Localization tips for the Canadian market

Canada enjoys a healthy economy with significant growth in many areas, such as the tech and software scene. The Great White North is an excellent place to expand and promote your business thanks to its stable economy, even now. Here’s what to keep in mind when localizing your product for Canadian audiences. 

Canada’s economy shows significant growth in tech, software, apps, and game industries

Market research is an essential part of the localization process to see if it makes sense to launch into a particular demographic or not. That being said, Canada is one of the top places to promote a business, thanks to its position as one of the world’s largest economies and wealthiest nations. Even with the present downturn in the market both in Canada and worldwide, the country still holds a relatively stable, diversified, and well-developed economy. After all, Canada has been far less impacted by COVID-19 than its neighbor to the south, the United States. Among Canada’s top industries to see growth are software and e-commerce, cannabis, online gaming, and natural  resources. There’s a dip in the GDP, but it’s forecasted to jump back in an upward swing in 2021. See details at Statista, for example.

Software companies that invest in doing business in Canada are sure to take advantage of the same growth that others in the industry have experienced as of late. Software companies that operate in Canada benefit from strong market growth. There has been a 5.9% annual increase in revenues for Canadian software and computer service industries in past years.

As of 2020, the number of smartphone users in Canada jumped to 31.38 million. There’s an app for almost everything someone needs in their day-to-day life, and Canadians are known to make full use of them and try new solutions when they catch wind of a new hype. 

Mobile gaming is also seeing significant growth in Canada, with an estimated mobile gaming revenue growth from $US 309.23 million  in 2019 to $US 363.99 million in 2025. Companies who invest in localizing their game there can get a piece of the pie. 

Besides this, the Canadian population has a strong and large middle-class with good salaries, continuing to grow. In 2018, Canadian tax filers earned 938.5 billion Canadian dollars through wages, salaries, and commissions. If you haven’t thought about expanding to Canada, then you might want to consider it going ahead in 2021.

How to get started localizing for Canadian audiences

There’s more to localizing for the Canadian audiences than meets the eye. You need to consider strict linguistic laws, respect the linguistic uniqueness of both the English and French-speaking Canadians (by creating new style guides and glossaries), and use specialized translators who understand the target audience’s communication style. 

Canada is an officially bilingual country with both English and French, which means all federal documents and information must be published in both official languages. However, each of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories have its own linguistic laws:

  • There are only two officially bilingual provinces in Canada: New Brunswick and Manitoba. Packaging, marketing, and other public communications must be in both official languages. The provincial government must offer services in both languages.
  • Québec is officially French only, though Montréal is 50/50 French and English.
  • British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Labrador are English only.
  • The central provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as Maritime provinces Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, are all officially English only. However, many companies and services are offered in both sectors, as there are also some francophone populations in those regions.
  • Ontario has a regionalized language policy. Some parts of the province are bilingual, while others are only English. 

Canada and the US: Are they not the same?

Though Canadians and Americans share a lot in media, pop culture, and commercial products, they are two very distinct nations. Each has its own strong sense of cultural identity. There are some significant differences when it comes to linguistic, cultural, and societal norms. 

For example, Canadian English spelling is the same as British English spelling, and differs from American English in many cases. 

  • Words ending in “-or” in the US end in “-our” in Canada, such as in colour, favour, flavour, and behaviour.
  • Instead of words ending in “-er”, they’re spelled with an “-re” like in “centre.” 
  • Nouns like defence and offence end with a “-ce” instead of “-se.” Also, to differentiate between the noun and verb forms of some words, like practice and practice, you use an “s” for the verb or a “c” for the noun. 
  • The final “l” is doubled, like in “travelled” and “cancelled,” whereas Americans only use one “l.” 
  • “-og” in words like “catalog” change — it’s spelled “catalogue.”
  • Words like esthetic in the US are written with an “-ae,” as in “aesthetic” in Canada.

Canada also used the metric system and Celsius for temperature instead of the Imperial system and Fahrenheit, which are used in the US. There is some crossover of these American measures of units into Canada, however, especially with older generations. Canadians adopted the metric system as the standard form in 1970.

