French in Canada: On UN’s French Language Day

By: Cheryl

By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator

As one of Canada’s official languages and the second most spoken language of the country, French has had a huge impact on Canada’s culture, economy and art for centuries. This March 20, on the United Nations’ French Language Day, let’s take a look at the language’s history, its variations, its current status and the celebratory events to look forward to this year.


The history of the French language in Canada can be traced back to as early as the 16th century when European settlers built the first colonies. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the French colony expanded and stretched to southern Quebec, Ontario, the maritime provinces and the Mississippi River Valley. French was spoken predominantly in these regions until 1971, when the fourth constitution decided English was to be the only official language in the administration of public affairs. However, in 1948, French regained popularity after the government’s decision to consider French-speaking European immigrants equally desirable as the British and Americans. Over the next few decades, immigrants who spoke English or French were encouraged to settle regardless of their places of birth. In 1969, French was officially declared to be an official language of Canada alongside English. In 1980, O Canada (Ô Canada), originally written in French, officially became Canada’s national anthem.

Current status

Today, nearly 23 per cent of Canada’s population speaks French as their first official language. Among all Francophones, over 85 per cent live in Quebec. Other provinces that have the higher number of Francophone populations are Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia. In Canada, over 3000 primary and secondary schools, around 75 colleges and 30 universities offer education in French. French-language media includes a one national public broadcaster, around 220 community, regional and national radio stations, 50 TV stations and 10 daily newspapers.

Canadian French vs. European French

Canadian and European French were initially the same when brought to Canada by early immigrants. However, since then, the two variations have evolved independently due to geographic separation across the Atlantic Ocean. Today, Canadian French differs from European French mostly in its pronunciation and vocabulary. Having been isolated for centuries, Canadian French preserves some of the archaic features dating back to the early modern period, such as a greater number of vowel sounds. In some words, the vowels are elongated, such as in “printemps” and “maison”; whereas in some there’s a laxing of shorter vowel sounds, such as in “électrique” and “jupe”. Additionally, there are also more differences in the emphasis of syllables and the flow of sentences, which can be found in the video below.


In terms of vocabulary differences, Canadian French is unavoidably under the influence of English, though it purposely avoids Anglicizing some of the words that France has adopted. Here are some comparisons:

English: KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

Canadian French: PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky)

European French: KFC

English: parking

Canadian French: stationnement

European French: parking

English: car

Canadian French: un char

European French: une voiture

English: drink

Canadian French: un breuvage

European French: une boisson

English: job

Canadian French: la job

European French: le boulot

English: go shopping

Canadian French: magasiner

European French: faire du shopping

English: cellphone

Canadian French: un cellulaire

European French: un portable

English: breakfast

Canadian French: le déjeuner

European French: le petit-déjeuner


Each year, French Language Day is celebrated by Francophones and language learners all over Canada. Other than picking up language learning, trying French cuisine or spreading the love for French language on social media, there are also various activities to explore:

International Day of La Francophonie 2024: Let’s Talk About French Culture

Organizer: Canadian Heritage


Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie

Organizer: The Dialogue Foundation


Poetry, Storytelling, and Music night

Organizer: La Société francophone de Victoria, University of Victoria


French Summer Camp

Organizer: Canadian Parents for French Nova Scotia


With a history entrenched in the foundation of Canada and its legislation, the French language has enriched Canada with its culture, and formed the national identity, pride and collective memory of Francophones across Canada. With Bill 96 receiving royal assent, it’s foreseeable that French’s status and significance will be further enhanced as it’s affirmed to be the only official language of Quebec. As we come together to celebrate the French Language Day, we’re passing down a legacy of linguistic diversity and cultural vibrancy while upholding language rights for future generations.