The marriage of two languages, of two cultures, gave birth to Canada. More than a century-and-a-half later, Canada continues to reflect that initial union and offers many opportunities for those who are proficient in both English and French. In fact, it can be argued that being able to communicate effectively in either language speaks to the very nature of this country.
The French Language
The history of the French language in Canada dates back well before Confederation, but that’s when it officially became one of the two languages of a burgeoning nation and could be used in parliamentary debates as well as any court in the land. French’s official status was confirmed in 1969 under the first Official Languages Act.
Since then, policies have continued to enshrine the French language as a fundamental and important characteristic of Canadian identity. The most notable is the Constitution of 1982 which clearly states the importance of language rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census, the number of bilingual Canadians was 6.2 million or 17.9 per cent of the population, up from 5.8 million and 17.5 per cent of the population in 2011.
In 2016, close to 8.2 million Canadians, or 23.4% of the population, reported speaking French at home, down from 23.8% in 2011. There has been a slight decline in French-only speakers outside Quebec. However, the federal government and many private companies (particularly in the National Capital Region) place a strong emphasis on French language skills, and there are still many valid reasons why you should consider improving your French language skills.
The Importance of Bilingualism
My own experience working in English in Quebec City or covering politics in Ottawa provide perfect examples of why bilingualism is important. As the House of Commons is bilingual, anyone working there constantly benefits from being able to speak and read both official languages.
According to World Education Services, bilingualism is good for business. New Brunswick’s bilingual workforce has been a key reason why it has attracted big corporate players. Furthermore, being bilingual increases job opportunities. Statistically speaking, knowing more than one language increases the options you have within the job market. You’ll also be interested to know that bilingual workers tend to get paid more, according to the Globe and Mail. Canadian men who know both languages earn an average income 3.8% higher than those who know English only. Bilingual women earn 6.6% more.
Money aside, being able to speak and read French allows you to more fully experience the country as a whole, better understand where we come from, and appreciate everything that unites us. English and French have clashed in the past, but understanding both languages and the people who speak them is the key to understanding each other, and making sure those disagreements become a thing of the past.