The Dutch are not a good example : we learn Dutch, English, French and German at school, but I believe most people are only fluent in the first two. Individual Dutch persons may be fluent in French and German (mostly due to holiday preference or so), but the majority may struggle to hold a conversation.
Brussels, on the other hand, is a good example. AFAIK shops in Brussels are required by law to be able to answer clients in Dutch (Flemish) and French, and of course everyone can speak English. And all citizens are taught both languages at school. Even though my experience is that the level of Dutch fluency is quite often limited, these rules lead to a large proportion of the native population being trilingual. This leaves out of course all the foreign diplomats.
According to my Dutch colleagues (we often travel to Brussels on business) this might be quite an understatement. Though it may also be a dialect thing, Netherlands Dutch vs Flemish. The speakers of the last two certainly seem to enjoy mocking each other’s idiosyncrasies.
It may not be quite as strict as in Luxembourg, where school is in Luxembourgish for children about ages 3–5, in German ages 6–7, in French for ages 8–9, and in any case by secondary school students need to be multilingual. I have never met a Luxemburger who isn’t.
In other words, one’s fluency in, e.g., Dutch is going to markedly improve if half one’s classes are taught in Dutch on top of however many hours of formal language instruction. This may be more controversial and not obligatory in Belgium, conversely with French-speaking Belgians and not sure about the German-speaking minority.
In the 1960’s I was a young teenager on vacation with my family in Montreal. One day, walking down the street, there were a bunch of kids my age talking among themselves, but in French, so I had no idea what they were saying. Then, right in the middle of a sentence, one switched to clear, unaccented English, to insert “… and it’s really cool when …” and continued on in French. At the time, I was blown away by how naturally he switched to and fro, but I have since learned how very common that is among multilinguals.
Well, in this context, @RickJay, you are elite. And so am I. I went to a private high school. We’re not talking about something like Brébeuf, where Justin Trudeau went, which might be the poshest school in Quebec, but a school which like most private high schools in Quebec is actually heavily subsidised and as such has tuition fees that are accessible to most middle-class and even some working-class families. There was diversity of economical status, and some ethnic diversity, among the students at my school. But nevertheless private schools in Quebec are heavily criticized, especially by the political left, for contributing to the existence of a two-tiered education system by essentially taking all of the students that are easiest and least expensive to manage, and leaving most of the harder cases to the public system. When I went back to my high school a few years ago for the 20th anniversary of my graduation, the teacher who showed us around made a point to mention that the school now has a specialised teacher (orthopédagogue, if you can tell me how you’d say that in English) for students with learning disabilities. Private schools are well-aware that if they want to survive, at least in the “semi-public” way they do currently, they must break their elite image.
Now, Ontario French immersion schools are not exactly the same thing, since they’re free and I assume admission is open to children from any interested family. But they’re still “selective” if only in the sense that they select for parents who are willing to make the effort to have their children sent to a good school. Enriched programs in public schools, which French immersion is one example of, are more easily defensible than private schools with tuition fees, even when fees are not especially high, but they’re still criticized for creating a two-tiered education system. I’m currently reading a book about this, Matthew Hayday’s So They Want Us to Learn French, which discusses among other things French immersion schools in anglophone Canada. The author is very sympathetic to them and to the idea that they shouldn’t be seen as elitist and should be accessible to immigrant children, children of lower socioeconomic classes and children with learning disabilities, but also acknowledges that they are definitely often seen as such.
My point is essentially that the idea that Ottawa might have a large number of trilingual speakers because a large number of non-francophones are going to send their children to French immersion is unsupported. French immersion in anglophone Canada will always be a minority phenomenon, if you prefer this to “elite”. As someone who comes from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, I can tell you that non-francophones in Ottawa rarely speak French in a meaningful way. I’m sure they know a few words and sentences, they’ve definitely had French classes in school, but they don’t speak well enough to, say, have a conversation.
And even for those who took French immersion, I wonder how well their skills hold up a few years after leaving school. I’ve taught university classes to students who came from French immersion, and their language skills were fair, but now we’re talking about a select group from a select group: those who care enough to keep studying in French after high school. I’m curious, @RickJay (and I really am, this is not a rhetorical question): could you, who went to French immersion, still have a conversation in French today? Or read the news, or watch television?
Are you of the impression I went to a private school? I’ve never even known someone who did. They’re around though.
I can read and write it fine. It takes a little practice to get back up to speed speaking and listening, but it’s all in there. I wasn’t genuinely great at it at my peak, though. (In fairness, reading and writing languages seems to be something I don’t struggle with - I learned to get along reading Spanish more or less just for the hell of it, but I cannot understand spoken Spanish except for really basic stuff said carefully.)
Incidentally, I am unaware of a single English word that conveys this concept; this appears to be something French has that English does not. They are referred to at my daughter’s school as SERTs, an acronym for “Special Education Resource Teacher.”
“Use it or lose it”. You have to use your second language if you want to keep it. If you’ve gone to a French immersion school in a part of Canada that’s far away from any significant French-speaking population, you will lose it (unless you’re glued to French books and TV (French-language TV is available across Canada)).
What about in Luxembourg where kids learn three languages? Do they get a chance to use them all frequently if they stay in their own neighborhood? Do their parents speak to them in all three?
According to Special Eurobarometer 386 (2012), in Luxembourg 52% reported their mother tongue as Luxembourgish, 19% as Portuguese, 16% as French, and 2% as German. 84% said they could hold a conversation in at least 2 foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue, and 61% in at least three additional languages. Only 2% were mono-lingual. In total, 16+80% = 96% could speak French, 69+2 = 71% could speak German, and 56% could speak English. 55% mentioned watching TV/radio in French, 53% in German, and 11% in Spanish. [73% regularly use a foreign language when watching films/television/radio.] For newspapers and magazines it was 54%/52%/10% respectively, and so on.
67% reported using their first foreign language on a daily basis, 17% “often”, and 16% “occasionally”.
Plenty of statistics there if you want to dig through the report, including by age, educational level, and so forth.
Congratulations, @DPRK, that’s a good find. It does make sense that Luxembourg would have a large number of people speaking at least French and German, and likely English and Luxembourgish as well.
No. What I said was that private (subsidised) schools in Quebec, French immersion schools in Canada, enriched programs in public schools, and other types of schools or programs that differ from the default one, like charter schools in the US, are all “elite” in some way or another, if only because they attract parents that are making a particular effort to send their children to a “good” school.