Montreal-area grocery store helps newcomers learn French

Provigo frenchification coordinator Martine Coulombe says newcomer employees wear a button that reads, "J’apprends le Français. I'm learning French," as the store offers hires free French lessons during work hours. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

A grocery store on the South Shore of Montreal has found a creative way of ensuring more of their employees can communicate with customers in French. 

With many of their new hires having recently immigrated to Quebec, a Provigo in Boucherville’s workers, like Somayeh Safa, are wearing a button that says they are learning French and asks people to speak slowly.

The button reads “J’apprends le Français. I’m learning French. Merci de parler lentement. Thank you for speaking slowly. And it’s made a big difference,” says Provigo frenchification coordinator and social media manager, Martine Coulombe.

The company is also offering two hours of free French lessons per week to employees during their regular shifts to help them learn. 

“Customers are very happy about that because they knew that we hired a lot of newcomers, but [customers] didn’t know that the [hires] didn’t speak French,” says Coulombe.

She says it all started with new hires who came to Quebec for refuge from the Ukraine war. A language barrier led to the store offering support with French classes. Newcomer employees, like Safa from Iran, have embraced the French learning opportunity ever since.

Somayeh Safa at Provigo Le Marché Boucherville on March 28, 2024. (CREDIT: Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews Image)

Safa told CityNews that she herself has been in Quebec for a short 10 months. Having learned English in Iran as a young student, Safa, also a trained microbiologist, says she’s long been out of practice and prefers to put her French to use every opportunity she can.

In the event there’s a customer whom she doesn’t fully understand, Safa can point to her button. In turn, clients are happy to proceed with patience, the recent hire explained.

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