Why Does Canada Have Two Official Languages?

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A woman holding a Canadian flag

Communicating with others is essential when traveling to a foreign country. We know many of you have Canada on your adventure bucket list. So what is the official language of Canada?

Before you jump to conclusions, the answer might surprise you. That’s because the country has more than one.

So why does Canada have two official languages, and what are they? Let’s learn more.

What Are Canada’s Official Languages?

The two official languages of Canada are French and English. The federal government gives equal status to both. Because of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, citizens can receive communications in either language.

However, despite their equal status, English is the dominant language. As of 2021, approximately 75% of the population spoke English. On the other hand, the French language has experienced a slight decrease since 2016, from 22.2% to 21.4%.

All government communications use English and French. In some Canadian provinces, you’ll see signs in both languages or just the dominant one of that region. 

Why Does Canada Have Two Official Languages?

The Canadian government created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963. Their job was to respond to concerns from French Canadians regarding the equal treatment of their language. It didn’t take long for them to find validity in the complaints and to pursue viable options.

The Official Languages Act was the direct result of the Commission’s findings. This critical act officially made Canada a bilingual country. As a result, French and English-speaking citizens can communicate at the federal level. However, it’s about more than just hearing and understanding these voices.

Having two official languages in Canada ensures that individuals can hold positions of authority no matter their language. This allows the country to continue to include diversity throughout every level of the government.

What Parts of Canada Speak English?

While English and French are the official languages in Canada, English is the dominant one. As we mentioned, it is the primary language for approximately 75% of the population.

If you don’t know French, you’ll get by fine, especially when visiting Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba. In general, the further west you go, the less influence the French language has.

If you plan to stick to the western side of the country, you’ll easily get by with only speaking English. However, brushing up on your Canadian slang before crossing the border is a good idea.

Pro Tip: Before you visit Canada, check out Canadian Slang you need to Know Before You Cross the Border

What Parts of Canada Speak French?

French is one of the official languages of Canada but gets used less than English. Despite only 21.4% of the population speaking French, it still receives equal treatment. While most of the country chooses English, it’s the dominant language in Quebec. 

Many of the residents in Quebec speak French as their first language. It’s the standard language for government officials, schools, and businesses. However, don’t let your inability to speak French stop you from visiting. 

English may not be most people’s first language, but many still can understand and speak it. Thus, in public settings, you can still communicate in English without problems.

Close up of the definition of French

What Other Languages Are Spoken in Canada?

Canada has become an international melting pot of residents. In the more populated areas, you’ll hear various languages. Here are some other languages you may encounter.


Over the last decade, Canada has experienced an increase in people moving from China. As a result, Mandarin is growing as one of the many languages.

However, you’ll most likely encounter individuals using it in major metropolitan areas like Vancouver and Toronto. These large cities have thriving Chinatowns and cultural institutions.

China is a significant trading partner with Canada. Many recognize the benefits of learning the language for future opportunities, especially in finance, international business, tourism, and hospitality.

It’s not an official language, but it is the third most-spoken language in Canada.

View of Toronto skyline


Cantonese is a Chinese dialect used throughout southeastern China. It’s the primary language used by Hong Kong and Macau residents.

While it’s similar to Mandarin, the two have distinct tonal differences. Individuals can likely decipher each other’s writing, but the spoken form would be challenging.

Chinese immigrants who speak Cantonese often use this language while living in Canada. This allows them to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage amongst their community. Many of these individuals settle in well-established cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Keep in Mind: How Many National Parks Are in Canada? Click the link to find out!


The world has approximately 113 million native speakers of Punjabi, and it is Canada’s fourth most-spoken language. It’s the official language of the Indian state of Punjab. However, many Sikh immigrants also come to Canada. 

Communities pop up all over Canada, especially in Vancouver, Surrey, Toronto, and Calgary. This thriving group is another piece of proof of Canada’s phenomenal diversity. In 2021, over half a million people in Canada spoke Punjabi at home.

A Canadian flag waving by a lake

Know How to Communicate in Canada

You will be fine in Canada if you speak English fluently, as it is one of its official languages. You can likely communicate with almost everyone. However, some individuals will have limited English-speaking skills. 

If your travels take you through one of the French-speaking areas, learning a few essential phrases doesn’t hurt. But with the huge cultural diversity, you may run across many other world languages depending on what region you visit. 

Do you know French or another language spoken in Canada?

1 comment
  1. I think it’s largely due to a desire to hold on to French / Canadian customs and heritage despite the fact that MANY people speak English (including the vast majority of Canada)… and the fact that French is very difficult! As a native English speaker, I didn’t find learning Spanish super easy but it was a breeze compared to French (which I finally gave up on)! Literally every other word has at least 1 silent letter and I don’t know how many words just sound like eh or ooh!

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