Vancouver is in an English-speaking part of Canada. People who only speak French would find it difficult to communicate throughout the city. Customer service staff and businesspeople mostly only speak English.
However, the laws of Canada mean that all products stocked on shelves have French and English descriptions on them. So, you’ll be able to identify products off the shelves quite easily. Furthermore, signs in the Airport are all written in French and English.
In Vancouver, you can also request French-speaking support for all government interactions. The large companies such as nation-wide banks and internet services also have an option for French-speaking support staff when you call their helplines.
1. Do They Speak French in Vancouver?
Recent census data shows that 33,370 people living in Vancouver speak French as a first language. This amounts to 1.4% of the city’s population. These are primarily migrants from Quebec.
There are plenty of people from Quebec living in Vancouver and those Francophones who move to Vancouver will be able to use social media like Facebook and Meetup to find a French-speaking support network.
So, it would not be particularly hard to find other Francophones to befriend in the city.
However, finding work only speaking French would be harder.
2. Do you have to Speak French to Work in Vancouver?
English is the language of business in Vancouver. Some workplaces that serve a national client base (primarily in the telecommunications and government sector) require you to be able to speak French as well.
If you only speak French, you will find it hard to find work in Vancouver.
According to Statscan data, 13,135 people in Vancouver said that they “regularly” speak French at work. This drops to 930 people who “only” speak French at work. That’s 0.1% of the Vancouver workforce.
Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi are becoming more important to speak than French in Vancouver. I see many jobs on the local job boards requiring knowledge of these languages.
That’s because the Chinese and Indian communities in Vancouver are very large.
Local banks, for example, often want tellers who can speak Mandarin and Punjabi so they can communicate with local customers.
Furthermore, surrounding suburbs like Richmond and Surrey prioritize Mandarin and Punjabi even more. In Richmond (the suburb directly south of Vancouver), 44.8% of people speak a Chinese language as their mother tongue.
Where can you Work with Poor English in Vancouver?
If your English is poor, you may still be able to find work in non- customer service based roles. The northern section of the East Vancouver region has many warehouses, for example, which are regularly looking for work and do not require strong language skills.
These jobs often involve stocking products for shipment and completing repetitive factory work. I have several friends working in the warehouses surrounding Vancouver and they earn decent wages (above minimum wage) despite it being low-skill labour.
Furthermore, you could find work as a French teacher.
However, you will need to get French teaching certifications to gain employment in most of the private French language schools in Vancouver.
An alternative would be to
Is French a Desirable Skill for Employers in Vancouver?
Yes, French is seen as a desirable workforce skill for many jobs in Vancouver.
When I worked on Grouse Mountain (a ski resort in North Vancouver), I had several colleagues who spoke French working alongside me. One was from Quebec.
These colleagues’ French language skills were considered desirable for when Francophone tourists passed through the store. This did happen regularly, but no more regularly than other languages like Spanish and Mandarin.
Being a global city, Vancouver gets tourists from all over the world.
But French is a particularly desirable skill for government jobs.
English speaking Canadians grow up being told they should learn French to “get a good government job”. It’s hard to get a government job if you don’t speak French because the Canadian government must serve French and English speaking communities.
So, if you speak both French and English, you have a big leg-up if you’re looking for a job in the public service.
3. Can you Learn French in Vancouver?
While there are many places to learn French in Vancouver, it is not a primary destination for learning French.
Those who wish to learn French would be better off moving to Montreal where both French and English are widely spoken. In Montreal, the main language is French, but it is an open and liberal city with many English-speaking migrants.
You can get by in Montreal speaking English, while still learning French in an immersion setting.
But in Vancouver, there is minimal opportunity outside of the schools for a French immersion experience. Unfortunately, everyone speaks English everywhere.
Is School in French in Vancouver?
Most public schools in Vancouver speak only English for daily tuition. However, there are 12 French Immersion schools in the Vancouver School Board district that provide instruction in French for Elementary school children.
According to the Vancouver School Board, the program:
“is intended for non-French speaking students who wish to develop a high-level of proficiency in both official languages.”
In these schools, French is spoken:
- 100% for Kindergarten to Grade 3
- 50% – 80% for Grades 4 to 7
Furthermore, it’s great that you’re not stuck to only sending children to a school in your catchment. For the French Immersion Schools, parents can select their top 3 choices of an Immersion school and they will be placed in one if there is space.
Read more about French Immersion Schools in Vancouver here.
4. Where do they Speak French in Canada?
If you want to move to French-speaking Canada, you’ll need to go to Quebec. There are other small communities in Central and Eastern Canada that are predominantly French-speaking, but Quebec is the French heartland.
Over 7 million Canadians speak French as a first language, predominantly in the province of Quebec.
Within Quebec, Montreal is a largely bilingual city (with French as the first language). Quebec City is much more Francophone, and you would have trouble working in Quebec City without good command of the French language.
Do They Speak French in Calgary?
Calgary is similar to Vancouver in terms of languages spoken. English is the language spoken in everyday life in Calgary. There is a small number of French speaking people who are generally migrants from Quebec.
Only 20,715 people from Calgary cite French as their mother tongue. This amounts to 1.5% of the population. Of those people, only 1,270 (or 0.1% of the population) speak French only.
In other words, it seems like it would be very hard to get by in Calgary only speaking French.
And like Vancouver, French is not even the 2nd most popular language in Calgary. There are more people who speak Tagalog, Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish as their mother tongue in Calgary than people who speak French as their mother tongue!
Overall, you’ll find that Vancouver is as English speaking as any other major North American city outside Quebec. There is minimal French spoken except for within the small and shrinking Francophone community.
Nevertheless, there are some big advantages to being able to speak French and English in Vancouver. Primarily, it can give you an advantage when applying for a job that serves Canada-wide customers.
But French is becoming less and less important in Vancouver, especially with the rise of Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi in recent decades.
Hey! I’m Chris. I hike with Talon alllll the time. And I’m the unofficial photographer for a lot of the photos here on Alpine Feeling. But, sometimes I’ll add some articles as well.