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Is Canada bilingual? Time to give some love to your rusty French!

Is Canada bilingual? Well, its constitution says so. But how is day to day life as a francophone in Canada? Let’s talk about bilingualism in Canada in three questions.

Of course English is kind of mandatory, except in Quebec. But we’ll see the benefits of speaking French if you live or want to live in Canada.

I immigrated to Canada from France in 2009. I’ve been through all the steps of immigration. I’ve lived in Vancouver on the west coast and in Montreal in Quebec. As a result, I know both the anglophone and the francophone sides of Canada. Let me run you through the basics of bilingualism in Canada.

First let’s just say that you don’t absolutely need French to live in Canada. However, there are a few reasons why you want to consider improving your French if you want to live in Canada. Let’s talk about three aspects: day-to-day life, immigration and work.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, head over to my YouTube channel!

First question : Is Canada really bilingual ?

Well, bilingualism is in the constitution so, on the federal level, everything has to be bilingual. If you speak to a customs agent (or any kind federal service) you have the right to be served in English or in French. Let’s say you’re at the border and there are only English-speaking agents, you can ask for a French-speaking agent. If that person is on a break then you may have to wait until they come back… But you do have a right to have a service in French. That’s for all federal services. So, is Canada really bilingual? Technically yes, at the federal level, but it doesn’t mean English and French truly have an equal status.

Mr Justin Trudeau is making a lot of efforts to improve bilingualism in Canada. He is giving some budget to promote francophone and francophonie all across Canada education, health services and things like that. There’s a law in project to recognize in the constitution that the language of the Quebec nation is French. It’s in the constitution of Quebec but they want to include it at the federal level. That would mean a lot for Quebec and for francophonie in Canada. It would reassure everybody that Canada is dedicated to preserving bilingualism in the future.

Let’s not forget the indigenous languages of Canada

I should mention here that the first languages of Canada were neither English nor French. They are both colonial languages. There’s been a cultural genocide aiming at repressing all indigenous cultures including languages. There were enormous amounts of indigenous languages that have been erased or almost erased. They are in the process of being revived. Right now, a lot of young people have an interest in preserving their cultures. They also want to learn the language of their ancestors. So, there’s a huge movement right now and we should encourage that.

We should be curious about those languages. They do have a special place in the Canadian constitutions. But because of their variety and because English and French are so widespread and so convenient for communication purposes, no indigenous language is an official language of Canada. But they are recognized as languages of Canada. So, they do have a special place in the Canadian constitution. And a lot of work is being done as to how we can promote them even more. In that regards, to the question “Is Canada bilingual?”, we should answer that it is plurilingual or multilingual instead.

Day-to-day life: What does it mean that Canada is bilingual

Is Canada bilingual in Quebec?

First, if you live in Quebec, Quebec is francophone. So, the official language of Quebec is French. It means that provincial services will be conducted in French. Business will be conducted mainly in French although, in day-to-day life, in Montreal you can do a lot of business in English. You can also receive a lot of services in English. To preserve the French language, Quebec is really pushing for French to be the everyday language in the province. If you get a mail from your tax center or anything paperwork, everything will be in French. As a consequence, it’s definitely a good idea to have some basics. You should be able to communicate in French and understand what the government wants from you.

is canada bilingual

What’s special about New Brunswick

There’s another province that’s a bit special. Because Quebec is francophone, every other province is anglophone, so only English is the official language. But New Brunswick, a province on the east of Quebec, has two official languages. So, New Brunswick has both English and French as their official language because they have a huge Acadian community (Acadie). But, in day-to-day life English is the main language, except in those francophone Acadian communities. 

Bilingual packaging

Regarding day-to-day life, bilingualism also means that packaging is bilingual so if you go to the grocery store and buy something that’s made for the Canadian market, they do have translations in English and in French. Which means that, if you’re learning French, it’s very convenient: you can look at the package on one side, check out the French, see what you understand, flip it and look at the English side and compare what you understood or read instructions in French.

