The Rich Immersion of Learning



By Alix Fraser

Visit any of Montreal's bustling markets and you'll hear a rich mix of languages unlike nearly anywhere else in Canada. Citizens of the city often boast bi- and trilingual knowledge, slipping in and out of their languages with ease. For monolingual residents, be they new Anglophone students, immigrants, young Francophones, or otherwise, the multilingual climate can be intimidating.

Though formal classes are offered at schools and centres all over the city, the best way to learn a new language is with hands-on experience. In a multilingual climate like Montreal's, all is not lost for those of us seemingly stuck in our monolingual funk. Learning a second language is an invaluable asset in today's connected world.

There are dozens of groups created for the sole purpose of giving new language learners a chance to practice their skills and stretch their conversational skills. The biggest practice group in Montreal is Le MEETUP de conversation Français-Anglais, boasting more than 6,380 members and over eight years of history.


Le MEETUP was founded in 2006 and changed hands in 2008. Daniel Picard, the current leader, took over when the founder left Montreal. Though he only meant to lead Le MEETUP temporarily, the group was addicting, and so he stayed.

Daniel Picard, leader of Le MEETUP

"I wanted to make it a place where people can come to learn, brush off and improve their French and English mastery in a cozy, relax and friendly atmosphere," he says, noting that while the classroom is a great place to start, it's very far away from the real world.

Daniel's own experiences taught him that; while his high school education trained him in English basics, is was an immersed setting while attending UOttawa that gave him confident fluency. It's driven him in leading the group, as he knows how important a social environment is to give support, and says "if you can have fun doing it, it is always a nice perk to have."

In the beginning, Le MEETUP was fairly small. "At the time I took over, attendance was about 10 - 15 people per Meetup session," Daniel says, and the group gradually grew from there. As language schools recommended the group to their students, Meetup sessions grew to an average of 80 - 90 people twice a week. Though Le MEETUP has kept the bi-weekly format, they've capped each session at 60 attendees to preserve conversation quality. Members RSVP their attendance, and meet up with others in a cafe selected by the group organizer.


Le MEETUP's sessions are very casual. Attendees sit at a table of 5 - 6 people speaking either French or English and simply make conversation. There are no specific topics, as Daniel says they "do prefer to preserve a laid back and friendly atmosphere," and that trying to impose topics in the past didn't work very well.

A group of Le MEETUP participants practice English in a casual cafe setting

In addition to attendees looking to learn, the group has people designated as a "helper/aidant". Most are native Anglo- or Francophones, and they aid people in improving their skills. The goal is to have one helper per table, and Daniel notes that "any additional helpers would be always welcome."

Though it can be hard to keep a balance on the number of French and English speakers, Daniel notes that most of the members coming to brush up in one language "are ready to jump on the other side and become an helper as well." This is where Le MEETUP finds its success--in a team of committed and passionate helpers and a casual setting.


The group prides itself in being a step for new Canadians in integrating into Canadian culture. "If you do want to make sure they go through a good social integration process and join our ranks as Canadian Citizens, you do have to make sure they have a good mastery of both official languages," Daniel says. The sessions, as they are set in busy cafes, get noisy, but that's another step in the learning process--the practice is in real time, in real life contexts.

For many participants, formal language classes haven't helped all that much in real world settings. One of the group's helpers, Fred, is multilingual, but he only had been taught Parisian French before coming to Montreal. In his six years of attendance, the immersive setting has helped him communicate in Quebecois French where his formal training hadn't.

Diego and Silvia discuss formal classes and casual learning

Other group members agree that formal language classes aren't quite enough. Claudia, a participant from Columbia, says that the meetings are more helpful in learning English. Another participant, Silvia, stresses that both formal and casual training are important, and two others--Diego and Miguel--says that while the courses are needed for grammar, immersive settings like Le MEETUP are more important. You need to speak to learn the language, from Diego's experience, and it needs to be fun.

Another benefit of attending Le MEETUP sessions is increased confidence. Diego came to Canada from Columbia, and speaking to others learning English as well as native speakers has helped him lose his fear of speaking as he's become more fluent. Claudia and Miguel echo this sentiment.

Le MEETUP also provides an important social connection for people who may be new to the city. The makeup of the group is multicultural, so there are chances to meet people from all over the world. In the words of one participant, you learn through the eyes other people in settings like this. New Montrealers can find it hard to make friends if they aren't in college, but Le MEETUP helps forge new friendships.


With political tensions in the province always at the forefront with language, it's more important than ever for Montreal residents, new or old, to embrace bilingualism. Communication on all fronts is important in a city boasting such a large multilingual population, and being bilingual can help break down cultural doors. Richard Bourhis, a diversity researcher for UQAM, said that "Quebec Anglophones are bilingual and they are the inter-cultural brokers, the inter-lingual brokers who help new immigrants not only learn about Quebec and integrate but understand the necessity of learning French."

Learning a second (or third, or more) language benefits you personally, too. Becoming multilingual could mean having a nimbler, better brain. You have a better chance of being hired, and once you've got the job, being bilingual means having a better chance of being promoted over monolingual employees.


The success of Le MEETUP has led to a few people suggesting that they turn it into a real register business. "However, we've never really thought it that way," says Daniel. "For us, we are seeing more our involvement like a hobby than a business. This is our own social contribution to a multicultural city such as Montreal." They have, however, added tutoring sessions to their group's activities.

Stanley Aléong helps organize tutoring sessions with the group

Daniel's co-organizer, Stanley Aléong, gives the special lessons in both English and French on the weekends at a different location before the cafe sessions. Stanley is a published and experienced language tutor interested in the social aspect of language learning. His workshops add a structured compliment to the more casual meetings. Each session, Stanley sets a theme and corrects participants as they learn. One of Stanley's themes was idioms using animal names; even in Le MEETUP's more formal sessions, the focus is on conversational language.

As for the future of Le MEETUP, Daniel says "We are taking it on a day-to-day basis and as long as we will be having fun doing it, we'll still be around!"

Multiple bilingual conversation groups exist, such as Concordia's Jazz-ons and Les Midis francophones. Le MEETUP is the largest, but there are gatherings of people looking to swap small talk in multiple languages in coffee shops all over the city. Some are formal, some are casual, but they all have one thing in common: you'll enjoy learning far more than you would in any classroom.

Le MEETUP de conversation Français-Anglais meets Wednesdays and Saturdays, with language workshops on Saturday and Sunday.

Works Cited

Kluger, Jeffrey. "How the Brain Benefits From Being Bilingual |" TIME. 18 July 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Le MEETUP De Conversation Français-Anglais." Meetup. 25 Apr. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <>.

Plante, Caroline. "Help! French Is Losing Ground, SSJB Tells Committee Hearings." Global News. 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Practice." Oui Can Help. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <>.


I absolutely love the whole idea of "Le MEETUP." It makes learning a language so much more effective and fun!

What a cool topic!! I love how bilingual Montreal's the city's best quality. I never even knew something like Le MEETUP existed. Thanks for teaching us something new!

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