Understandings Bilingualism in Ottawa

You may know that Canada has two official languages: French and English. These languages have “equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.” In reality, only a couple provinces are truly, fully bilingual. At the provincial level, New Brunswick is officially bilingual. French has “equal legal status” in Manitoba (though you’ll find services in French offered in only some parts of the province. Quebec, on the other hand, has declared itself unilingual in French. The three territories are bilingual.

In much of Ontario, English is the de facto language of government services, but 25 chosen areas throughout the province are designated under the French Language Services act are guaranteed access to provincial government services in French. Likewise, the city of Ottawa is legally required to have a municipal policy on English and French. Upholding bilingualism in Ottawa has significant symbolic importance. As the capital city, Ottawa is a leader, and embracing French shows a solidarity with the history, community, and rights of French-language speakers in Ottawa.

So what does bilingualism in Ottawa really mean, and how important is it for newcomers to be able to communicate in both languages?

Bilingualism in Ottawa Workplaces

Ottawa is the center of politics in Canada and the federal government is the main pillar of the work force. If you seek employment in the government, healthcare, education, and other fields, you will have much more opportunities available to you if you speak both French and English, as bilingualism is usually a requirement. Bilingual candidates also tend to have a higher pay scale. 

When it comes to other positions in the private sector, while some businesses require their employees to possess a knowledge of both French and English, in general, your other professional skills will be more important to the hiring process.  If you speak English only, you shouldn’t have a problem landing lower pay scale jobs like retail, or jobs that don’t require interaction with the public.

Bilingualism in Ottawa Communities

Historically, Ottawa’s French population resided in the city’s east end, and this area was primarily French speaking. Today, while more Francophones do tend to live in east end neighborhoods, English speakers are now the majority. Throughout Ottawa, you are most likely to encounter English speakers, and conduct your daily activities in this language, but don’t be surprised to hear French conversations going on around you, and if you are a first-language French speaker, most people should be able to communicate with you at at least a conversational level.

Bilingualism in Ottawa Schools

In Ontario, parents have the option to enroll their children in either English-language or French-language schools. Students have the opportunity to learn primarily in either French or English. Admissions committees at the schools will help determine whether or not your child qualifies to attend a French-language school.  Some English-language schools also offer French Immersion programs, which are a wonderful way for your children to become fluent in the language. In these programs, most classes are taught in French.

No student walks out of the school system without learning at least some French. In order to graduate and receive a diploma, students in English-language schools must study French as a Second Language (FSL) from grades four to eight, and at least one FSL credit in secondary school. For students at English Schools who are not native speakers of English, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and support are offered in the schools. Your child may be required to take a language assessment before or just after enrollment in school to determine whether or not ESL path is right for him/her.

We at Settle-in.com hope this helps you understand bilingualism in Ottawa!

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Photo: Michael Nugent


About Peter

As the child of a diplomat, I’ve had the opportunity to really see the world. Living in Algeria, Italy, Venezuela, South Korea, Ukraine and the Bahamas has taught me that diversity is a gift, not something to fear. When it comes to diversity, Canada is a special place. Its big cities attract high percentages of immigrants from every corner of the globe, and natives are welcoming and kind to them. Racial, gender and other forms of diversity are also largely accepted and even celebrated. Relocating is never easy. The stress of moving, and starting over when it comes to finding friend, can be discouraging. But I can tell you from experience that once you get through the tough parts, Canada is a fabulous place to live. // En tant qu’enfant de diplomate, j’ai eu l’occasion de vraiment voir le monde. Vivre en Algérie, en Italie, au Vénézuela, en Corée du Sud, en Ukraine et aux Bahamas m’a appris que la diversité était un cadeau et non quelque chose à craindre. Et quand il s’agit de diversité, le Canada est un endroit spécial. Les grandes villes attirent un pourcentage élevé d’immigrants provenant des quatre coins du monde. Les natifs sont accueillants et gentils envers eux, la race, le sexe et d’autres formes de diversité sont acceptés et même célébrés. La relocalisation n’est jamais facile. Le stress du déménagement et la nécessité de repartir de zéro quand il s’agit de se faire des amis peuvent être décourageants. Mais je peux vous dire par expérience qu’une fois les moments difficiles traversés, le Canada est un pays fabuleux pour y vivre.