Many people outside Canada, don’t really realize that Canada is actually a bilingual country where both French and English are official languages. If you are an English speaker and are thinking about living in Canada, I have laid out when it might make sense for you to learn French.
Does an English speaker need to learn French to live in Canada?
While it’s not a requirement for English speakers to learn French, it can be very beneficial for you to be able to speak French if you plan to live in Canada for long-term. Also, certain regions in Canada only speak French so your life is going to be a lot easier if you are able to converse in French.
Benefits of learning French –
- Pathway to Permanent Residence in Canada – Canada follows a points based immigration system and being able to speak both French and English can help you get more points, making you eligible to be invited to apply for Permanent Residence in Canada.
- You want to live in Quebec or New Brunswick – While a lot of folks in Quebec and New Brunswick are bilingual in French and English, there is still a significant number of people who do not speak English and it can be really hard for you to have any conversation.
- You plan to travel to Quebec / New Brunswick – It will be much easier for you to get by if you speak French in Quebec and New Brunswick.
- You want to work for the Federal Government – If you can speak both English and French, you will have to access to more opportunities to work in the Federal Government.
- You want to work for Provincial Government (Quebec/New Brunswick) – To be eligible for Provincial Government jobs in Quebec, you must be able to speak French (some exceptions apply)
- Access to bilingual opportunities in Private sector – There is a huge demand for bilingual speakers (French and English) and if you speak both languages, Canadian employers would be more willing to hire you.
Learning French to acquire Permanent Residence
To be able to acquire Permanent Residence in Canada, you would need to be fluent in either English or French. The required minimum level can vary depending on the pathway that you have chosen.
Under the current points based system, demonstrating skills in both languages gives you a higher score than those who demonstrate fluency in just a single language.
Living in Quebec or New Brunswick as an English Speaker
While it is definitely possible to live in certain parts of Quebec and New Brunswick as an English speaker, things would go a lot easier if you spoke French as well.
Most importantly learning the language can help you get yourself more immersed within the Francophone culture of Quebec – help you enjoy Canadian French music, movies as well as interact with unilingual French speakers.
My own experience living in Gatineau, Quebec has been that while almost everyone in my region speaks English besides French, things change once I am outside the city where many people might not be able to converse with you in English. It can be very beneficial for you to learn French from that standpoint if you like to explore.
Opportunities For Bilingual Speakers
Being bilingual in Canada has its advantage as there are many opportunities within both private and government sectors where being bilingual in both French and English would be a requirement.
To find bilingual opportunities in the private sector you can use Indeed or Linkedin. Both are popular job search platforms and they also list jobs in the government sector though the list might not be as comprehensive.
Learning French in Canada
There are a ton of programs offered by provincial governments in Canada to help you learn French. These programs are usually FREE or are heavily subsidized! You may also choose to self-study French by watching YouTube videos or using French learning apps.
If you are a newcomer then you can actual access a number of resources by the regional governments that will help you with learning French. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and other provinces as well have a variety of French second language programs.
In my case, I took French classes offered by the College in my region. However, many people also go for online apps like Duolingo that offer Free French courses.
It would be important to ask yourself question if you have the time and effort to learn the language. Only by spending a lot of time would you be able to gain proficiency in French.
Tom Mehra, an Ottawa-based Software Engineer with a Masters in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Dallas, shares insights on local food spots and top attractions in Canada and the US. He’s also a former resident of the US, UK, and India, and in 2023, his blog was nominated for an Ottawa Award by Faces Magazine. He is also a cat sitter.