What to Know about Bilingual Careers in Canada
Language testing is crucial in hiring for many government jobs in Canada. While there are lower-level roles available in public service, bilingual careers require a candidate to possess a specific level of proficiency in Canada’s two official languages: French and English. These careers require candidates to either have or obtain a particular linguistic profile.
English and French-speaking Canadians not only have the right to be served in the official language of their choice but to equal employment and advancement with the federal agencies and crown corporations.
Depending on the role and responsibilities, a job in the Canadian government can be classified as unilingual or bilingual based on the job’s description and the level of communication required to perform its responsibilities. For some of these jobs, French-English fluency may be “imperative” and “non-imperative” in the hiring process.
Candidates for these roles are thus required to have a linguistic profile established through the Public Service Commission of Canada’s Second Language Evaluation (SLE).
The three SLE levels are as follows:
- Level A — Beginner
- Level B — Intermediate
- Level C — Advanced
What careers require bilingualism?
Which careers require and do not require French-English fluency is not straightforward.
In the private sector, some Canadian companies may require bilingualism in their prerogative as it may be essential to a smooth workflow. Other companies may fall under language laws depending on their industry and location. Language laws have been expanding in recent years, and new legislation is expanding bilingual requirements.
Federal Language Laws
In the public sector, language laws establish Canadians’ rights to be spoken to in their preferred official language, meaning government agencies and crown corporations must be staffed with individuals who speak each language. The Canadian federal government mandates various levels of bilingual proficiency based on position, responsibilities, and even location.
For instance, bilingual positions are common in certain regions of Canada, including the National Capital Region, parts of Northern and Eastern Ontario, the Montreal area, parts of the Eastern Townships, Gaspésie, Western Quebec, and New Brunswick.
Ultimately, each ministry, HR, or hiring manager works differently when determining bilingual jobs, and the decisions may vary from one department to the next on which level of proficiency is required for them.
However, there is a general rule of what constitutes a bilingual position at the federal government level, and that is a “CBC profile” for most positions (more on that later).
Understanding Canada’s Language Requirements
The official language test of the Canadian Government is called the Second Language Evaluation (SLE). It is a three-part assessment mandatory for government personnel, as it measures their reading, writing, and speaking English and French capabilities.
The SLE is implemented to guarantee that both agencies and crown corporations are equipped to fill roles in compliance with Canada’s language laws. Moreover, the SLE framework ensures that bilingual public service positions can effectively cater to the public’s needs in both languages.
The SLE consists of three different evaluations, each targeting a unique aspect of communication:
- Test of Reading Comprehension
- Test of Written Expression
- The Oral Language Assessment
As mentioned before, three SLE proficiency levels are assigned to candidates — A, B, and C, with C being the most advanced. An individual is provided with a letter grade in each SLE evaluation area.
In addition to these levels, a candidate may be assigned an “X,” denoting they have not reached a beginner’s level.
Specific jobs, such as a translator role, require training or expert proficiency and will be designated with Code P, meaning special/technical bilingual ability is needed.
Candidates may also obtain an “E” classification when their proficiency in a second language area can be expected to remain at Level C for any future tests. When candidates are assigned an E they are indefinitely exempted from further language testing for either the reading, written, or oral portion of the SLE process.
What is a Language Profile & How to Build One
So what is a “BBB” language profile? What about “CBC?”
It’s pretty straightforward once you understand the Public Service Commission of Canada’s performance standards. Let’s dive in.
Canadian Public Service Job Language Requirements
Since Canada recognises English and French as their official languages, numerous public sector roles require employees to have proficient bilingual skills.
Based on the performance in the SLE areas of reading, writing, and speaking, candidates build what is known as a language profile which is then used to determine their qualifications for a specific position.
Roles at the managerial and directorial level have typically mandated a minimum proficiency of a BBB, although many are now requiring a higher CBC level. The absence of these essential language certifications can pose significant obstacles to career advancement, whereas enhancing one’s linguistic abilities can unlock many opportunities.
For example, job requirements for a federal policy analyst job could include a CBC/CBC linguistic profile.
