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Do you need to speak French to work in Montreal?

Montreal has always been a unique city due to its history and connections to both England and France. And language has therefore become a very divisive topic for its residents. Through referendums and laws there is a constant battle around the French language. As someone who grew up in the city in an anglophone community, this has always been evident.

 Being around this my whole life, I do truly understand the purpose behind it and believe it is critical that we preserve the French language and culture. These are elements that make Montreal unique and such a great place to live. However, how we go about keeping these alive in our city, is not something I plan to delve into.

Instead I’d like to focus on the English-speaking residents’ ability to work in this great city and their biggest question: Do you need to speak french to work in Montreal? It is a topic that comes up quite often in the IT recruitment industry and has even led talented tech people to leave the city. This shouldn’t be happening and I’m here to show you how to be successful in this city without speaking French.  

First let’s evaluate the Montreal Tech market

Montreal is one of the fastest growing tech hubs in North America and a leader in AI. With an IT population of over 130 thousand, numerous universities and schools with tech programs, the talent pipeline is constantly being refreshed and growing. The low cost of living, salaries and office spaces have allowed it to become an attractive place for organizations of all sizes to open offices. Equally important are the tax credits that the Quebec government offers for companies with tech operations in the province.

With all these attractive features we are seeing more American companies moving their IT operations here. It’s attracted Google, Nuance, Morgan Stanley and other high-tech companies which is great news. Since their headquarters are in the US any employee working in Montreal needs to be able to speak English in order to be successful. Therefore, these organizations are more flexible on the requirement to speak French. With this trend continuing and more organizations deciding to move here, we should see more opportunities for Anglophones in Montreal.

Current war on talent

Another major factor that is changing our market is the demand for tech talent. With an unemployment rate below 2% in IT in Montreal there just aren’t enough people for the number of roles. This has begun changing the dynamic between employees and employers as organizations need to do more to fill their openings. This has meant in recent years loosening the qualifications on open positions. As most organizations still need people who are qualified technically, the easiest one to be flexible on is the bilingual requirement.

We’re seeing more organizations being flexible in who they hire and although bilingualism is still preferred the barrier is slowly disappearing for anglophones. For example, one trend I have witnessed with a few organizations is that they are open to people who understand but can’t speak French. This is transforming meetings into a more Franglais conversation, with people being able to speak in their preferred language. Innovative approaches like this allow organizations to keep operating in French while opening up their doors to more talent. The other benefit is having people who speak different languages leads to more diversity and a better team.

There’s also the ability to work 100% remote for a company outside the city. This allows you to still enjoy the culture and European feel of the city while still being able to work.

Just remember if you are searching for your next career opportunity one thing to keep in mind is Job Descriptions are outdated. They often list French as a requirement when that may not be the case so always be sure to enquire and don’t let it stop you from applying.

Learning the language

Even with our city changing and being more open to anglophones I would still suggest you learn French. If you’re new to Canada or even just Montreal speaking French at a conversational level can be helpful and the effort goes a long way in the eyes of the employer. One way to learn is through your organization as many innovative and forward-thinking ones are offering in house classes or they will cover the cost of your courses. Some even have resources on site to work with you to improve your French. If your current company doesn’t pay, I would still suggest paying for courses out of pocket as it is well worth the investment for your career. There are even some ways to explore learning French for free.

In a more global economy, everyone must take steps towards being more flexible when it comes to language. For candidates this means working on learning the language and putting in the effort to show you care. Organizations can take creative approaches to getting around some of the communication barriers that exist. With the current lack of resources, you need to adapt, or you will struggle to compete. In any case when answering the question: Do you need to speak french to work in Montreal? The answer is no but make the effort to learn it anyway.

How avansai can help

If you are searching for something new or just want to be kept updated on the market around opportunities that don’t require French, then take a few minutes to fill out our Candidate Profile and one of our advisors can help.

Jason Levy

Co-Founder @ avansai