Francophone | The Canadian Encyclopedia



In Canada, the term francophone can refer to someone whose first language is French. They might most often use it to speak, read, write or think. French might also be their most often used language at home. Being francophone can also simply mean being able to speak the language fluently.

According to the 2016 census, approximately 10.36 million Canadians, or 29.8 per cent of the population, declared being able to communicate in French. Around 7.167 million reported that French was their only mother tongue while 7.706 million Canadians declared French as the first official language they spoke.


The terms francophone, anglophone and allophone are used in Canada to describe three broad linguistic groups. The term francophone often refers to someone whose mother tongue is French but can also be applied to someone who speaks the language fluently and has another mother tongue. Allophone is a term that describes anyone whose first language is not English, French or an Indigenous language (see Immigrant Languages in Canada). There are approximately 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada. These are categorized among 12 separate language families and are traditionally spoken by First Nations, Métis people and the Inuit.

The term francophone also provides insight into Canada’s history. From the 17th to the 19th century, the French and British empires colonized and attempted to conquer the land now known as Canada (see New France; The Conquest of New France; British North America). Some francophones in Canada can trace their family histories dating back to settlers who arrived from France and its colonies in the 17th century (see Population Settlement of New France ).

Francophone can refer to more than language. It is often tied to concepts of identity, community and heritage.

Did you know?
Canada is a member of the Francophonie—the global network of French-speaking nations and peoples.

Census Definitions of French Speakers

The term francophone is used colloquially to describe a French speaker in a general sense. The Canadian census uses more specific terminology, distinguishing between people whose mother tongue is French and people for whom French is the first official language spoken (FOLS).

Mother Tongue Definition

The mother tongue definition of French speaker refers to the first language an individual learned and still understands. In 2016, 20.6 per cent of Canadians, or 7.167 million people, viewed French as their only mother tongue. In 2021, this number increased to around 7.189 million Canadians, or 19.6 per cent of the population.

First Official Language Spoken (FOLS) Definition

English and French are Canada’s two official languages (see Official Languages Act (1969); Bilingualism). The purpose of counting people on the basis of first official language spoken (FOLS) is to help distinguish, in broad terms, between French- and English-speaking Canadians. The FOLS definition is derived from three federal census questions, about one’s knowledge of Canada’s official languages, one’s mother tongue, and the language one speaks at home. In 2016, Canadians whose first official language spoken was French represented 22.2 per cent of the total population, or just over 7.7 million people. In 2021, the percentage decreased to 21.4 per cent, but the number of people who learned French as their FOLS increased to 7.8 million.

Where Do Francophones Live in Canada?

There are established francophone communities across Canada, but Quebec is the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language. In 2016, approximately 6.22 million Quebecers (77 per cent) of the provincial population, had French as their mother tongue. Meanwhile, 6.751 million (83.7 per cent) had French as their FOLS. In fact, almost 94.5 per cent of the province’s population can speak French.

Immigrants form an increasingly large portion of the Canadian francophonie. Among them are newcomers from francophone regions such as France and Maghreb (see French Immigration in Canada). This also includes allophones who learn French in addition to their mother tongue.

Outside of Quebec, most Canadians communicate in English. As a result, the term francophone is often employed in the context of French-speaking linguistic minority communities, or where French and English speakers live near one another. Many provinces, notably Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba all have sizeable and long-established francophone minority populations (see Francophones of Ontario; Contemporary Acadia; Francophones of Manitoba). Other provinces and territories have smaller but significant francophone populations. (See Francophones of Nunavut; Francophones of British Columbia; Francophones of Alberta; Francophones of the Northwest Territories; Francophones of Yukon; Francophones of Saskatchewan; Francophones of Newfoundland and Labrador).

Did you know?
A Francophile is someone who appreciates the French language and the culture it produced.