A Failed Attempt of French Immersion in Montreal

Three months ago, I decided to take a one-week French immersion program in Montreal. The goal of this immersion program was to hone my French language skills, learn more of the French language and deeply enhance the experience of the culture and locality. Before I traveled to Montreal, I had already taken a week of French immersion program in Quebec City. This time, I decided to change the place and get to know another classic Canadian city.

I spent a week in Montreal. I aimed to get the most out of my French class during the mornings, and explored the city in the afternoon. I consider this to be a perfect way to travel and get to know a new place. I stayed at a hostel in the city center for its easy access to the subway and its close proximity to the school.

As I had an excellent experience studying French in Quebec City, this time, I choose the same school to avoid the hassle of conducting extra research.

A few weeks later, I hopped on the five-hour train to Montreal from Toronto with excitement.

The ancient Europe architecture, laidback flair, and multiculturalism quickly attracted me. Two days before school starts, I head out to town, wandered around the old town, the mountains, quaint streets, and tried smoked meat sandwiches. I was glad over the next two days I would learn more about French language.

The first day of school, I arrived half an hour early to take the oral placement test and participate in the orientation. My school was in the old town of Montreal, a very central place within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and the St Lawrence River.

There are large groups of students, almost tenfold as much as that in Quebec City. During the placement test, an instructor talked to me in French briefly. Long story short, she then assigned me to a class of 12 students who has absolutely no knowledge of the French language, and that was agonizing. Later on, I asked to switch the class. This was refused by the school as the principal told me that my French was not good enough for me to be placed at a more advanced level.

During the orientation, we were told that we need to purchase a book for our class. To get the book, we had two options: we could either pay $50.00 at the school to have the book immediately, or after the class we could go to the bookstore in the city to buy it. We were advised to go to the bookstore because the price would be cheaper. At the second hour of the class, our instructor asked if we had the book. Apparently, no one did. This seemed to be a problem for her. She immediately stopped the class, took us to the front desk, and told the reception we needed to buy the book. We automatically lined up. I stood at the end of the line and kept myself calm. I was a tad agitated because I hated being patronized. I could not understand why I was not informed to buy the book before and why she made us buy the book in such rush. When I spoke to the receptionist, I was told that I had not paid for the book. I told them I needed time to check receipt and my bank statement. I borrowed the book for the first day and paid the next day.

The failed attempt of French immersion experience 

I ended up paying more attention to the syntax of my instructor’s instruction in the class than the actual class, which further improved my listening skills and vocabulary. Because of the bilingual policy at school and the student groups I was in, I did not have much opportunity to practice French outside the classroom. In addition, whenever I tried to strike conversations with locals in French, they immediately switched to English after figuring out I was not from a French speaking area. It is so easy to fall back to our comfort zone.

The last day of the class was a test day, and we would spend the morning at school writing exams and doing oral presentations. I skipped school, not because I felt bored to learn the same things over and over. However, that day was my last day in Montreal. There was no way I was going to spend my last morning sitting in the exam. I wanted to visit somewhere new, and explore more of this city.

Even though I had visited all the places I wanted to visit – the Notre Dame Basillia, the old town Montreal, St Joseph Church, Mt Royal, and tried smoked meat sandwich. In the end, I still have a strong desire to discover some off-the-beaten paths.


Photo: One of the best brunch I had in Montreal (I forgot the name of the restaurant I went).

After researching on the Internet, I spent almost an hour and a half on public transport to Parc René-Lévesque, a medium-sized urban park full of wonders. I walked on the trail for two hours seeing the boats on one side and the canal on the other side. There is a small shop where you can rent bikes and have ice cream. On the way to the park, a girl and I both got lost. She did not speak English so we communicated in French instead.  This is one of the few times I got to practice my rusty French with locals.


Photo: Parc René-Lévesque in Lachine by Julie Cao

I am not here to discourage you from learning French in Montreal. The city is very vibrant and filled with a European flair, and most people can speak both English and French. What I am saying is if you seriously consider in learning French, it is better to place yourself in French language programs in Quebec City or other parts of Quebec where locals prefer or can only speak French. Yes, Montreal is a bilingual city and people tend to communicate with you in English if you are not fluent in French. In other parts of Quebec, not so many people speak fluent English (some do not even speak English at all), so you have no choice but to constantly speak French. And this is how you improve your language skills.

In the end, my French has not improved much but I get to know Montreal more. I mastered the subway and became involved in the exploration and activities with other travelers and locals. I even met several kindred souls and we keep in touch to this day. That is not a bad closure for my Montreal trip.

Have you ever experienced any travels that do not live up to your expectations? Comment below.

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My Failed attempt of French language immersion in Montreal

Julie Cao

Julie Cao is a travel blogger, travel writer, and global citizen currently living in Toronto Ontario.

11 thoughts on “A Failed Attempt of French Immersion in Montreal

  • September 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I’d love to visit Montreal and experience the city’s European architecture for myself. As for the language learning, I can definitely sympathize with your experience. When I studied Arabic in Tunisia, I found it difficult to speak Arabic outside the classroom, as people always tried to either answer me in French or English when they saw I wasn’t a native speaker! Glad you were able to take positive experiences away from your experience in Montreal in the end!

    • September 27, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Erika, too bad that happens to you too. I think we need to have guts to keep speaking the language we are learning even people switch to the language we are comfortable in speaking. Glad you had a chance to learn Arabic. I heard that is one of the most difficult language in the world. Kodos to you!

  • September 27, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    I have wanted to visit Quebec since I was a little girl as my mother had a friend who lived there. I learnt French all through high school in NZ but lost it after school as I was not speaking it every day anymore. I went to France again in 2012, assured by everyone “It’ll all come back to you!” and I had the worst time trying to communicate in Paris as I had lost so much of the language I could barely hold a conversation. It was such a shame! An immersion experience would have been ideal.

    • September 27, 2016 at 9:59 pm

      I always wanted to try immersion program in France. Hope you get to visit Quebec one day. It is a very distinctive place but people speak different French.

  • September 30, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I would love to visit Montreal someday, have read so much about it. Too bad you couldnt perfect your French during your stay, but it just gives you more oppurtunity to visit many more French cities ;). However its great how you were able to enjoy the city and explore it to the maximum.

    • October 2, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks Suma! Montreal is a very distinctive city and I wish you get a chance to visit it someday!

  • October 2, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I’m learning about how to be a language teacher and this really made me roll my eyes. Even if my students didn’t have the book yet, I wouldn’t actually force them to get in line and buy it automatically. You could consider going to France, that will really put you out in your comfort zone. However, try staying outside of Paris, like in a smaller city since you will have tons of opportunity to interact with locals.

    • October 2, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Bethanny, I actually consider learning French in France and I will try to stay outside the Paris. Yeah that book I actually only used it for four days and that is it. Dont think I want to go back to the same school anymore. Which language do you plan to teach?

  • October 3, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I have learnt most of my french from being in France and talking to locals, learning from menus etc. Loved Montreal and can really see why you wanted to learn here. Interesting approach that the program took with you, doesn’t sound very professional.

    • October 3, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      I was surprised that the same school in different cities (Montreal and Quebec City) can have such a huge difference. I should try to learn French in France!

  • Pingback: My French immersion experience in Quebec City - Always On The Way

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