So, it’s very convenient if you’re learning French. You can decide to do everything in French as much as possible and that’s gonna be a huge help in your learning path. Also, companies’ websites are usually bilingual. If they do business all across Canada. They have a French and an English version. So, I would encourage you to check out the French version or check out French reviews of products. That way, it’s a little bit more immersion for you and a lot more material. And you can usually compare both English and French versions to test your comprehension.

Now, regarding bilingual packaging, sometimes they take shortcuts and they have translations that are, I don’t know how they did their translations, I mean… Even Google Translate does better! But I’ve seen some really funny things on packages. I’ve got a couple examples here for you in this video.

Make francophone friends everywhere

Bilingualism in Canada also means that there are francophone communities and francophile people (people who like to speak French) all over the country. So, if you’re learning French and are looking for people to practice with, look for francophone communities in your city and connect with those people, have real conversations, and meaningful interactions. That’s going to be a serious boost for your French! Don’t be afraid! Everybody’s super nice and I’m sure you will be able to find some friends and make great connections thanks to your French.

And keep the motivation to keep learning! That means we also need you a French speaker, a learner to help us increase francophonie in Canada, to be a part of that movement to bring French to the forefront and to really convince anglophones that learning French is good, that socializing with French people will bring a new opening to their world, a new perspective to their world. And, please, help us spread more French joy in Canada.

The flags of Francophone communities in Canada

Let’s look at Canadian immigration as a French speaker

Immigrating to Quebec

If you speak French, it’s a huge asset to immigrate to Canada. First, if you want to live in Quebec, you have no choice. When you present your application to the CSQ, Certificate the Selection of Quebec. Quebec requires all immigrants to speak French or to prove they have a B2 level in French. B2 is quite high. Now, there are ways to “fake” a B2. I mean, even if you’re not fully B2 in all the areas of the language, you can study strategically to reach a B2 at the test and that’s all you want to come in, that’s all you need. And then, once you’re in Quebec, you can improve your French to a higher level.

If you want to prepare strategically for your test, you can contact me. I have a very effective strategy in place that I’ve tested with many students. And that guarantees that you will get the confidence to present yourself at the test and to perform well to get that B2 level. If you put in the work, there’s no reason why you couldn’t get that B2 level. So, contact me, if you’re planning long term or if you already have your test date and really want to make sure you’re ready. And you know everything there is to know about those tests, send me an email, leave a comment with your questions and I will get back to you.

Immigrating outside of Quebec as a Francophone

It gets interesting if you want to live outside of Quebec. Because outside of Quebec, French is not mandatory but as they’re trying to bring in more francophones in the country especially teachers they’re encouraging francophones to immigrate outside of Quebec. Which means the immigration process can be a little faster and easier if you speak French and you want to live outside of Quebec. So, for example, there’s the express entry system.

That’s immigration at the federal level (Entrée express) and if you speak French at a B2 level, you do get extra points in your application. If you don’t have enough points to reach the threshold then French may give you those extra points you need. So, it’s a really good strategy to focus on your French if you already have the basics putting a little bit more effort and your dream of coming to Canada might become true thanks to your performance in French.

“Mobilité francophone” work permit

And there’s also a very interesting work permit. So it’s not permanent residence, it’s tied to an employer, to having a job offer, it’s called mobility francophone. It means that if you find an employer and they need a person who speaks French to some degree, who is able to perform tasks in French, then they can do a contract, a job offer, and you can ask for mobilité francophone work visa. I think it’s two years and quite straightforward to receive. It’s a lot faster than going through the regular process of having a work permit.

So, I would really encourage you to check out these options. If you can find an employer in Canada, know that it’s an option for them. And you can contact an immigration advisor that would have all the details about how to proceed. So which leads me to the third point about working in Canada when you do speak French.

Working in Canada when you speak French

If you’re a teacher, come here quick!

First, at the moment, if you’re a teacher, you speak French and you want to come to Canada, apply for Ontario teacher positions because they do need francophone teachers. They put a huge budget to recruit more francophone teachers because they have a huge wait list for francophone schools or French immersion schools and there are not enough teachers. So, you don’t need to have perfect French you just need at least like a B2, C1 and you will be perfectly fine. Don’t stress, that’s enough and you will learn on the job, and you will improve your French as you go! But please do not be shy and apply. Those little anglophone kids need you to spark the love for French in their life.

