What You Need to Translate Into French if You’re Doing Business in Quebec

quebec flag doing business in quebec

You are ready to conquer the French Canadian market and want to reach effectively the millions of francophones living in the province of Quebec. There are two main reasons why you want to market your product using perfectly fluid French:

1) To comply with the provincial regulations concerning language

2) Out of respect for your future clients, that you want to seduce and not repel!

What exactly do you need to translate into French to comply with the provincial regulations? Let’s find out what the Charter of the French Language, commonly known as Bill 101, has to say about it.

All the text on or included with your product must be in French

Section 51: Every inscription on a product, on its container or on its wrapping, or on a document or object supplied with it, including the directions for use and the warranty certificates, must be drafted in French. This rule applies also to menus and wine lists.

In other words: if there’s something written on or with your product, you have to translate it into French. However:

The French inscription may be accompanied with a translation or translations, but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.

This means that you cannot provide the French translation in smaller characters or translate just a part of your user manual. The French version must be at least equal as the English one (or any other source language), as shown below.

product in English and French

The marketing of your product must be in French

Section 52: Catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications must be drawn up in French.

Beyond your obligation, translating these marketing documents in French will substantially help you sell your product. Let’s add to these your website, your blog and your posts on social media, that were not specifically included in the Charter at the time, but that are so relevant today.

Section 58 : Public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French.

They may also be both in French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant.

This is obvious if you want to seduce your French clientele. Advertise in French!

Toys and games must be available in French

Section 54: Toys and games, except those referred to in section 52.1, which require the use of a non-French vocabulary for their operation are prohibited on the Québec market, unless a French version of the toy or game is available on the Québec market on no less favourable terms.

This section is written in an overly complicated way, in my opinion. Basically, if your product is a toy or a game, make sure the French version is available at the same extent that the English version. Anyway, little Québécois toddlers rarely understand two languages before they go to school, so chances are you’ll be more successful with a perfectly adapted toy or game.

toys and games into French

Contracts and forms must be in French

Section 55 : Contracts pre-determined by one party, contracts containing printed standard clauses, and the related documents, must be drawn up in French. They may be drawn up in another language as well at the express wish of the parties.

If your product requires a membership or a registration, for example, you will need to translate into French all the registration forms and contracts between you and your client. Do not forget to translate the Privacy Policy on your website, which is a kind of contract between the user and your business.

Contracts and forms must be in French

Section 57 : Application forms for employment, order forms, invoices, receipts and quittances shall be drawn up in French.

If you plan to open a store in the province of Quebec, you will have to provide your communications to your employees (and even future employees through your Application form) in French, even if they also understand English, which is often the case in Montreal. There is a whole part of the Charter about the right to work in French (Chapter VI), which I will probably write about in a future article.

Your name must be in French (but…)

Section 63 : The name of an enterprise must be in French.

That section was the subject of much discussion over the last years, even decades. Actually, you can keep your current legal name in the language you want (e.g., Canadian Tire Inc. or Pottery Barn Inc.). In that case, you must register another name in French. This other name will be used in all your communications with the public (this is how Starbucks becomes Café Starbucks here).

Enterprise name adapted in French

But what about Costco Wholesale, Best Buy, Bulk Barn and so on, that use their English names in Quebec? In fact, the law says that you can use a name in an other language than French if it is a registered trademark registered in Canada that has no existing equivalent in French. You must make sure to use the registered sign (either ® or MD, TM or MC) next to your trademark.

There are a bunch of other rules about your company name, including about the generic and specific part of your name. I would say that this section of the Charter is probably the one which includes the most exceptions — and that is the most complicated. If you are not sure about your choice of name for the French Canadian market, do not hesitate to contact the Office québécois de la langue française at 1 888 873-6202.

So this is mostly it. Please note that this blog article does not constitute a legal opinion and is for your information only. Don’t give up! Doing business in French can go smoothly if you pair up with competent translators that can provide you linguistic advice. There are professionals that can guide you through this journey that will make your product or service available to millions of new people. Welcome to Quebec!

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