analyst at Statistics Canada’s Center for Demography.

The researcher acknowledges that his study has some gray areas in the linguistic path of students, gaps that will be partially filled during the analysis of data from the 2021 census, which includes questions about primary and secondary language of instruction. But does that remain thecurrent study, based on the cross-references of data from the 2016 census and the system ofe Information on Post-Secondary Students (PSIS) from Statistics Canada provides an interesting foundation for reflection.

The researcher mainly focused on the working language of graduates of Canadian post-secondary institutions in minority institutions, namely Anglophone institutions in Quebec and French-language institutions in the rest of Canada. For Quebec alone, the sample includes nearly 325,000 people: 240,000 of the native French, 35,000 of the English and 50,000 of the third language, whose trajectory it followed from 2010 to 2015.

More than a third of the allophones who graduated in this period had opted for a post-secondary study in English (33%) or a bilingual track (5%). Of the French speakers, only 5% obtained their last degree in English. As for the English speakers, 6% had opted for a bilingual post-secondary course and 11% for French.

Alain Bélanger, full professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) and chairman of the Commission for the monitoring of the linguistic situation in Quebec of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), led an investigation for a decade into a on a smaller scale about the reasons that led CEGEP students from Montreal to study in English. Main motivation: the desire to perfect their command of the English language in order to promote their professional career. A significant proportion of allophones also justified their decision by invoking a greater command of English than of French.

A decade later, confronted with the results of Étienne Lemyre’s study, he is saddened that English retains a very strong “attractive power” over francophone and allophone students.

“Lemyre’s results confirm those of the research we conducted about ten years ago: attending an English-speaking CEGEP leads to the use of English in all activities, including social life and work.”, estimates Alain Bélanger, who also President of the Quebec Demographers’ Association.

It should be noted that of the students taking English CEGEPs, 35% are native English speakers, 25% are French and 40% are in another language.

Unsurprisingly, Statistics Canada’s analysis confirms that the Montreal and Gatineau regions are the places in Quebec where college graduates are most likely to use Shakespeare’s language at work.

Other indicators also play a role: the nature of the degree (students are more likely to work in French than university students), the type of job (the self-employed use more English than employees), and the industry (science, engineering, computer science and mathematics graduates use more English at work than their peers who have studied health, arts, humanities, business or education).

However, Statistics Canada’s study has its limits, believes Marie-Odile Magnan, a sociologist and professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Education. Because the 2016 census data doesn’t include primary and secondary languages ​​of instruction, many of students’ linguistic backgrounds remain in the shadows, she said.

The language spoken at home, the language mix, primary and secondary schools, country of birth and that of the parents, etc. : all this must be taken into account before saying that studying in English at CEGEP or university leads to a language transfer, the chair holder of Ethnic Relations at UdeM assures. “You have to look at an individual’s entire trajectory to see if there aren’t other variables that would explain a preference for English, because it’s a very complex phenomenon. †

Since only the last diploma obtained is taken into account, the analysis also says nothing about young people who choose French in CEGEP and then English in university, or vice versa. “Students move a lot between CEGEP and university and can cross language barriers,” recalls Marie-Odile Magnan.

The use of the native language as a base indicator, rather than the commonly used language, is also a subject of debate among demographers and sociolinguists. In particular, researchers such as Jean-Pierre Corbeil have pointed out that this choice leads to the restriction of first- and second-generation immigrants to the category of allophones, even if they use French in everyday life, and that their successful integration into the French-speaking society.

The publication of data from the 2021 census on the mother tongue, home language and knowledge of official languages, in August next year, and on the working language, in November, will provide an even better portrait faithful to the situation. Then it is possible to compare the language used with the language spoken at home before and after post-secondary studies, explains Étienne Lemyre. It will also be possible to measure the importance of the relationship between the working language and the home language more accurately. “Right now we don’t know how big this link is, or even if it exists,” the analyst underlines.

Start reaction (and resumption of debate) in the autumn!

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