At one point or another, every Canadian will be asked: “Are you from English Canada or French Canada?”
There are many misconceptions about the Great White North, our multilingual tongues being among the biggest.
First, there is a misunderstanding that all Canadians speak French.
Unfortunately, no. There are measures in place to ensure Canadian students are exposed to their second official language. It is mandatory for students between the grades 4 to 8 to take second language classes, and optional immersion programs. However, many students discontinue their second language learning after 8th grade. Even if students continue taking second language classes until high school graduation, the chances retaining what they’ve learned into adulthood is very slim without constant education and exposure. All of Canada is bilingual, albeit at varying degrees. Some Canadians are able to hold intelligent debates in both official languages, whereas others can barely utter “bonjour” with confidence. Nevertheless, English and French hold equal power across the land, and Canadians can be served in either official language.
Then, there is the polar opposite that French is only spoken in Québec, or that French is the only language used in Québec.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the belief that Quebec is the only francophone part of Canada. While it is the most famous and the biggest francophone province, this belief neglects strong francophone communities in the other twelve provinces/territories. What many foreigners don’t know is that not only is French the official language of the entire country, but is recognized as the official language for four other provinces/territories besides Quebec. There are many prominent francophone communities in every province, as there is large number of Anglophones in Quebec.
English and French are the only languages spoken in Canada.
While officially English and French are Canada’s official languages, they are not its first nor only languages. Over 60 indigenous, 200 immigrant, and handful of Canadian dialects and mixed languages are still alive and thriving in parts of Canada.
According to the most recent census, nearly half a million Canadian reported they spoke an indigenous language. While this isn’t an overwhelming number against Canada’s total population of 35million, the preservation of languages are impressive. While many immigrant languages get replaced by English or French with each generation, many families with indigenous tongue keep their language alive in the home. Although the statistic varies depending on the language, 90~97% indigenous speakers use their mother tongue at home.
1/5 of Canadians have a mother tongue other than French or English, according to 2011 census. Depending on the region, it isn’t uncommon to see advertisements, signs, or announcements be made in a third language. As a country built on immigration and multiculturalism, Canada’s languages reflect this.
For example, take Coquitlam, British Columbia, the mid-size suburban city in Metro Vancouver where I grew up. Here, the immigrant to non-immigrant population is almost at par. In fact, the top three working languages in the city are English, Chinese, and Korean. French trails in at #4, but significantly behind: Korean to French ratio is 10:1.
Not surprisingly, this is reflected in day-to-day life: many supermarket signs read English, Chinese, and Punjab, advertisements read only in Chinese, and free translation services are offered for school report cards. The Coquitlam school district was one of the first in Canada to introduce a Mandarin Bilingual Program for its youngest pupils. Similar to French immersion programs, students take half of their curriculum in English and the other half in Mandarin.
This system of third language-official language immersion program are not unique to Mandarin nor to B.C. In Manitoba, Ukrainian-English immersion program has been established much earlier. And all across Canada, students can also study a minority language such as Punjab, Arabic, and even Scottish Gaelic.
Canadian dialectes and langages
These are just some of the languages and dialects, unique to Canada. Although this map doesn’t identify the exact location of where these languages are spoken, it illustrates the general idea. The east coast has abundance of dialects and unique languages adopted from original European immigrant languages. In the Praries, there are languages like Michif and Bungee, which take indigenous tongues and borrow English or French words or syntax.
What does this all mean?
Canada is a country found on immigration, and its openness to other languages and cultures is undeniable. There is a growing effort and attention to “bi/multi-lingualize” its youngest citizens. As more Canadians adopt second or third languages, so will their businesses.
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