Office québécois de la langue française – a primer of sorts.

We recently just signed a new client for our WCMS product. Their decision to go multilingual, was “hurried up” after some conversations with the “Office Québécois de la langue française” (OQLF), or as they’re not so affectionately known, probably politically incorrectly, in the rest of Canada – the “Language Police” (according to Wikipedia it was actually “60 Minutes” that coined this term during a report).

For those not too familiar with this organization they are essentially an extension of the provincial government whose mandate is to preserve, protect and promote the usage of the French language within the province of Quebec – their actions and mission largely revolve around ensuring the Charter of the French Language is followed.

Until this point I’d admittedly never really read up on the Charter, nor the office that enforces it, largely because none of my previous companies or employers have done much business in Quebec. Our clients, prior to Clay Tablet, were typically doing a French version of their website by choice because they wanted to get into that market and at the time we weren’t positioning ourselves as a globalization/multilingual vendor, it was just a feature of some of our tools.

Obviously the first place I went to read up on the implications of the French charter was the OQLF’s website ( A nice looking site, until you click the “English Section” button at the top of the page – which takes you to a purely utilitarian version of the site with the basic information you need to get by.

It’s actually a good reminder of how important it is to consider the message you’re sending to your audience when translating your site. Needless to say this version of the site didn’t make me feel all that welcome – which, given the context strikes me as odd. At the end of the day the purpose of the OQLF’s mandate is really to encourage non-French speakers to use the French language within the province of Quebec. I’d suggest a better strategy would be to make this process as inviting and simple for someone like myself, so you feel as if you want to comply and work with them – instead, you’re left begrudgingly clicking through a lack-lustre site, trying to figure out a process that seems pointless and artificial.

I initially tried wading through the charter but it’s long, legal and frankly I’m sick of looking at legal-type docs right now (I imagine SLA’s would have been much easier a few hundred years ago: “If the goat dies, come back and I’ll give you another one”). Also, the legal-type docs tend to cover all the bases and are far scarier then the application of the rules actually tend to be.

Anecdotally I’ve heard mixed reviews on how friendly the OQLF can actually be when dealing with your business. It seems to largely to revolve around whether you contact them, or they contact you. There’s also a little bit of urban legend-ish fear built up around how scary they can be. As an example, I came across this interesting anecdote while searching for info.

All indications from our client are also that the office has been quite reasonable with regards to their “encouragement”. This PDF “Doing Business in Quebec”, that can be found on the OQLF site, paints a friendly, patient office that’s willing to help and it appears that larger organizations even have up to a few years to complete the process once they open an office within Quebec.

At the end of the day, if your business is considering Quebec as a target market, even if it’s purely through a website, you should really make sure to read through the OQLF resources and ensure you understand what’s ahead of you. In addition to the variants of rules depending on the size and nature of your company, there are some web specific considerations when selling to Quebec that you should understand before starting to ship product. If all else fails they seem to make it pretty clear they’re happy to work with you, so try giving the OQLF a call.

Note: I refer to this as a primer “of sorts” because I just don’t have the depth to portray a full picture just yet. If I find any handy summaries or resources I’ll be sure to post them.

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