I want to answer the question directly and say that you don’t need French to live in Montreal; you don’t need it before. But in my opinion, you should be actively working on it. If not constantly improving it, at least maintaining like a reasonable level.
First of all, the more you learn the local language, the more your experience will open up like you’ll have access to experiences you wouldn’t have without that language.
In Quebec, the official language is French. It gets confusing because Montreal is often called a bilingual city, which is in that there’s a lot of English speakers. However, you’re still in the Province of Quebec, which means that like the government’s official communication is in French, there’s a lot of language laws about the signs…
The second major point I want to make is that the west of Montreal is much more English speaking for example, is an area called Westmount, where the majority of people speak English, an area called Verdun, that has a lot of English speakers and even downtown, I would say almost 50/50 you hear a lot of English, lot of French.
Moreover, there is an area called Plateau that is very French-speaking, so you do hear some English on the streets, but when you live there, you should learn French because you’re moving to the French part of the city where French is the number one language.
Are there any French Canadians who can’t speak English?
First of all, there is a big difference between understanding and speaking English slightly and being bilingual. I believe that there are about 40% of bilingual francophones in Quebec.
English has only been taught in school on a mandatory basis in Quebec since the 90s or so. So all the previous generations probably didn’t learn it in school.
Also, in Quebec, English is not widely spoken outside of the Montreal area, so even younger generations lose it relatively quickly, without practicing it.
And of course, there are also all the people with a mother tongue other than English or French, but that’s another story.
Do you need to speak French to work in Montreal?
The answer is no, but it’s preferred. Like, you have so many more options if you do speak French. So for professional purposes, it is an asset (and even a prerequisite) to speak English as well. However, French is the dominant language, and it is essential to know the language. Don’t forget that in Quebec, Bill 101 protects and gives priority to the French language.
However, you can find companies in certain places where you don’t need to speak French to work. I have friends who don’t speak French and have outstanding careers.
If you are thinking about, Moving to Montreal, you don’t need to be perfect in French before you arrive there. However, I would recommend taking French lessons, and improving your French, that you can have even more opportunities while you’re in Montreal.
That being said, if you are a visitor or you want to move here, do you need French in your day-to-day life? That depends on what neighborhood you’re in. So, there are some neighborhoods where nobody speaks English. Some areas where barely anybody speaks French, Some neighborhoods are more French than others like I said, and if you want to move to that neighborhood, you’re better off knowing French, or you might feel isolated. Still, you can find these anglophone neighborhoods where you will feel comfortable.
Is Montreal the best city to settle as an immigrant?
It depends on your goals and means, really.
Montreal is already very multi-cultural, so it’s easy to find people from the same background as you. English is also spoken quite a bit, so that can be an advantage if you don’t know much French yet. The unemployment rate is higher than elsewhere though, and so are the prices of houses and rentals. If you are a student, it is also a place known for its schools and universities. Festivals and museums abound. Transportation by metro and bus is easy and reasonably priced.
Trois-Rivières is quiet, especially francophone. About halfway between Quebec City and Montreal. Presence of universities. Many historical sites to visit. Fewer people and traffic congestion than in Montreal. Public bus service, but no metro. A good compromise between city and country, nice place to settle with a family. House prices and rents are lower than in Quebec City or Montreal.
Quebec City has a great historical heritage to discover. Less populated than Montreal, but more than Trois-Rivières. Decent bus service, but no metro. Rents and houses are less expensive than in Montreal but more than in Trois-Rivières. Many festivals are similar to those in Montreal but generally less crowded. A great diversity of leisure activities is available. Well-known universities and schools. Majority French-speaking city.
Don’t forget that some cities in the region also offer great opportunities, such as Saint-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu, Baie Comeau, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, etc.
Living in Montreal and not speaking French can be just fine. Many people are born and raised in Montreal and don’t speak French, sometimes they understand it, but they don’t speak it.
So don’t let the French language discourage you, you can move to Montreal then learn French. And if you want to get a good job, you might need to be fluent, and If you want to really Excel, you need to immerse yourself.