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The current state of French in Canada

By December 9, 2007

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According to the 2006 Canadian language census, there's good news and bad news for French speakers.

About 25% of Canadians are francophone; however, they are concentrated in Québec. Outside of Québec, only 4% of Canadians speak French as a native language. French is studied less and less as a second language, and those who learned it in high school don't tend to remember it. 17.4% of Canadians are bilingual.

Immigrants to Québec are more likely to use or choose French as their primary language, while immigrants to other provinces tend to favor English. Yet for the first time, the number of Francophones in Montréal dropped to less than 50%.


December 11, 2007 at 1:15 pm
(1) Larry says:

And, in Canada, dollars to donuts, the vast majority of the 17.4% of bilingual Canadians have French as their primary language. In New Brunswick, which is the one province that is supposedly bi-lingual, you will meet many many monolingual Anglophones but almost all Francophones are bi-lingual.

December 11, 2007 at 1:24 pm
(2) Alan Sewards says:

It is really two solitudes. A large percentage of Ontario schoolchildren get a bilingual education, but a few years of not using the language soon erodes what they learned. Draconian legislation in Quebec requires all children whose parents were not educated in English to attend a French school. Shops are forbidden to have English signs. All road signs are in French, even STOP is banned and replaced by ARRET, which is not used in France! Its a sad mess.

December 11, 2007 at 3:20 pm
(3) Bob Tackett says:

I got to spend two weeks in Quebec City in 2004. I wasn’t too aware of the schism between English and French Canada. I’m from the south U.S., actually trying to help a friend there, but still I got the cold shoulder from a French clerk because I couldn’t speak French. Quebec flags, not Canadian flags fly everywhere. Snowbirds from Quebec drive near my house on the way south a lot. At a local station, one saw my Laval Université t-shirt (it can be very warm here in the winter… it’s about 77 today, Dec. 11) and seemed absolutely mad that I couldn’t speak French. That was 3 years ago. A month or so ago, I saw an Anglo Canuck at the same station. He seemed absolutely incensed at the Quebecers, and wished they’d go ahead and separate.

I sure hate to see the Canadiens in such a state. I do believe that language is a greater divider than race, moreso than geography.

December 11, 2007 at 6:46 pm
(4) Brenda says:

I am an english speaking canadian, married to a quebecois. Our children only go to francophone schools where, english is not permitted. I fully support this because, after spending time researching french history in Canada, I’m beginning to see how hard it is for them to keep their language and their heritage strong, among a predominantly english society. Why should they have stop signs in english? Before we criticize, we have to take the time to look back in history and try to understand their situation a little better.

December 12, 2007 at 12:40 am
(5) Matt says:

I studied and lived in Montreal for a while and while I loved the city and its people, but contrary to the comments above, I found it very difficult to actually use French outside the classroom. I found francophones to launch fully into English at the slightest hint of an anglophone accent. (My French is very good, but I certainly don’t sound local!) In a restaurant I was actually berated for “speaking French when I was English” as the server admonished! I eventually moved to the East of Montreal where English speakers are rare and if you want to immerse yourself in French, that will be your part of town. Otherwise if you find yourself in Centre Ville, the Plateau, etc…you might use the occasion to brush up your English. I’ve often thought of sharing my experience with the Office quebecois de la langue francaise which takes great worry from the seeming dominence of the English language in Quebec. My experience was echoed by my classmates, many of whom gave up all attempts to even try to speak French around town. My theory is that to locals, French is the language of their culture, but English is the language of communication to the greater world.

December 12, 2007 at 6:48 am
(6) MGH says:

Warning…this is a long rant:

When Hot Dog becomes ‘Chien Chaud’ and a Smokey (smoked meat sandwich particular to Montreal ; Jewish/Russian immigrants) becomes ‘Viande fumee’ it’s really too much. My wife had a bilingual English/French sign posted on the office door and an inspector made her change it such that French was above the English, and the French had to be written in larger letters. People moved to Montreal in the 50s and 60s…it was the happening place. Company HQ’s were there and lots of action and growth. Many people (& HQs) left in the late 70s esp. to Ontario. The Separatist politicians drove people into split camps of English (mostly Mtrl) vs. French (esp. Mtrl East, rest of Quebec). Esp. the politicians used divisive issues like this to get elected…rationally there is no economic or logical reason to separate. Plenty of protection (excessive) for the French language in Quebec. Like it or not English has become the primary international language (most people’s second language) for a common ground between peoples worldwide, esp. for business/trade/travel. It used to be French in the 1800′s, now it’s English, in the future Chinese? Go with the flow or be broken…

I live in Switzerland, travel all over Europe, Mideast, Asia etc. No one makes it an issue if you speak English EXCEPT in Paris and Quebec.

I speak French, English and German and always try to pick up 5-10 phrases of each country I visit…I do not understand why always the hassle in Paris and Quebec…even in deepest Urals/Russia…no prob with English or German.

By the way…despite this I still LOVE Quebec and Montreal as one of my favourite destinations in the world!

