Localization for Canada - 11 Languages from Toronto to the Rockies

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Canada is the world’s second-largest country by total area and its population was estimated to rise up to approximately 36 million inhabitants within this year. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations around the globe. More than 6 different ethnical groups call Canada their home:

  • 76.7% European Canadians
  • 14.2% Asian
  • 4.3% Aboriginal
  • 2.9% Black Canadians
  • 1.2% Latin American
  • 0.5% multiracial
  • 0.3% other

Besides 9 recognized regional languages there are 2 official ones, English and French. English is the mother tongue of around 60% of the Canadian population, while approximately 20% call French their mother tongue.

Isn’t it consequently enough to provide only English content to service Canadian customers? Or is it necessary to consider localization for Canada?

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The Power of French in Canada

Today French is the language most widely spoken throughout the region of Quebec. According to the Canadian census in 2011 only 7.7% on average of the Québecois population declare English as their mother tongue. Regarding certain parts of the region, like Quebec City for example, the number of English speakers is much lower. Only 1.9% of the city’s inhabitants call English their mother tongue.

The Charter of the French Language (La charte de la langue française), a law in the province of Quebec, states French as the official language and comprises fundamental language rights. Thanks to this so-called Bill 101 (Loi 101) everything needs to be translated to French, including company names and every single label on consumer goods. Hence, localization for Canada plays an important role.

Characteristics of Quebec French

Québecois, also known as Quebec French, distinguishes itself from Metropolitan French (European French) in many ways.


While in European French a full non-breaking space is used before the semicolon, exclamation mark, or question mark (“Félicitations !”), only a thin space is used in Quebec French (“Félicitations!”).

Spelling and Grammar

In Quebec the feminine form of many professions is used although these nouns didn’t have a feminine form traditionally. Canucks (Canadians) use almost universally the feminine form (“une chercheuse”), while French people tend to use the male form (“un cercheur”) or both (“un chercheur” and “une chercheuse”).

There are also some slight spelling differences. Tofu, for example, is spelled “tofou” in Canada and “tofu” in France.

As the French, Canadians tend to omit the negative particle “ne” in the informal language too.


The following tables show the differences in the lexicon of Quebec French and the European one.

    • There are lexically specific items which are exclusively used in the province of Quebec.
Quebec French Metropolitan French English
abrier couvrir to cover
astheure maintenant now
chum copain boyfriend
magasiner faire des courses to go shopping/do errands
    • Semantic differences are further characteristic for Québecois.
Lexical item Quebec French meaning Metropolitan French meaning
blonde (f) girlfriend blond-haired woman
char (m) car chariot
suçon (m) lollipop hickey
sucette (f) hickey lollipop
    • Quebecers use fixed expressions unique for Quebec.
Quebec French Metropolitan French English
avoir de la misère avoir de la difficulté to have difficulty/trouble
avoir de la goût dérangé gouter une saveur étrange to taste sth. strange/unexpected
en arracher en baver to have a rough time
parler à travers son chapeau parler à trot et à travers to talk through one's hat

Use of Anglicisms

Another characteristic distinguishing the two types of French is the number of borrowings from English. Anglicisms are mainly used in the informal spoken language. While Quebecers refuse using anglicisms, the vocabulary of European francophones contains a relatively high number of English words.

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Canadian English - another exception to the rule

Not only Canadian French differs from the European one, there are some slight differences between Canadian and American English. Generally speaking the following “Canadianisms” are of British origin. Lots of these language specialities are common in Great Britain too. Here’s a list of some localization hints assisting you in terms of translating content to Canadian English:

  • Canadian spelling is related more closely to the British and Australian one than to U.S. English: colour vs color, cheque vs check, centre vs center, etc.
  • Canucks have their very own expressions for some special words. Kapsack is what Canadians call their backpack.
  • In Canada the metric system is generally used, although Canadians use feet/inches and pounds to quote their height and weight.
  • In contrast to the U.S., Canada uses celsius rather than fahrenheit for measuring temperature.
  • While Americans just use the expressions one or two dollar coin, Canadians call them Loonie and Toonie. Obviously they like things that rhyme. :)

Summing up the Importance of Localization for Canada

At first sight it may seem to be sufficient to offer content in English and/or European French to service Canadians. Delving deeper into these variants of French and English the importance of localization for Canada is obvious. The Canadian counterparts of these two languages differ in many ways and make localization for Canada an important topic which needs to be considered by every global champion.

Are you interested in gathering insights in other translations markets and discovering even more localization potentials? In former blog posts the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and India have already been analyzed. Give them a try! :)

[1] http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/the-difference-between-quebec-french-and-metropolitan-french-sam-gendreau/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_French

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada

[4] http://theplanetd.com/the-great-canadian-word-unique-phrases-and-words-of-canada/

[5] http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~steffan/canadianisms.html