Thanks to its relatively low cost of living, multiculturalism, plethora of festivals and great quality of life (among many other things), Montreal is known for attracting newcomers of all stripes—from immigrants who flock here from halfway around the globe to fellow Canadians who want to give things a try in la belle province.
And while Montreal is generally quite inviting to newcomers (and offers them no shortage of ways to settle into the community), those that come here with zero knowledge of the French language may find that their lack of French fluency is the one thing that stands in their way of getting absolutely everything they can out of the city (at least in terms of employment).
Montreal is indeed largely bilingual and perfectly easy to spend time in as a visitor without a single word of French, but (naturally) your chances of finding employment—at least in customer- or client-facing roles—increases significantly with a bit of competency in French under your belt.
Luckily, the city and province have made it easy for newcomers to learn the official language of Quebec for very little. There are a few ways to learn French for free in Montreal (or for very little), which is perfect for those that are stuck in “can’t-find-a-job-without-French-but-can’t-take French-classes-without-an-income-to-pay-for-them” limbo.
If this describes your situation—or if you simply can’t fit the cost of premium language classes into your budget—the following resources are for you!
The following list includes both local and national language resources and fully/partially-subsidized classes. While subsidized classes are generally larger and less personalized than the classes offered by private schools, they’re a great starting point for those who want a crash course in the language, as well as those who already have some knowledge of French but want to improve their fluency in order to expand their employment options.
Cost: Classes are free. Students only have to pay for course materials
Who can utilize this service? Both immigrants and Canadians aged 16 and over
The Quebec government is very (very) passionate about its residents speaking French, and to that end, the Ministry of Immigration offers free part- and full-time French language courses, as well as specialized courses designed for specific fields of employment.
While the specialized courses are reserved exclusively for immigrants, the general courses are open to Canadians by birth and immigrants alike—that means that it's possible everyone to learn French for free with the Ministry's classes, following discussions last year about opening up free French instruction to all anglophones.
All in-person classes are held at adult education centres. The Ministry also offers online classes, which are also open to those who have been approved for immigration to Quebec but who have not yet relocated.
Not only are the classes offered by the Ministry free of charge, but in some cases they actually offer financial assistance to those who attend (to cover things like transportation and childcare), and the only costs incurred by students are for the required course materials.
Cost: The courses are free, but there’s a $40/semester student fee, $5/year student card fee and $10/session materials fee
Who can utilize this service? Those 16 and older who are: Canadian citizens, permanent resident, refugees, asylum seekers or (in certain cases) work permit holders
The Commission Scolaire de Montréal, aka the Montreal school board, offers French language classes at adult education centres around the city. Programs range from four to 30 hours per week (depending on one’s availability and schedule) and registration can be completed using a simple form online. Note that, to register, one must present proof of living in Montreal (in the form of a RAMQ card, driver’s licence, utility bills or bank statements; there’s advice on the Commission’s website for newcomers who may lack such documents). The Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys and the Commission scolaire de la Pointe de l’Île also offer similar services.
Who can utilize this service? Anyone in Montreal who already has a working knowledge of French (i.e. intermediate level and above)
Yes is a local non-profit organization that helps English-speaking Quebecers find employment in the province.
Yes offers a range of workshops for anglophone job-seekers, including a French for the workplace course, which costs just $75 per four-week session. Classes take place twice on Wednesday and Friday mornings and, as stated above, are designed for intermediate French speakers who wish to improve their fluency for the workplace. At present, Yes’ classes are being offered exclusively online.
Cost: Free with a BAnQ library card
Who can utilize this service? Residents of Montreal
Members at the Bibliothèque et Archives national du Québec (BAnQ) (which is based at Montreal’s largest library, the Grande Bibliothèque) have a range of free language resources at their disposal thanks to the library’s language laboratory, which features six workstations that are equipped with programs like Mango Languages and Rosetta Stone (which usually come with a hefty fee).
The lab also has two workstations on which prep guides for all of the major language proficiency tests can be found.
Unfortunately, the library’s computers aren’t currently available to the general public due to pandemic restrictions.
Cost: Depends on the company/program
Who can utilize this service? Companies with a payroll that exceeds $2 million/a year
Quebec’s 1% Training Law, also known as the Job Skills Act, is a law that dictates that companies with a payroll in excess of $2 million must invest 1% of their total payroll into relevant employee training initiatives.
This can mean a range of things for different organizations, but many companies choose to invest in language instruction in order to foster a more bilingual workforce. If you’re employed by a large company in Quebec and think that this law likely applies to it, it’s worth asking your supervisor or HR manager about how they might help you meet your language learning needs and enable you to learn French (or English) for free!