picture of houses in quebec
Quebec City ©

David Ohmer under Creative Commons License

During my studies, I had been a Language Assistant in Austria, a period that was undoubtedly the highlight of my academic career. When I came to the end of my time at university, I decided to improve my French before getting a ‘proper’ job. France had been a frequent holiday destination throughout my childhood, so  Québec seemed like the perfect alternative. Distant, exotic and a little bit daunting, it offered the perfect challenge for a new graduate.

At my interview for the post in Québec, I was asked whether I would be willing to work with adults, thinking this would be college level students. Upon my appointment, I discovered that I would be working in an adult education centre. My students mostly consist of high school dropouts, people who have had family and emotional problems and people who are older and are trying for a career change and need to finish their education.  The ages of my students ranged from 16 to 55, which has been something I found extremely rewarding.

On a day-to-day basis, my job could be quite varied.  Mostly, my role was to take the students into my classroom in small groups to do small activities that reinforce what they have been learning in their books.  As the students work independently in the class, each at their own pace, this can be quite challenging. Planning activities that can be adapted to different levels so that nobody feels too lost was a skill I acquired very quickly.

I was also responsible for organising whole group activities, which I did in the class with the teacher, as well as listening activities. To supplement this, I introduced a biweekly showing of Doctor Who, my own personal effort to spread British culture to Canada!

Extracurricular activities were also my responsibility. I organised a lunchtime tea party on Wednesdays, where the students could come and speak only in English while partaking of tea and biscuits.

Upon arriving in Amqui, the first thing that struck me was the isolation of the town.  While assistants are warned about this before arriving, it is difficult for someone who has never visited Canada to conceive of the vastness of the country.  Arriving on my town by bus from Montréal took ten hours, a time which could conceivably allow someone to travel from the top of Scotland to the south of England. Habitation is sparse and most locations isolated, which means integrating into the community is much more important.

Being in an isolated community, however, does wonders in terms of learning French. English is not widely spoken. In my town of 6,000 people, there were only four Anglophones, myself included. Making an effort with the language and the locals is therefore essential. Once you get over your initial hesitation your French develops quickly.

I was always shy about speaking in a different language, as I was conscious about making mistakes. However, I soon came to the realisation that people here are just happy for you to try. Due to historical differences and political conflicts Québec has with the rest of Canada, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make as long as you show them the respect of trying. People are happy to correct you if you ask and never laugh at your efforts.

Fortunately, when I first came to Amqui I was  cohabiting with a Canadian assistant from Winnipeg, who was very outgoing and keen for me to experience Canadian culture to the full.  Within a couple of weeks, I had eaten poutine, the local delicacy (chips, cheese and gravy), gone on a moose hunt and experienced my first hockey game.

The key to making the most of your time in Québec is to accept every offer and opportunity.  If you turn people down at the beginning, they won’t ask again, and there are so many things to be experienced that often take a local’s assistance.  Going snowshoeing, dog sledding or hunting may seem like unusual activities, but to truly understand the culture it is necessary to try things that you have never tried before.

One thing to bear in mind when choosing Québec as a destination that the Québécois language is something completely different to anything that most people have heard before. The regional accents can be quite distinctive, with Montréal’s harsher sounds being offset with the soft Beauce lilt, or the Gaspésien chiak, a mix of French and English, confusing everybody but its native speakers. It takes a good month until your ear becomes tuned in to the accent and you start to pick up the vernacular.

I would recommend becoming a Language Assistant to anyone. It gives you an opportunity to travel to parts of the world you might not normally go to within the bounds of a safe and supportive programme. For anyone wanting to make the most of their lives and have wonderful experiences to share with their grand-children, the Language Assistants programme is a good place to start.