Rant over…

December 16, 2007 at 2:13 pm
(7) Allison says:

I grew up in Montreal, on the West Island where one could live and die without ever speaking a word of French. The dominance of the Anglo minority in those days (the 50′s and 60′s) was complete and it was only as a young adult that I realized how lopsided and unfair the whole thing was. Of course, the pendulum swung far the other away in the 70′s and 80′s and it was a difficult period for everyone. Lately I’ve noticed that there is more of a middle ground: more acceptance by francophones of the realities of the global dominance of English, and a lot more willingness on the part of anglos to meet the efforts of those who promote the French language halfway. I travel all over Quebec as part of my work and I find that the more effort I make to speak French (one must resist at all costs the lure of speaking English to a francophone who sincerely wants to practice his English!)the more willing people are to help me. In downtown Montreal there is no question that you can speak English wherever you go if you are so inclined. I agree that the language police can be incredibly over-bearing but I understand the need to have a watchdog…without it, English has a natural tendency to dominate. I realized this one day when I asked a young woman with whom I was working what she called a mouse pad in French. “Mais, ben sur, c’est un mouse pad!” she replied. Mais non, c’est un tapis souris…I rest my my case.

July 30, 2009 at 11:21 am
(8) Joan Kind says:

In 2007 my husband and I took a driving trip through parts of Canada. In Toronto, a young waitress wondered why we would go to Quebec. She said that in English speaking Canada everything is bilingual, but in Quebec they only have French. She was anxious about driving in Quebec because everything was in French and she didn’t understand French. We were a little nervous after hearing this, but not for long. When we drove into the Province of Quebec we noticed that all the road signs were graphic. For instance, I find it hard to believe a driver would not understand a picture of a figure with a shovel beside a pile of dirt. We encountered no rudeness at all from French speaking people. An English speaking tour guide in Montreal, however, was incensed when I questioned the reasons why Montreal had fallen on hard times since the secession vote. She said all the large banking and other financial groups had moved their home offices to Toronto in fear of Quebec seceding. I questioned whether they had done this to influence the vote. She didn’t like my question. In one restaurant, I was trying to use my rudimentary French and the hostess politely asked me if I would like an English menu. In one small town at a mom and pop motel, the desk clerk was studying English and she was interested to know that we were studying French.

September 10, 2010 at 8:59 am
(9) Shar Karringten says:

I am a Canadian from Toronto. My degree is in franch linguistics. Due to school, I have spent time in various parts of Quebec and due to work, have had business relationships with various companies in Quebec and France. I now work overseas for a french company and have spent time in France as well. The English/French thing has always been exacerbated by the politicians. It almost wouldn’t be an issue if they kept their noses out of it, but as for Quebecers being rude to people, it’s a far rarer occurence once you’re outside of Montreal. Those outside of Montreal understand it’s of far more economic benefit to remain within Canada. The policitcians use the french/english thing as a safe soapbox from which to try to get elected and nothing more. As for the french from France being rude, they’re rude to everyone, it’s not personal. Ask anyone in Europe. They’ve just perfected the “I don’t give a crap” attitude. Striking is a national past-time. The rest of Europe finds them annoying but highly entertaining at the same time. It’s a love/hate relationship. However you wil find that it’s those that do need to know another language or who have travelled more are the ones who will give you less of a hard time about not speaking french. On another note, the french from France have a very difficult time understanding anyone who speaks Qubecois.

February 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm
(10) Caroline says:

Quebec is a great place, people are warm and friendly. When we were lost, more than one person stopped and asked if they could help. Nevertheless, it’s still a bizarre place. Her history is full of astounding political abuses (see Maurice Duplessis). It was considered a very backward place until the Quiet Revolution when they threw off the shackles of the Catholic Church and became a secular society.
Most of the trouble is indeed caused by the politicians. They fantasize about being the first ruler of the independent state of Quebec. There does exist a serious separatist movement but they’re a minority, and most people just want to live peacefully. Montreal is charming but a little run-down at the heels. Some feel that Quebec gets an unfair share of the federal government handouts because they throw tantrums and threaten to separate unless they get what they want.
There were picketers outside a coffee shop chain “The Second Cup”. They wanted the sign to be in French. The Supreme Court has also ruled that the “French only” law on signs is unconstitutional.
Brenda writes “Why should they have stop signs in english?” Do your homework: STOP is not English! The original word is French “stopper”. From Larousse: the intransitive use of the verb would be: la voiture a stoppé net. Nowhere else in the francophone world is ARRÊT used on stop signs. I understand the deeply-felt desire of this group of people to preserve their language and their culture. (This identity is Quebecois, not French! French-Canadians care less and less about France and her language these days). English is an increasingly dominant language; it is the language of business/computers/ aviation/diplomacy. All the young people I know there want to learn English. It’s hip, it’s cool, it’s the language of the Internet and it’s bound to get you a better job. It may be sad but it’s the way life is. As the older generation in Quebec dies off, we are going to see more and more English.

March 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm
(11) Nicolas says:

@to Caroline,

Stopper in French supposedly comes from…. To stop! Also, stopper in French always take the double P while in English, it is the case only if stop is used as a past participle. Therefore Brenda was right, STOP is not French and based on Bill 101 should only be used with ARRÊT.

The rest of your post appears to be mostly a misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge of Quebec in general. But nonetheless, you are entitled to your opinion.


March 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm
(12) Dana says:

Since only 21 per cent of Canadians, and only four per cent of those outside Quebec speak French, Canada’s language laws are sadly antiquated and outdated. Think of the cost saving of having only one official language spoken by the vast majority. Flights would also be more enjoyable not having to hear every instruction repeated in French. With so many Canadians speaking other languages – it’s time our MPs got in step with the times and voted to return Canada to one official language.

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