During the summer of 2006, Leonora Laput hopped onto a Quebec City transit bus to explore her new home.
The old buildings, lush trees and distant mountains along the route — scenery uncharacteristic of her native Philippines— excited her, until she clued in that she was lost.
“I didn’t realize that I was already at Val-Bélair,” said Laput, who had ridden all the way to a suburb north of the Jean Lesage International Airport. “The bus reached the end of the route where everybody goes off, and so that’s when I got off, too.”
The only French verb Laput knew at the time was perdre, meaning to lose. So, she repeated it to strangers passing by until they caught on and were kind enough to drive her back to her home in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood.
That experience would later lead Laput, now 42 and fluent in French, to organize language lessons for Filipinos new to the province, to help them avoid getting stuck like she did.
“I’m not a professional or a certified teacher. I just want to help,” she said. “[The lessons] are meant to give the students a base so they would find it easier to learn French.”
There are about 35,000 Filipinos living in Quebec, 3,400 of whom arrived between 2011 and 2016, according to the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa.
Many newcomers are specialized workers who come to fill labour demands.
Laput began her online Mag-French Tayo lessons, which is Tagalog for “Let’s learn French,” in January.
Twice a week for 90 minutes, a few dozen Filipinos in Quebec City attend Laput’s evening classes on video call. There are also participants who are in the Philippines and planning to move to Quebec.
In Laput’s slides, she explains verb tenses, sentence structure and sometimes even common Québécois expressions to help her students familiarize themselves with the local culture.
“She uses Tagalog and English to explain the words,” said Victor Manansala, one of the students who has attended since the first lesson. “It’s helpful because it’s easier to understand.”
Manansala, 45, moved to Quebec City in 2019 to work for an auto repair company. His workplace offered French lessons he could follow after his shifts, but they were cancelled six months after he started due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although disappointed those courses did not continue, Manansala said he believes Laput’s classes are enabling him to learn more and expose himself to more advanced notions.
Hurdles to learning
Laput is active in the Filipino community and works primarily as a French-Tagalog interpreter with the local health board.
“French is hard to learn and can be frustrating. So I see people give up because they’re mainly here for work,” she said. “I try to make it as convenient as possible.”
Schedules and transportation are often obstacles for some newcomers when it comes to traditional in-person French classes, Laput said. Many don’t own vehicles and have trouble reaching the locations of the lessons.
Laput allows her students to hop in and out whenever they want. She has noticed some students even eat dinner in front of their computer during the lessons because that is what works for them.
“I put in a lot of effort, and it’s very time consuming, but it also helps me keep my knowledge fresh,” she said about her weekly lessons. “I hope to make them more confident and more inspired to strive harder to learn the language.”
For Laput, the car ride home from Val-Bélair in 2006 motivated her to enrol in French courses then and there.
The classes she now offers for free, on her own time, are on hold for the summer to give herself and her students a break. But Laput said she hopes to resume classes in the fall.
“I don’t want them to end up like me, taking the bus somewhere to explore the city and then get lost.”