Council of Ministers of Education

Language and Literacy

English and French are the two official languages of instruction in Canada, with most students receiving English first language instruction. To ensure that these students have the opportunity to learn both of Canada’s official languages, French immersion programs are offered in the public education systems throughout Canada. Students in these programs who do not speak French as their first language receive some or all of their instruction and perform their school work in French. Similar English language programs are available for students who have not had previous training in English.

Canada has a rich cultural diversity that includes numerous Indigenous populations. In order to support Indigenous cultures and eliminate the gap in literacy achievement, several bilingual programs are offered for First Nation and Inuit languages in combination with English, French, or both. Among the most notable Indigenous language programs are Cree and Inuktitut. Considerable benefits of bilingual education in Indigenous communities have already been identified in Canada.1

As a multilingual and multicultural country, Canada has a significant and increasing immigrant population. In some large urban areas, school boards have identified more than 75  home languages and dialects among students. Second language programs are available in American Sign Language, Arabic, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, Ukrainian, and other languages.

Two components of Canada’s education systems receive support from the federal government’s official language policy and funding programs: minority language education and second language education. These national federally funded programs provide youth with opportunities for exchange and summer study to enhance their language skills.2

The provincial and territorial governments recognize that strong literacy skills are the foundation for success in school and in life. Therefore, literacy is a priority in Canadian public schools at all grade levels and in all subject areas. The educational strategy centers on improving teaching, learning, and achievement. This commitment underscores the importance of literacy in the 21st century and the need to extend the traditional concept of literacy to encompass media and information literacies.