Here To Serve, In French

Quebec Cityscape

Regardless of country or region, a successful business speaks the language of its customers. In Canada, at the national level, both English and French are official languages. About 56 percent of Canadians speak English, and about 20 percent speak French1. In the province of Quebec, however, about 50 percent of the population speaks only French, and 44 percent speak both English and French2. Conducting business in Quebec without speaking French would be quite difficult, even if it weren’t required.

The Charter of the French Language (the Charter) is a law in Quebec that gives employees and consumers the right to work and be served in French3. Businesses operating in Quebec are required to have a French name, and products for sale must have French labeling that is at least as prominent as any other language presented. Businesses based in Quebec are not allowed to refuse to hire someone for not speaking a language other than French. Businesses that employ more than 50 people must also register with the Office québécois de la langue française. Advisors from this office determine whether French is the primary language being used in internal and external communications as well as work tools and documents4. They issue francization certificates, which are required to do business in Quebec, to companies that comply, and fines to companies that don’t5.

The rest of Canada does have some requirements for labelling and packaging in French, but these requirements are much less rigid than those in Quebec. Students in public schools are required to take some French courses, but French isn’t required by law in most workplaces. Quebec’s legal protections for French speakers is one method of preserving culture and heritage through language. The results of this are somewhat indicated through the language statistics of Canada’s different regions and the larger number of French speakers in Quebec. English and other languages aren’t prohibited in Quebec. Rather, the Charter simply requires that French be given emphasis over any other languages being used and protects French speakers who may otherwise be disadvantaged in the workplace.

In many places, businesses can conduct day-to-day business in whatever language best suits them. However, every rule has an exception, especially in language, and in Quebec, consumers have the right to work and be served in French.