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Section B – Improving your English and French
Canada has two official languages: English and French.
Canada has 18 million Anglophones—people who speak English as a first language—and seven million Francophones—people who speak French as their first language. While most Francophones live in the province of Quebec, one million Francophones live in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba, and some live in other provinces. New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
Strong skills in English or French—or in both—are extremely important for your future in Canada. This section will tell you about the importance of language skills, the language requirements for Canadian jobs, how to assess your language skills, and where you can find language training.
Whether you choose to focus on learning or improving English or French will depend on which of the two languages most people speak in the area where you live.
Step 1: Understand the importance of language skills
Many people who have immigrated to Canada discover that they need to improve their language skills.
Even if you can speak English or French well, you may have difficulty understanding people and making yourself understood in Canada because of the different accents, the fast rate of speech, expressions used and communication conventions in Canadian workplaces.
Strong English or French skills are important for many reasons, such as:
- Getting a job that matches your skills and experience
- Obtaining post-secondary education or training
- Helping your children with their school work
- Meeting and interacting with people
- Meeting the language requirements for citizenship
Take steps to improve your English or French before or as soon as you arrive in Canada.
If you already speak one of Canada’s two official languages at a high level, consider learning the other one. It takes time, energy and commitment to improve your language skills, but in many parts of Canada, being able to speak both English and French is a major asset when looking for a good job or to participate fully in Canadian society.
Step 2: What language skills do you need for your job?
Find out what language skills you need for the job you hope to have in Canada by creating a Working in Canada Report and then reviewing the Education & Job requirements section. The Essential Skills section—reading, document use, writing and oral communication—will clearly identify the requirements for your job.
If you do not know the language requirements for the job you hope to have, contact the regulatory body or apprenticeship authority listed in Section C: Step 3 or visit their website.
Step 3: Assess your language skills
Before you come to Canada, assess your English or French skills by taking an online self-assessment test on the Canadian Language Benchmarks website.
All family members coming to Canada with you should take their own language assessment test.
You may need to provide proof of your level of proficiency in either English or French when you apply for:
- A job
- A licence with a regulatory body or an apprenticeship authority
- Entry into a university or college
Always check to see whether a particular type of proof is required.
Some certificates of language proficiency are widely recognized and can be used in a variety of situations. These certificates are based on standardized language tests offered by independent organizations, not the Government of Canada. You can take these tests at locations across Canada, and in many cases, in other countries.
Some of the most widely recognized English-language tests and certificates:
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
- Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL; often required by universities and colleges)
Some of the most widely recognized French-language tests and certificates:
For more information and a list of test centres, use the links provided above. You can also get information on these certificates from some government language assessment centres or from private language schools.
Step 5: Find language training
If the results of your language assessment indicate that you or members of your family need to improve your English- or French-language skills, make a plan to improve those skills.
Before you come to Canada
- Register at a local language school or take lessons from a tutor.
- Purchase and use language skills workbooks or software.
After you arrive in Canada
You can take free language classes paid for by the government. Federal and provincial government-funded language classes are offered in all provinces and territories.
To find available language training:
- Find immigrant services in your area.
- Consult the Education & Job Requirements section of your Working in Canada Report.
- Visit the website of the government for the province or territory where you want to live and work. (See Section A, Step 2)
You can pay for language classes at a private language school in Canada.
Free, government-funded language classes
To take language classes funded by the federal government, you must first have your current language skills formally assessed. To get an assessment, find a language assessment centre near you. After your assessment, staff will help you decide what language class is best for you.
In Canada, most newcomers who are permanent residents are eligible for free government-funded language classes. These language programs have many advantages:
- Classes are taught by qualified instructors.
- They are often available in a classroom with a small group of other adults or through distance education (on the Internet or through printed materials mailed to you at home).
- Classes can be full-time or part-time, during the day, evening or on weekends.
- They provide language training and information to help you adapt to life in Canada;
- Some programs may offer funding to cover the cost of child care while you are studying and the cost of transportation to and from your classes. Child-care services are sometimes available on site.
A number of different types of language classes are available:
- General language classes at many levels
- Classes that teach advanced and workplace-specific language skills
- Classes that teach literacy and language (for people who have difficulty reading and writing in any language)
- Classes for people with special needs
The primary and secondary school systems provide English and French classes for children and youth (see Section A, Step 5).