Immigration Canada: Bilingual Canada: French

Canada is officially a bilingual country but, with nearly 60% of the population speaking English as their mother-tongue, and only 24% speaking French as their first language. Canada is mostly a bilingual nation on “paper only” but curiously French is not the only linguistic minority in Canada

There are two varieties of French in Canada: Acadian and French-Canadian (or Québécois French), and they differ in terms of accent and local lexis.  Acadians are descendents of 17th century settlers in the province of Nova Scotia, and French-Canadians are generally known as descendents of French settlers in the province of Québec in the same century. 

The French language spoken in Canada (both Québécois and Acadian varieties) is substantially different from Standard French from France.  This is because of a long history of French in Canada, with the original settlers coming from parts of France other than Paris, who continued to use the French from the Ancien Régime, while the Standard French in France used today evolved instead from 18th century bourgeois Parisian French.   The pronunciation and vocabulary of French in Canada is quite different from International French, and a French person or a Belgian might find it difficult to understand a Québecer, like a Texan might find it hard to understand a Welsh-speaker, for example. 

Canadian French also contains a large number of Anglicisms, which is to be expected, since Canada is a bilingual country, and Québec borders the United States (although while French people say ‘weekend’ and ‘parking’, French-Canadians say ‘fin de semaine’ and ‘stationnement’).  Some popular anglicisms in Québec are: anyway (anyway); chum (male friend, boyfriend); checker (to check); cute (cute).

Canada is often described as a multicultural nation. But what does that mean? Simply stated, it means that Canadians are not of any one cultural background, race or heritage. Instead, Canadians today reflect a vast diversity of cultural heritages and racial groups. This multicultural diversity is a result of centuries of immigration.

The greater the diversity of the racial and cultural mix, the greater the need for tolerance and openness in accepting one another as fellow Canadians. With globalization and the ever-increasing movement of people from one country to another, the challenge of appreciating and accommodating cultural differences has become a universal experience. A multicultural policy that is sensitive to the needs of both long-time residents and the newly arrived will probably meet with the greatest success. Canada’s future depends on the commitments of all its citizens to a unified Canadian identity, while still taking pride in the uniqueness of their individual heritage

It’s very important and helpful if an inmmigrant coming to Canada speaks, write and reads well the French Language.

 Of the 251,511 immigrants officially welcomed to Canada a couple of years ago, approximately 17.8 percent of them arrived directly in Quebec. Most immigrants to Canada come to Ontario, but since the language most commonly used in Quebec is French, that province attracts a lot of immigration from Africa (that includes not only the countries south of the Sahara but also the countries on the Mediterranean) where French is still widely spoken.

But do all immigrants arriving in Quebec speak French? Far from it – 58 percent of the people who decided to land in Quebec in 2006 spoke French or had the basics. The rest did not speak a word. It is no wonder that the Quebec government is dedicating a lot of attention and money to teaching French to the remaining 42 percent.

For obvious reasons, wherever you are, knowing the language is a big help in settling down and absorbing the culture of the country to which you have decided to immigrate. It will help you get a job, find a place to live and make friends. You may be able to survive in Montreal speaking only English, but once you start wandering in the rest of the province, you had better make sure you are good at sign language!

So, what can you do in Quebec to learn French? Well, the government is really helping out. There are several programs in place, or soon to be, to ease you into learning the other official language of Canada (yes, there are 2 official languages here).

The government of Quebec has a program in place, in participation with local universities, settlement agencies and school boards. Before you do anything, you should check out the website of the immigration ministry from the government of Quebec. If your French is not good enough yet, you can still browse through the information in either English or Spanish; just click on the link and it will bring you to the proper page. All the information is centralized there and it will help you decide if you can commit to a 30 hours/week schedule for several weeks, depending on your progress rate and initial knowledge of the language. There are of course different levels of courses, so no matter what your skills are, whether you need to learn the language from a beginner’s level, refresh your school memories or simply make sure that your French is up-to-date and on the same level as the current business environment, you will find something that suits you.

There is also the possibility of doing it part time. In 2006-2007, a total of 9,748 immigrants participated in full time French courses (all levels included) and 10,398 in part time ones. Most of those persons were women, taking advantage of the financial support for day care (see next page). A large majority of the courses were also given in Montreal (approximately 71 percent), but this is not surprising since most of the immigration in Quebec is absorbed by Montreal, much like Toronto in Ontario.

There are, of course, the regular local settlement agencies, or “Carrefours d’intégration” (roughly translated, Integration squares). The services there may vary. 

These Integration squares will likely forward you to the ministry of immigration since the main activity of these organizations throughout the province is to help you find a place to live and of course a job, plus helping with all the administrative formalities that you have to cope with when you arrive in a new country. The other reason why they will do so is because the courses offered are very well-designed and accessible to most of the immigrants. Of course, if you are looking for a very specific kind of course, they will be able to forward you to the proper education facility or company.

There is also an internet based databank of a wide range of exercises (over a thousand), from pronunciation to vocabulary, grammar to educational games. You can access this databank from the immigration Quebec website. This databank was consulted in 2006-2007 more than 232,000 times for the French pages, and more that 17,000 times for the English or Spanish pages.

There is also an online service that should be available in January for those of you who want to learn on their own. The government of Quebec struck a deal with Bell Canada to set up the service which will enable those who already have the basics to improve on them and learn more about the province and the social codes.

The other nice thing about the involvement of the government of Quebec is that they are financially supporting those who apply for French lessons. The assistance is not enough to live off of, but it could help if you have to leave your child in day care for example. However, some conditions apply, so make sure you verify everything before starting. The conditions are standard in every province for this kind of benefits. For example, one of them is that you need to have a landed immigrant status. Follow this link to find all the info you need.

Learning French will open doors both personally and professionally – and not just in Quebec – so it’s something worth doing no matter where in Canada you live either as regular inmigrant or a busisness person.

While I wouldn’t recommend starting an online business for everyone, for many people it’s one of the best ways to generate income without a regular job. It has certainly worked disgustingly well for me. If you’re interested in learning more about this option, please check out Start Your Own Successful Online Business   for details.

Marisol Diaz  is  an experienced workshop presenter, bilingual information designer, info-Preneuer;  career and  a business facilitator . She  has been writing on legal research and Canada immigration law since 2006. contact her @

NOTE: No attorney/client relationship is formed through the submission or viewing of this article. This article is not intended as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. The facts of every case are different and individualized advice should be sought from an attorney before proceeding with any case.

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