A CBC/CBC profile implies that an individual whose primary official language is French must demonstrate English proficiency at the CBC level. Someone whose initial official language is English must exhibit French competency at the CBC level.
Unilingual and Bilingual Positions
Within Canada’s Public Service, job roles are classified as unilingual or bilingual.
Unilingual roles are explicitly designated as “English essential,” “French essential,” or “English or French essential,” indicating that proficiency in a particular language is crucial. On the other hand, bilingual roles necessitate fluency in both English and French.
Imperative v. Non-Imperative Requirements
An imperative appointment stipulates that the linguistic prerequisites of the job must be fulfilled at the point of hiring. Conversely, a non-imperative appointment allows for the role to be filled by someone who commits to acquiring bilingual skills through language instruction funded by the government.
Building an SLE language profile involves diligent preparation and practice in English and French.
How to Build Your Language Profile
Though acquiring a new language can be challenging, second language training represents a special skill you can earn for yourself. An intermediate language profile may be a career barrier in advancement or promotion, so there are many reasons someone may be considering improving their language profile.
Building an SLE language profile involves diligent preparation and practice in English and French. While self-teaching is always an option, it may not get you to your goals as quickly or as effectively as a professional tutor can.
While SLE test results are typically valid for up to five years, the good news is that the Public Service Commission allows candidates to retest after brief cool-down periods.
Earning a Level C in SLE
Level B is the most commonly earned SLE level This is because improving language skills from Level A to Level B is a much faster learning curve than increasing a score from Level B to Level C.
This means much more intentional work is required for those seeking to obtain Level C proficiency.
Level C proficiency requirements are more rigorous and technical than Level B, and require candidates to demonstrate comfortability in the second language and the ability to communicate abstract thoughts and ideas.
To earn a Level C a candidate needs to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to mastering the language. This includes extensive practice and immersion in the language. Furthermore, candidates seeking to obtain Level C should also consider seeking formal instruction or tutoring, where they can receive help in setting goals, receive personalized feedback, and take practice tests.
Earn Levels Faster & On the First Attempt
LRDG’s professional language tutors can help accelerate your journey towards achieving your target SLE levels successfully on your initial attempts.
The LRDG online language tutoring platform offers flexible, personalised learning paths around a candidate’s schedule and rebalances around their successes and their needs. LRDG also helps learners by providing practice tests and test preparation. Our team is even qualified to administer official SLE tests directly.
Over 30,000 learners have benefited from our comprehensive and effective language training approach, which is reflected in our impressive 90% test-pass rate. With LRDG, you can be confident in your ability to meet the language requirements of Canada’s public sector roles, opening up a wealth of career opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions about SLE Careers
What are bilingual careers?
Bilingual careers are jobs that require a candidate to possess a specific level of proficiency in Canada’s two official languages: French and English. These careers require candidates to either have or obtain a specific linguistic profile.
What is an SLE Language Profile?
A Language Profile is a letter code indicating a candidate’s proficiency in the three areas of reading, writing, and speaking in both English and French, as determined by the Public Service Commission of Canada’s Second Language Evaluation (SLE). It is used to determine their qualifications for a specific position.
What does a BBB linguistic profile mean?
A BBB Linguistic Profile implies that an individual whose primary official language is French must demonstrate English proficiency at the intermediate level in reading, writing, and oral communication.
BBB means that a candidate can understand, communicate, and interact in their second language in regular job-related situations, although they may not be able to handle more complex tasks or specialized discussions without additional language support or resources.
What are unilingual and bilingual positions?
In Canada’s Public Service, job roles are classified as unilingual or bilingual. Unilingual roles require proficiency in a particular language: “English essential,” “French essential,” or “English or French essential.” Bilingual roles necessitate fluency in both English and French.
What are imperative and non-imperative appointments?
An imperative appointment requires that the linguistic prerequisites of the job must be met at the point of hiring. A non-imperative appointment allows for the role to be filled by someone who commits to acquiring bilingual skills through language training funded by the government.
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