Along with English, French enjoys the status of an official language in Canada, and over 22% of the population speak it as their first language, while a further 10% speak it as a second language.
However, the distribution of French across Canada is somewhat uneven. It is spoken primarily on the east coast. It is the main language spoken in the province of Quebec, while in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province, it is spoken as a first language by a large minority of the population, located mainly in the north.
Why are French speakers so concentrated in the east? To understand why, we need to look at the history of Canada.
The Europeans who arrived in what is now known as Canada in the 16th century came from a number of different countries. They divided the land up into different territories, with most falling to the English and the French. The French possessed a large swathe of land around the Great Lakes, known as New France, which they held between 1534 to 1763.
After the defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War, the Treaty of Paris was signed, which ceded the French parts of Canada to English (now British) rule. But the inhabitants of these areas largely continued to speak French.
Given the dominance of English across Canada – and the wider world – the ubiquity of French in the eastern provinces has declined a little. But local governments have taken measures to protect the status of French. Thanks to pressure from Francophone Canadians, the Official Languages Act was signed in Canada in 1969, giving French equal status with English across the whole country in legal and governmental matters. More and more French-language schools have opened over recent decades, and the Quebecois government is now prioritising French speaking immigrants in its new immigration programs. The TEF exam is used by the government to monitor applicants’ level of French, and a good score is vital for immigrating to French-speaking provinces.
Fortunately for French speakers looking to move to Canada from Europe or Africa, the French-speaking part of the country is the most accessible. For example, a flight from Paris to Quebec city takes around seven hours, while from Paris to Vancouver takes around ten.
But wherever you are in Canada, you’re likely to find people with whom to practise your French. Even in the English-speaking parts of the country, there are communities of Francophone immigrants, as well as locals wanting to practise their second language. And as an official language, French enjoys privileges that nearly all other languages don’t.
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