The majorty of Montrealers (around 57% on the island and 68% in the Greater Metropolitan Area, as per the 2006 census) speak French as their primary language at home, and French is the official language of the city and the province of Quebec. Many more speak the language on a daily basis for work and socialising, though most residents are also able to speak English, as well as often being comfortable in a third language. Quebec French is not a separate dialect, but the accents you will hear are quite different from anything heard in Europe. Some slang words and idioms are unique to Quebec French, with a number of anglicisms borrowed from English. Many Montrealers switch mid-sentence between French and English in conversation –
‘Hey man, comment était le pub hier soir?’
‘Vraiment cool! Your friend Mathieu was there, avec sa nouvelle girl. Il dit hello.’
This interactive map, courtesy of CBC, shows the pockets of southern Quebec where anglophones predominate.
Bill 101 and Quebec French — The Charter of the French Language
Any newcomer to Montreal should be aware of what is usually called “Bill 101” (La Charte de la langue française), an extensive piece of legislation brought in during the 1970s that made French the sole official language of Quebec. The language laws are far-reaching; larger businesses are obliged to work in French within the workplace, and business-to-customer information, even down to menus in restaurants, must be available in French. While casual work in the service (i.e. bar/restaurant) and construction industries often requires only a limited knowledge of French, or indeed none at all, anybody aspiring to move to Montreal for career reasons should be aware that French is not only an asset, but usually a necessity. If you are bringing children or plan on having children in Quebec in the future and want to avail of the public education system, they will be obliged under the law to go to a French school as only the children of those who went to English schools in the province are allowed to send their children to English schools.
Immigration and courses
In order to more easily assimilate newcomers, Immigration Quebec provides information on where you can attend French courses catered to all levels. These courses are often free. For more information, see this page on the provincial government website.
It is advisable to consider doing some French classes before moving to Montreal. It will make your move a lot smoother and give you confidence, so consider it an investment in your skills.
The provincial government of Quebec has more jurisdiction over immigration policy than the other provinces of Canada, and candidates from the skilled worker category must sit a language test. Information on this can be found here on the provincial government website.