Reading – Do All Canadians Speak English and French?


I get asked this question all the time: Why aren’t you bilingual? I thought ALL Canadians spoke English and French!? [Someone who is ‘bilingual’ can speak and understand two languages.]

Canada is officially a bilingual country. Across the country, all government services are available in English or French. All our packaging, from clothing to cereal boxes, must be in English and French. Everyone has to learn French in school. Most people, however, can barely put a sentence together in French.

We’re missing one of the key factors needed to successfully learn a language: motivation. We don’t have to learn French. There are small communities across Canada that speak French, but the French-speaking people live mostly in one place: the province of Quebec. Most Canadians rarely talk to a French speaker or need to speak French. English is the main language across the country. People only need to learn French if they want to work for the Canadian government or to live in Quebec. It’s nice to learn a second language, but we don’t really need to.

Students who are very motivated can go to a ‘French immersion’ school, where every subject is taught in French. For most people, however, French is another boring subject they have to take to finish school. Most Canadians speak a dialect jokingly called “shampoo-bottle French” or “cereal-box French” because those are the only places they see French: on a shampoo bottle in the shower or on a cereal box at breakfast!

Canada has been a bilingual country since its founding. The country was colonized by both the English and the French (it’s a big country, so there’s lots of room for everyone!). The English began to outnumber the French, and eventually the French were defeated in a series of wars and the British took control of all of Canada. The French were allowed to keep their language and culture, however. It even says in our Constitution that English and French are the official languages of the Canadian Parliament and the courts. Later, the Official Languages Act declared French and English the official languages of the entire country.

I once read somewhere that the French spoken in Quebec is very close to the French spoken by the original French explorers and settlers. Over time, however, the French spoken in Quebec has been ‘anglicized,’ (it has become more English). To some French people in France, the French spoken in Canada is a lesser form of French. When I was studying French in Paris, my teacher said that a TV documentary about Quebec singer Celine Dion and her family had to be subtitled so people in France could understand what the Dion family was saying!

So no, the entire country is NOT bilingual! I studied French until my first year of university. That was a long time ago, and now I would say I am at an intermediate level. I can read and write French better than I can speak it, and listening is my weakest skill (does that sound familiar?).

12 Comments on Reading – Do All Canadians Speak English and French?

  1. Sunho.Lee.
    November 2, 2010 at 11:00 pm (5 years ago)

    Hello Melanie
    I am visiting this wonderful website for the first time and I found it is very interesting to read your story and your writings.
    Thanks for spending so much time and energy for keeping this website useful for English learners like me.
    I am non-native speaker but one day want to become an English teacher in South Korea.
    I hope to improve my English via this website thank you.

  2. Teacher Melanie
    November 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm (5 years ago)

    Hello Sunho.Lee,

    Your English is excellent! Thank you for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment = ) I am so happy to hear that my blog is useful! That encourages me to keep working.

    Best of luck with your English studies,
    = )

    December 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm (4 years ago)

    Hey Melanie
    I just found out this website and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm a brazilian student in love with english and I care a lot about the pronunciation, though it's not easy. About this topic: I had the same question in my mind hehe. :)
    Could you give me your opinion?
    What's better learn first in your opinion?
    Grammar, vocabulary, etc, or pronunciation?
    Thanks! :)

  4. Melanie
    December 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm (4 years ago)

    Hello Markos,

    Welcome! I'm happy to hear you are enjoying my website. I'm sorry I didn't see your comment earlier.

    Hmm, I think you should learn them together! Although, I will tell you that pronunciation is VERY important! The longer you speak English, the more difficult it becomes to correct pronunciation. If you pronounce a word the wrong way for a long time, it becomes a habit and it's very difficult to break a habit! Use online dictionaries like Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary or the Cambridge Online Dictionary. You can hear the correct pronunciation of words!

    All the best to you with your English studies,
    = )

    December 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks for all the information you have given to me. I already used Cambridge Online Dictionary but that another one you told me is much better in my opinion because it has lots of examples for each meaning of each verb (especially phrasal verbs), noun, adjective, adverb, etc.

    I hope someday I speak at least close to a native speaker. =)

    Hey Melanie, Merry late Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    All the best to you in these last days of 2011 and 2012. =)

  6. Melanie
    December 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi, Markos!

    I'm glad you found the Merriam Webster's dictionary useful – I enjoy using it, too!

    I hope you had a lovely holiday with your family. All the best you in 2012, too! I have a feeling it's going to be a fun year!

    = )

  7. Jenny
    October 28, 2012 at 6:51 am (3 years ago)

    Hi Melany,

    This is the first time I am here and I can say for sure I enjoy your lessons very much. Keep on bejing so useful and devoted to us-poor English learners like me.

  8. julija
    June 3, 2013 at 11:15 am (3 years ago)

    Hi Melany,

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with the world. English has always had a special place in my heart and though I am not a native-speaker, I always strive to be as accurate as I can be. Living abroad and learning yet another foreign language is difficult, so I turn on English movies and try to learn new phrases. Or i read and re-write exercises. English somehow relaxes me.
    The problem I stumbled upon recently is PUNCTUATION. I help to translate a book from my native language to English and I would appreciate some tips on complex sentence punctuation.

  9. RSG
    December 15, 2013 at 11:51 pm (2 years ago)

    Here in the USA, we have this same issue with Spanish. Unfortunately, there’s this notion of “English-only” here in America that it sort of interferes with it.

  10. max
    April 30, 2014 at 2:40 am (2 years ago)

    Yup that sounds familiar the city in which i live there are a majority of schools where the Marathi language is a compulsory subject but i was never keen on getting fluent in that language so even i can read and write Marathi but can’t really communicate well in that language.

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