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Canada - Speaking the Language

The two official languages in Canada are English and French, with English being the major language everywhere apart from Quebec and Nunavut. 85.6% of the population have a working knowledge of English and 30.1% of French. In Nunavut the majority (69.54%) of the population speak Inuktitut, one of the main Inuit languages of Canada, even though English and French are the official languages.

Quebec is the only one out of Canada’s ten provinces with a francophone majority, with its French-speaking population accounting for 90% of all Canada’s francophones. There are a large number of English-speakers in Montreal, in areas such as Côte Saint Luc, yet the province’s second-largest city, Quebec city, is almost completely francophone. The Quebec government and strict language laws promote French exclusively as the common public language, in order to prevent further anglicisation of the population.

An English-speaking tourist in Quebec, particularly in Montreal, should have few problems with communication, as the majority of people know at least a little English, and are lenient with tourists. However, living in Quebec is another matter, and it is advisable to learn French in order to be able to gain employment and integrate into society. Resident anglophones often report resentment and an unwillingness on the part of the Quebecois to make an effort understanding and communicating with them in English. This unwillingness to engage with the English language is understandable in part due to the discouragement of the use of French in Quebec before the passing of the Charter of French Language in 1977, which saw it granted official language status, giving many people the opportunity to finally embrace a cultural identity they had formerly been denied. In 1995 the referendum on whether Quebec would remain a part of Canada saw almost half the population, 49%, vote for independence.

English is taught in primary and secondary schools in Quebec, so most young people know some English, although older people may not have been taught it at school. In rural Quebec you are also much less likely to find people who speak English.

In order to live and work comfortably in Quebec you should try and aim for at least a decent working knowledge of French, and if you are simply planning a holiday you should also brush up on your language skills or at least carry a phrase book with you, since provincial laws require road signs as well as all commercial signage to be in French, although sometimes the English translation is featured as well. The Quebecois also see it as a matter of courtesy that you at least try to communicate with them at first in French, even if you know very little. They will then generally be more inclined to speak English with you or help you out with your efforts communicating in French.

In Quebec the most popular TV shows are produced in Quebec and are therefore all in French. American and British shows and films are also dubbed in French.

The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it, so by simply living in Quebec and being surrounded by French all day every day, many expats are able to pick up enough French to get by on. However, you can speed up the process by attending classes or enrolling on an immersion course.

Useful Resources

- École Québec Monde
The École Québec Monde offers immersion courses for all levels, from complete beginner to expert, in downtown Quebec.
École Québec Monde
335, rue Saint-Joseph Est
Bureau 600
Québec (Québec) G1K 3B4

Director: Viviane Brassard
Director of Studies: Nathalie Tremblay
Phone: +1 418 977-0505
Fax: +1 418 977-2229
Web site:


This immersion school offers small classes sizes and seven levels from beginner to advanced.
Edu-Inter French School
755 Grande-Allée Ouest
Quebec City, QC G1S 1C1
Phone : +1 418 573 5956

-Bouchereau Lingua International

BLI offers part-time, full-time and intensive French courses in Montreal and Quebec city.
70 rue Notre-Dame O., suite 400
Montreal, QC Canada H2Y 1S6
Tel: 514.842.3847
Fax: 514.842.3840
763 rue St-Joseph E., suite 104
Québec, QC Canada
G1k 3C6
Tel: 418.692.1370
Fax: 418.692.6026

YMCA International Language School

The YMCA offer a wide range of daytime and evening courses as well as specialised classes in particular skill areas such as reading and writing.

YMCA International Language School
1440 Stanley St., 5th floor
Montréal, Québec H3A 1P7
Tel: 514 789-8000
Fax: 514-849-5026

A great way for an English-speaker to earn a living in French Canada is to take the teaching route. There is no shortage of teaching positions available in academies and schools, as well as opportunities to coach privately. Experienced or qualified ESL teachers should find work with little problem, although for private tuition and some institutions, relevant qualifications or years of experience aren’t prerequisites. A TEFL certificate is always useful if you’re thinking of teaching English abroad, however, as courses include mandatory teaching practice and prepare you for your first job in the classroom. The CELTA certificate is the most recognised TEFL program in the world, qualifying you to teach English anywhere in the world, and facilitating your access to teaching jobs.

The ILSC offers full and part-time CELTA courses in Old Montreal.

410 Rue St-Nicolas, Suite 300
Montréal, Quebec
Canada H2Y 2P5
Tel: 514.876.4572
Fax: 514.876.4053

There are also opportunities with the British Council, which provides language assistants to primary and secondary schools in rural Quebec, where work mainly focuses on helping students with their spoken English. You can also apply directly to schools and advertise your services as a private tutor in newspapers, online, and by means of posters and flyers. Many expats also find well-paying work translating and interpreting.

Read more about this country

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