Why fewer French speakers in Canada may help your immigration chances


According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, nearly all of Canada’s immigrants could conduct a conversation in one of the country’s two official languages (English and French)—93.6% according to the latest census.

However, there is more to the story. Though most immigrants can conduct a conversation in either English or French, English is favored among newcomers to Canada.

A new study conducted by Statistics Canada revealed that though the proportion of immigrants who can converse in French has risen in Quebec, the number of immigrants able to do so outside the Francophone province has decreased.

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In Quebec, the number of people able to converse in French only, or along with English has more than doubled in 60 years—from 38.4% of the provincial population in 1951, to 80.5% in 2021.

In contrast, outside of Quebec, in 2021 only one in 20 immigrants (5.5%) could have a conversation in French only, or along with English. This figure represents a decline among this group, from 2001, when 6.6% of immigrants outside of Quebec were able to converse in French only, or French and English. Simultaneously, the proportion of immigrants who could converse in just English, or English and French remained stable between 2001 (93.3%) and 2021 (92.9%).

Lastly, the number of immigrants outside of Quebec in 2021 who had French as their first official language was only 102,000—less than 1% of the population outside of Quebec.

These statistics indicate that while the proportion of English speakers has remained strong outside of Quebec, the number of French speakers in the same areas is declining and in the minority.

Why might this matter to immigration candidates?

Canada’s government has a mandate to promote and protect the status of both official languages (English and French), according to the Official Languages Act. The government must ensure respect for English and French and enable the development of both official languages in Canada—including advancing the equality of their status in official Canadian institutions and society. This includes supporting the development of minority linguistic communities (of both French and English) where relevant.

This obligation largely falls onto Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). As part of its mandate to promote the French language outside of Quebec, IRCC has created a specific immigration category for French speakers within its Express Entry managed programs (which include the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC)).

In fact, as of the time of writing this is the only Express Entry category that is confirmed to grow over the years. In 2023, the government’s target for Francophone immigration outside of Quebec was 4.4% of all new immigrants (which IRCC exceeded, at 4.7%). The department has further stated that its targets for Francophone immigration outside of Quebec are 6% in 2024, 7% for 2025, and 8% for 2026.

How to learn French quickly and qualify for IRCC’s French-speaking category

To qualify for IRCC’s French category, newcomers will need to score a level 7 on the Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadien (NCLC) scale, in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

To prove this ability, newcomers will need to take either the Test d’Evaluation Du Français (TEF) or the Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF), IRCC’s two approved French tests for Canadian immigration.

Click here to access our previous article on resources available to newcomers both in and out of Canada to learn French.

Below are several strategies that newcomers can use to learn French (and other languages) quickly.

Immersion

Immersion is one of the most widely cited strategies for learning a new language fast. The idea is that when an individual puts themselves in an environment where they must learn a language to function in their day-to-day life, they are much more likely to learn that language quickly.

In today’s media age, it is possible to create this kind of immersion even at home. For example, consuming T.V. shows, movies, podcasts, and other media materials in a target language can quickly lead to language learning.

Using flashcards and spaced learning

Much like immersion techniques, flashcards are widely recognized as a good language learning tool (and learning tool more broadly) due to the way that these cards promote “active recall” (when the brain actively looks for a memory, as opposed to passively thinking of it). This can also help move memories from short-term to long-term within the brain.

However, according to the theories of prominent Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (which have shown scientific value), the optimum way to use these flashcards is through a system of spacing out learning over time. Ebbinghaus’s research showed that people tend to learn much better when learning is spaced out (studying the same flashcards 7-8 times a week) versus when it is crammed into a single period (studying the same flashcards 7-8 times in the same day).

Studying historical linguistics

A new study conducted at the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests that learning words with common roots in a person’s first language and the language they are learning may be a way to fast-track vocabulary learning. This is good news for native and fluent English speakers, who will be able to find many commonalities with French.

For example, the English word “advice” is thought to come from the French word “avis”, meaning opinion, idea, view, or judgment. Similarly, the word “beige” in English is said to come from the French word “bege”, which means “the natural color of wool and cotton; not dyed.”

Newcomers may therefore find utility in understanding these common roots when learning French vocabulary.

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