An English Perspective From a French Point of View

Sitting Down with Student-Athletes Learning in English for the First Time

  • Photo Ion Extebarria

For many Concordia students, this year marks their first time living in a big city.

Having to adapt to the various cultures found in and around Montreal can also be challenging. But what if Concordia was also the first time you were learning in a new language altogether?

For three members of Concordia’s women’s hockey team, defenders Marie-Joëlle Allard and Caroll-Ann Gagné, and forward Anne-Julie Deschênes, coming to Concordia was a huge transition­—not only in the classroom, but also on the ice.

“For me, the transition from French to English was especially hard because I never studied or spoke much English,” said Gagné, who was born and raised in Fermont, Quebec near the Labrador border. “I do think that the transition has been a process. I succeeded my first semester in English, and I know that I still have lots to learn but I also know that I still have months and years to learn.”

Gagné’s usual defensive counterpart, Allard, was in a different boat regarding her transition.

“It’s coming along really well,” said the Victoriaville native. “I actually find that English is a lot easier to learn than French.”

Deschenes, who played with Allard at CEGEP Limoilou, seems to side more with her former teammate than Gagné.

“It’s going really well for me, I keep getting better,” said the Mont-Joli native. “I’m quite satisfied with my grades of last semester, and my teachers have been understanding.”

At the rink, the fact that practices are held in English by coaches Les Lawton and Mike McGrath can make things difficult at times.

Fortunately for the francophones on the team—who account for eight of the 22-player squad—two of their other coaches are French-speaking, Lise Marie-Breton and Dave Paré.

Among their own ranks, the rookie trio say they’re fortunate to always have someone to turn to when they’re stuck thinking of a word or an expression.

“From the very beginning the girls have been very supportive and helpful,” said Gagné. “They’ll help explain what the coaches are saying, and even sometimes the coaches will try to speak to us in French too.”

“They know what we’re going through and really go out of their way to help us,” added Allard. “They want to be there for support, not to laugh at us. And playing with my best friend [Marie-Pier] Cloutier is really a dream. She helps me on and off the ice.”

It also helps to have family, friends and love ones to turn to during the transition for a helping hand.

“My father went through the same struggles and process when he went to study in the United States so he helps me out a lot,” said Deschênes. “My boyfriend also studied CEGEP in English so he knows my situation well.”

It nonetheless begs the question: why attend Concordia University, not only an Anglophone university but one far from the likes of Victoriaville and Fermont, in the first place?

The players’ answers all had their personal touches, with one major thing in common.

“It was definitely because they had the program I wanted to become an athletic therapist,” said Allard, who’s studying exercise science.

“It’s the only university that offers the program so it wasn’t a difficult choice. It also didn’t hurt that when I was playing in CEGEP, Les approached me with the concept of a rebuild in women’s hockey,” she continued.

“And maybe it’ll sound cliché, but learning English was also an interest of mine.”

Concordia also offered the program Deschênes wanted to join.

“I decided to come to Concordia because I really wanted to continue playing hockey while getting my degree. Being in administration, I know that it’ll be very useful, especially considering the John Molson School of Business is a great school,” said Deschênes, who then echoed Allard’s comment. “I also decided to come here because I wanted to learn English.”

Gagné’s explanation was similar.

“I chose to come here definitely for their strong hockey program,” said the psychology major. “But I also did want to learn how to speak and write English because I know how important that’ll be later on in life.”

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