Immigration and Professional Transitions: The Importance of Language

2013-2014 Issue 2

The Importance of Language for Cultural Integration

Integration is challenging for any immigrant, and those who arrive in Montreal are no exception. The city’s culture and language can appear to be daunting for newcomers, but help is readily available for those who wish to call Quebec home.

“It’s an important issue in Montreal,” says Dr. James Archibald, Director of Translation and Written Communication at the McGill University School of Continuing Studies. “Learning the local language will allow you to participate more actively and meaningfully in Quebec society, and start out on the path to citizenship in the full sense of the word.”

Language can also be the key to your professional goals. Maia Korotkina, Career and Transition Advisor at McGill University School of Continuing Studies, sees it as an advantage. “Your language skills are an asset,” she explains. “Because Montreal is already bilingual and active in international markets, there’s demand for bilingual or even trilingual employees. Employers are actually more likely to hire those with advanced language skills than with a stronger technical profile.”

As a result, Montreal is full of successful immigrants who have made a smooth transition. Here are two of their personal stories:


Jorge_squareJorge Alberto Diaz
Chief Executive Officer, Domäne Investment Group Inc.
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia

“I attended Italian schools in Columbia, but I consider Spanish my first language. I learned English in the U.S. and took French while earning my MBA in Switzerland, so I knew the basics when I arrived to start my own company. I liked Montreal right away and I wanted to get better at the local language; I didn’t just want to be able to order at Starbucks. I want to speak to my clients in French, understand the culture, and be able to write well. And I have a five-year old daughter who will be studying French too.
I began part-time night courses at McGill University. The teachers get to know their students, so it feels like home. I have access to all my assignments, readings and grades on the internet, which is very useful. I plan to finish all the courses and earn my certificate next year.”


nataliaNatalia Helena Nery e Silva
Executive Secretary, Universidade Federal da Paraiba
Hometown: Joao Pessoa, Brazil

“At home, I spoke Brazilian Portuguese all the time. I started studying English when I was 13, and earned a university degree in English and Portuguese language and literature. I’ve also done some translation work, and I wanted to add another language to work with. In 2011 I spent two weeks studying in Montreal and had a very positive experience. I wanted to come back permanently to work here, and consequently, continue learning French.
I returned to Montreal to attend McGill’s intensive French program during the summer of 2014. After I completed the course, I felt more confident talking to other people in French. I could go anywhere and be clear about what I wanted to say. I believe I will improve even more once I finish the last level of the program. It sure makes us feel more at home in Quebec.”


Mastering a language can seem like an impossible task for those experiencing a new culture. Thankfully, courses are offered in a variety of formats: full-time and part-time, days, evenings and weekends, and even online.

Combined with your international qualifications, it could open new doors. “Many professionals have made a career out of their language skills through translation, interpretation and international trade,” says Korotkina. “Tackle your obstacle and make it a strength.”

With a positive attitude and a clear understanding of your professional abilities, Montreal will come to feel like home.

McGill University School of Continuing Studies offers intensive, part-time and online language courses in English and French, as well as translation courses in English, French and Spanish. Please visit their website for an outline of upcoming sessions.

This article is available in Spanish on Noticias Montreal: Inmigración y transición profesional: La importancia de los idiomas

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