The role of language access in Canadian Higher Education | Stillman Translations
The role of language access in Canadian Higher Education

Reading official statements it seems Canadians speak only English and French. How does this play out in education application and recruiting?

Reading official statements it seems Canadians speak only English and French. How does this play out in higher education application and recruiting? 

Both English and French are official languages in Canada, and as such, they are the languages in which the universities in the country offer programs and services. For that reason,  in terms of higher education applications, it is common for universities to require proof of proficiency in the language of instruction. Typically this is demonstrated through language proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL for English, or TEF or TCF for French.  

Additionally, some universities may have specific language requirements for certain programs. In terms of recruiting, many Canadian companies also operate in both English and French, and may require fluency in one or both languages for certain positions. So language access is a crucial aspect of higher education in Canada. Being fluent is what enables individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds to fully participate in the system and achieve academic goals.  

So what happens if the student comes from another country? If their records are in a foreign language? If they are part of indigenous peoples and had other types of language and education experiences? That’s what this article is about.

Language access; Canadian Higher education
Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash

First comes first: what is an application process like?

The application process for higher education in Canada can vary depending on the institution and program you are applying to. Generally, the process involves the following steps: 

  1. Research institutions and programs: Look at different universities and programs in Canada to find the best fit for you. 
  1. Meet the requirements: Review the admission requirements for the institutions and programs you are interested in. This may include proof of language proficiency, transcripts, test scores, and other documentation. 
  1. Submit your application: Submit the required documentation and pay any application fees. 
  1. Wait for a decision: After submitting your application, you will have to wait for a decision from the institution. 
  1. Accept the offer and prepare to move: If your application is accepted, you will receive an offer of admission. You will then need to accept the offer and prepare for your move to Canada, which may include obtaining a study permit, finding housing, and making travel arrangements. 

It’s important to note that the process can vary depending on the institution and program you are applying to, and it’s recommended to check the specific requirements and deadlines for the universities and programs you are interested in.

What if I’m from another country, with a language other than English or French?

There’s no problem per se, but you will need to provide, as mentioned in step two, transcripts, language proficiency tests and more. If your personal and academic documents are in a language other than English or French, you will most likely need official translations of those documents as well. The institution or company needs to be sure they understand the  information provided to evaluate properly. Which is why they require, to avoid any legal or non legal complications, that they are accurate and official translations. This means that the translations are done by a certified translator.  

Some universities or employers may have their own preferred translators or translation agencies that you can use, but usually you are free to choose as long as it meets the requirements. Our language experts have their fair share of experience in this field. Some institutions and companies may also accept transcripts or other documents that have been translated by a bilingual staff member or by a translation software, but it is always best to check with them beforehand. 

But above all, remember applications have deadlines. We recommend doing this work with as much anticipation as you can to be sure.

Are there any policies at a national level in favor of indigenous people and migrants?

It is possible that some people, particularly those from minority communities, may experience challenges related to language barriers when trying to access higher education in Canada. For example, if a person’s primary language is not English or French, they may have difficulty understanding course materials or communicating with instructors, which can affect their academic performance. Additionally, if a person has limited proficiency in English or French, they may have difficulty demonstrating their language proficiency in order to be admitted to certain programs or institutions. 

It is also possible that some people from minority communities may face other barriers to accessing higher education in Canada, such as financial constraints or discrimination.


It’s worth noting that Canada is a multicultural country, so the fact that this happens is not something that can easily be ignored. Institutions and employers are aware of the diversity of languages and cultures of the population, and have policies and programs in place to accommodate and support non-English and French speakers. 

There are policies in Canada that aim to support and promote access to higher education for Indigenous peoples and migrants. And there are measures taken by the very university to facilitate integration. 

For Indigenous peoples, the federal government has implemented a number of policies and initiatives to support access to higher education. This includes funding for Indigenous-specific programs and services at universities and colleges, as well as scholarships and bursaries for Indigenous students. Additionally, many universities and colleges have Indigenous student centers and services that provide academic and cultural support.

International students

For migrants, the federal government has implemented policies to support access to higher education for international students, such as the Express Entry system, which aims to make it easier for highly skilled workers to immigrate to Canada. Additionally, many universities and colleges have support services and resources in place to help international students navigate the application process and adjust to life in Canada. Some institutions also have programs and initiatives specifically aimed at helping newcomers access higher education. 

Politics aside, some universities and colleges have language classes, tutoring, and other academic support services, as well as counseling aimed at making life easier for everyone in the institution. 

All this, of course, varies depending on the province and territory, and some regions may have more resources and support services than others.

If you’re reading this from inside of university staff

If by any chance you are a part of the solution, and work in a university or higher education institution, remember that language service providers can also play a key role in supporting the academic success of international students once they have enrolled in a university or college.  

We can provide interpretation and translation services for academic classes and lectures, as well as support with language-related academic tasks such as research and writing.These students may face language barriers in their academic studies and require support to fully participate in the education system. A support we are willing to and have provided thousands of times.

Communicate in other languages.

That being said, not everything is uphill. Fluency in other languages may be an asset for you.  Many Canadian organizations, especially those in big cities, conduct business with other countries and cultures. They could value having employees who can communicate in other languages. This is particularly true for certain industries such as international trade, tourism, and customer service.  

So overall, do your research. If you’re an institution, make sure the first step and basic information is provided in a variety of languages. If you are hoping to apply to a university in Canada, find out what language you need your documents in and translate them. Reach out and ask the staff if there are programs, counseling, multicultural initiatives or any type of support for people who come from minority communities. Embrace your differences and prepare for your next adventure.  

If you need any help along the way, don’t hesitate to ask. 

If you would like to learn more topics about communication, you can read Hate speech: a multilingual problem for interpretetion