Canada has its own slang, just like in the US. Suppose you want to get local and colloquial, like in the case of a targeted marketing campaign or website translations, including some local slang and jargon for comedy and familiarity. In that case, slang could be a thoughtful addition. For example, Canadians’ ultimate favorite coffee provider, Tim Horton’s, is often referred to as Timmies by Canadians. A beanie hat used for the winter is called a toque. 

Here’s a list of other terms that you should know if you want to write content for Canada:

  • Washroom: restroom or bathroom.
  • Pop: the equivalent of “soda” in the US.
  • Chocolate bar: as opposed to a “candy bar” in the US.
  • Click: another way of saying kilometer.
  • Runners: as opposed to saying “tennis shoes” or “sneakers” in the US, or “trainers” in the UK.
  • Loonies and Toonies: the way Canadians refer to their one and two Canadian dollar coins. The word “loon” comes from the bird by the same name.

Canadian French vs. European French

The French spoken and written in Canada differs quite heavily from that spoken in Europe — an important consideration when translating any type of content. The French language there has a large spectrum, from heavy dialect to a more academic and standardized French. 

The French spoken in Québec specifically is called “joual,” while each region has its own way of calling the language, like “Franco-Albertain” in Alberta or “Fransaskois” in Saskatchewan. Acadian French is another form of French Canadian spoken by up to 350,000 people, mostly in New Brunswick.

Canadian French differs from European French in grammar, writing style, vocabulary, and of course, pronunciation. The dialect has a broad spectrum, ranging from a very strong dialect to a more “academic” French. Using the dialect could help you reach a wider audience when used in marketing copy or game localization. 

How much slang you use depends on which audience you want to attract. The general population is likely more receptive to a happy medium between strong dialect and standardized French-Canadian. For voice-overs and video content, it’s also better to use French Canadian pronunciation and steer clear of France French.

Here are some differences between French and French Canadian:

  • Canadian French uses a lot of English words, more than are used in France.
  • Canadian French incorporates Aboriginal words from Canada’s First Nations peoples.
  • Canadians are generally more informal and use the “tu” form instead of “vous” when addressing one another; something that is not socially acceptable in France or French-speaking European countries.
  • French Canadians will more frequently use the form “on” for we, as opposed to “nous.”
Vocabulary differences between France and Canada
English French (France) French Canadian
car voiture  char
underwear culottes bobettes
hot dog hot-dog / saucisse chien-chaud
washing machine machine à laver laveuse
mosquito  moustique maringuouin


Localization strategy for Canada

When entering the Canadian market, there are some cultural and linguistic factors to take into consideration. A tailored approach to the content and realizing the country’s uniqueness next to the US will make all the difference.

To avoid being fined for not adhering to each region’s language laws, it’s essential to know which languages are used in which areas to be on the safe side. When entering the Canadian market, it would be wise to localize your product in both Canadian English and French to abide by the laws and reach both language groups. 22.8% of the population speaks French, while 75.4% speak English, so you’d be cutting out a significant amount if you’d target one linguistic group.

Create style guidelines and glossaries. By creating a glossary of all expressions and terms native to Canadians in both English and French, your translators will be able to localize the content in a way that will appeal to the demographics there.

Hire Canadian translators. By working with French Canadian and English Canadian translators, you’ll be sure not to commit any faux-pas. It’s particularly important for French-Canadian. For example, good translation vendors would only use French Canadians to translate for the francophone population there to make sure it is correctly translated. Recruiting the right translation talent is an important step for any company. On the other hand, non-Canadian English natives could do translations for Canada, but they’d have to follow a style guide.

Remember, Canadian culture is not one-to-one with American culture. Though the neighboring countries share a border and many similarities, there are some striking differences between the two countries from a language and norm stand-point, not to mention an entirely different political and economic system. A word of wisdom: when launching in Canada, don’t copy your American strategy. You’ve got to localize for Canada just like you would for any other country. 

Loïe Favre
Loïe Favre is a localization expert at Alconost, a US localization company that specializes in software, apps and game translations whose aim is to disseminate useful information about the translation industry for language professionals, localization managers and companies. Originally from Canada, she has worked for ten years as a translator and translation manager.


Weekly Digest

Subscribe to stay updated

MultiLingual Media LLC