Canada: A country with official bilingualism
Canada has two official languages: English and French. English is the most commonly spoken language in the majority of provinces and territories. Outside Quebec, 82 percent of Canadians speak English.
French is the main language spoken in Quebec and in some areas in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba. In addition, there are French-speaking communities in most other parts of Canada. Quebec also has a large minority of English-speaking residents.
All official federal government services, publications and documents are available in both English and French.
The importance of language skills
Good English or French language skills are very important to help you settle in Canada. You may choose to focus on learning or improving either English or French. This will likely depend on which of the two languages most people speak in the area where you live.
Strong English or French language skills are important for many reasons, such as:
- Obtaining a job that matches your skills and experience;
- Obtaining post-secondary education or training;
- Accessing services;
- Helping your children with school work;
- Meeting and interacting with people; and
- Passing the language requirement for citizenship.
Newcomers come to Canada with different levels of French or English. Some are beginners in both languages and others speak them both very well. Many are in between and would benefit from further language training. It takes time, energy and commitment to improve your language skills, but the rewards are worth the effort. If you do not already speak one of Canada’s official languages at an advanced level, we encourage you to take steps to improve your French or English as soon as you arrive in Canada.
If you already speak one of Canada’s two official languages at a high level, you should consider making an effort to learn the other one. In many parts of Canada, the ability to speak both English and French is a major asset for finding a good job and participating fully in all aspects of society.
Taxpayer-funded language classes
In Canada, most newcomers who are permanent residents are eligible for free taxpayer-funded language classes.
For children and youth: the primary and secondary school systems provide English and French classes for children and youth (see the section on Education).
For adults: many programs offer language classes to help adult newcomers improve their language skills. These language programs have many advantages:
- Classes are taught by qualified instructors.
- They are often available in a classroom with a small group of other adults or through distance education (that is, on the Internet or through printed materials sent to you at home).
- Classes can be full-time or part-time, during the day, evening or on weekends.
- They provide language training and information to help you settle in Canada.
- Some programs may offer funding to cover the cost of child care while you are studying and the cost of transportation to and from your classes. Child care services are sometimes available on site.
There are a number of different types of language classes available:
- General language classes at many levels.
- Classes that teach advanced and workplace specific language skills.
- Classes that teach literacy and language (for people who have difficulty reading and writing in any language).
- Classes for people with special needs.
Registering for taxpayer-funded language classes
Federal, provincial and territorial taxpayer-funded language classes are offered in all provinces and territories.
To begin language classes funded by the federal government, you must first get an assessment. This assessment is simply to find out your current language skills. To get an assessment, visit a language assessment centre in your city and say that you are interested in taking language classes. You can find the address and contact information for an assessment centre near you at www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/map/services.asp.
After your assessment, staff will help you decide what language class is best for you. They will also provide you with a referral to a school so that you can begin classes.
If you would like to find out your current language level before doing a formal language assessment, you can complete the self-assessment test at www.clb-osa.ca.
To find information about other language training programs funded by the provinces or territories, visit the website for newcomers of the province or territory in which you live (for links, see the section on Sources of information). You can also get information on all taxpayer-funded language training programs available to you from a local immigrant-serving organization (for addresses and contact information, consult www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/map/services.asp).
Private language classes
You may choose to pay for language classes at a private language school as an alternative to taxpayer-funded language classes.
Source: Welcome to Canada: What you should know
www.cic.gc.ca, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013.