Working for the federal government

But that’s not all! If you want to work for the federal government, if you have a permanent residence or a citizenship of Canada and you want to work for the federal government, if you do speak both languages, both official languages, you have a higher pay, you have access to better jobs. So that’s definitely a good option and there are tests every few years to just reassess your abilities in French.

You don’t need to be perfect you just need to be able to have a conversation in your work environment. Work on your confidence and if you need a hand with that I’m here for you! And we can definitely work on your language skills but also on your ability to have conversations and interactions in French because that’s really all that matters in the end.

Working for a Quebec corporation

In Montreal, a lot of companies do work in English but your colleagues are francophones so you will have better relationships if you speak French. You will be able to connect better with them. You could have a better relationship with your boss and network more efficiently to get a promotion in the company. It’s definitely a good idea to improve your French if you work for a French company even though the work language is in English.

If you live outside of Montreal, you have no other options but to work on your French because it’s very rare to find english-speaking jobs or english-speaking communities outside of Montreal. There are a few spots here and there but it would really help you to be proficient in French to have conversations.

Being bilingual, an advantage everywhere

Is Canada bilingual outside of Quebec? Definitely not! But if you are bilingual, you’ll get an edge over all the monolingual Anglophones around you!

Even when I lived in Vancouver, there were more opportunities for bilingual people… not even bilingual necessarily. Fluent is enough. If you can speak English and French, even if it’s not perfect, there are more opportunities, especially in customer service. Companies need to be able to provide customer service in English and in French throughout Canada. So, in Vancouver there were companies like Sage, MEC that recruit bilinguals or people who are fluent in French and in English

Because there’s a shortage of workforce, their expectations of fluency is a little less, probably, than your idea of fluency. So don’t be shy. Work on your French until you’re confident enough, then apply and roll with it. You will learn on the job.

So, that was on the “employee” side of things.

Being a bilingual business owner

Free programs

Now, if you’re a business owner it’s also really interesting. When I had my bakery in Vancouver, I had access to a lot of help for free! Free mentorship, free business programs, free training just because I was a francophone and there were grants for organizations. So, the federal government gives money to francophone organizations outside of Quebec to offer services in French. So, you have a lot of opportunities to network to receive help and I’m forever grateful to SDÉ (Société du Développement Économique de la C-B) and other organizations like this. They helped me put my business together, run my business and network and find really interesting connections and friendships.

Networking

Even if your French isn’t perfect do not hesitate to network with those people. If you do speak French at least on some level and if you feel confident having a conversation it will open up a lot of perspectives for you. So, if you want to work on your French let me know and get in touch. We’ll see how we can improve your confidence and improve your language skills so that you can have access to those opportunities as well. All right?

So, is Canada bilingual? Not completely but…

Being a francophone in Canada is great and you don’t even need to be perfect in French. Proficient doesn’t equal perfect! We’re surrounded by English-speaking people so even just an intermediate, high intermediate French will change things for you. And when you start practicing when you start interacting in French the motivation to keep learning and to keep improving will come. And as you learn more, as you practice more, you will improve.

Even if you’re still a bit shaky with your French, in reality, it’s just about starting that virtuous circle. I’m here to start that process or to help you at any point of the journey you’re at now. Check out this page to learn more about my services. There are packages that are more geared towards false beginners or intermediate levels. I also have packages for advanced learners who want to polish their French skills to find the confidence to call themselves fluent or bilingual.

Leave your comments below with any questions you have about bilingualism in Canada being a francophone in Canada or anything that comes to mind about Canada or immigrating or living here and I’ll be happy to answer!

You’re ready to take your French seriously and give it a chance? Book an introductory session to discuss about your situation and your projects!

About Cathy

Française & Canadienne. Actuellement à Vancouver, BC. Langues: Bilingue français/anglais. Espagnol intermédiaire. Débutante en japonais et thai. Ai su parler parler allemand dans ma jeunesse. Communicante devenue pâtissière et entrepreneur. Bâtisseuse de ponts entre les cultures. Guide dans l’apprentissage des langues sans complexes. Eternelle voyageuse🛪

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