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Manager's Guide to Delivering Services in Both Official Languages

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Roles and Responsibilities of Managers Required to Provide Services in Both Official Languages

As the manager of a bilingual office, you are the key to ensuring that a competent and efficient team provides services to English-speaking and French-speaking clients.

You set the tone for your employees. It is up to you to show a sustained interest in serving both official language communities and to ensure that your employees understand the meaning of institutional bilingualism. It is worthwhile reminding your staff from time to time of the steps that lead from constitutional rights to the daily practice of offering bilingual service.

The Treasury Board Policy on the Use of Official Languages for Communications with and Services to the Public, to which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is subject, states that "federal institutions and third parties acting on their behalf provide communications in English, in French or in both official languages, based on the mandate or the location of the offices or service points of the institutions and the composition of the public to which the communications are directed."

"Communications" mean written, oral and visual communications. The content and format must always reflect the equal status of both official languages in federal institutions.

Managers of offices designated as bilingual for service to the public are therefore responsible for ensuring that:

  • each business line has sufficient bilingual capacity to meet the demands of the official language minority community;
  • an active offer of service is made at all times both on the telephone and in person;
  • correspondence addressed to a particular person or clientele is written in the official language of the client's choice;
  • the official languages symbol is clearly posted at each office that is designated as bilingual for service to the public;
  • forms, publications and other information material intended for the public are always available in both official languages and equitably displayed on racks, notice boards, in booths, etc.;
  • all signage identifying the Agency and its offices is in both official languages;
  • third parties working for the Agency and offering services to the public are informed of the requirements of the policy and that services provided to the travelling public pursuant to a contract are available in both official languages;
  • all employees are informed of their obligations (see: Roles and Responsibilities of Employees Required to Provide Services in Both Official Languages) and are regularly made aware of the importance of bilingual service; and
  • language minorities are periodically notified of the bilingual services offered by their offices.

A Self-Evaluation Checklist for the Manager has been developed to assist you in offering quality service to your client in the language of their choice.

Questions and Answers - Managers

Q1. What do you mean by official language minority population?

A1. In the Regulations, the English or French linguistic minority population is defined as the official language minority population in a given province, as determined by Statistics Canada under "Method 1" described in its publication "Population Estimates by First Official Language Spoken." This statistical method involves combining in an objective way the various figures on knowledge of official languages, mother tongue and home language.

Q2. How do I objectively set the language profile of a position?

A2. Language profiles must reflect the communication needs of the functions to be performed, the clients to be served, the location of the position and the overall linguistic capability of the work unit. This information is derived from the work description for the position. The language requirements must also reflect the obligations with respect to service to the public and language of work, as defined in the CFIA Official Languages Policy.

A web-based tool, "Determining the Linguistic Profile of Bilingual Positions" is available to help you establish the linguistic profile of positions. A printable version presents the profile and the functions associated with a particular position. We encourage you to use this tool and include it in the employee’s staffing file. In the event of a complaint, documentation will be available to show due diligence.

Q3. I have been unable to recruit someone who has the professional qualifications we require and is also bilingual. How do I fulfill my linguistic obligations?

A3. What about publishing advertisements in bilingual newspapers? Or in newspapers intended for linguistic minorities?

There are also a number of resources to help you access a pool of bilingual persons, including the Association canadienne française de l'Ontario, Francophone school boards and Canadian Parents for French. 

To fulfill your linguistic obligations, you may also: 

  • ask one of your bilingual employees to provide services in the second official language;
  • establish a collaborative arrangement with another CFIA office and refer calls in the second official language to that office.  Offering a high-quality, completely bilingual service within the framework of an administrative arrangement is preferable to asking an employee with poor second-language skills to respond to a request for service;
  • set up a 1-800 line so that a third party can provide service in the second official language; and
  • make the most commonly requested technical information available to both linguistic communities by posting it on the Agency’s Web site.

Q4. In what cases must I send my employees on mandatory language training?

A4. You must send your employees on mandatory language training if:

  • you have hired an employee in an indeterminate position (including part-time positions) that was staffed bilingual non-imperative and they do not meet the language profile of the position;
  • your employee occupies a unilingual position that has been re-designated as bilingual; or
  • your employee occupies a bilingual position for which the language profile has been raised.

Q5. Can I use the Developmental Fund for Developmental Official Languages purposes?

A5. Yes, the Developmental Fund can be used to help your employees acquire or develop second language skills beyond their position requirements. The Developmental Fund is a great strategy to include in your team’s succession plan. There are two types of programs offered:

  • Part-Time language training requests must be approved by your Branch head, through the Developmental Fund submission process.
  • The Outside Working Hours has been developed for employees who wish to take training during lunch hour or after working hours, as a group or individually. Each Area receives an amount of money that is distributed among all interested participants. Participants are required to complete a training request and communicate with their Area coordinator.

Tools for managers

How to Set Up a Bilingual Office

There is no one simple formula for implementing bilingual services, but there are some key elements shared by organizations that have successfully made the change. Their experience suggests that there are three main phases: planning, implementation and follow-up.

1. Planning

Aim: to make members aware that bilingualism will be introduced on a step-by-step basis and to determine the resources available and the resources needed to achieve the objectives.


  • awareness-raising among employees of the new language requirements for the office;
  • assessment of the current situation;
  • assessment of the resources, costs and effort required to deliver services in both languages;
  • development and implementation of a communications plan designed to win the support of minority linguistic communities; and
  • assessment of employee language training needs.

2. Implementation

Aim: to set up the key structures, processes and activities needed in the move to bilingualism.


3. Follow-up

Aim: to assess progress and plan next steps.


  • evaluation of results (see Information Sheet: Monitoring and Assessment Diagnostic Grid);
  • surveys to gauge satisfaction of members of minority language communities and clients (See Questionnaire to Evaluate Client Satisfaction);
  • identification of any necessary corrective measures;
  • promotion of the successes and positive impacts of the project; and
  • development of a follow-up plan.

Steps to Set Up a Bilingual Office


Because first impressions are lasting ones, reception arrangements in designated bilingual offices must include staff who are proficient in both languages. This type of reception will make your clients feel welcome and will avoid needless frustration.

Bilingual Signs

Official language communities, whether Anglophone or Francophone, expect your office to make people feel welcome in both official languages. Each manager is responsible for ensuring that posters, signs, etc. are used effectively in public service areas. Post the official languages symbol and signs to direct clients to service points where they may be assisted in either English or French.

Be careful with homemade signs!

Sometimes we post special messages and reminders to our clients in our offices and at other points of service on a temporary basis. This type of signage is the source of many of the complaints from the public. These messages, although temporary, must always be written properly in both official languages, which means they must be free of all grammatical and spelling errors. The public is particularly sensitive to the care you give to messages of this nature, which indicates the importance your organization places on quality service.

Contact with linguistic minority communities

Minority language communities are represented in all provinces and territories by recognized associations. The leaders of these communities are excellent resources to help you determine the specific needs and expectations of their communities.

It is in your best interest to establish good relationships with these individuals. If community members are slow to approach you, take it upon yourself to initiate communications.

Regional offices of Heritage Canada or the Official Languages Centre of Excellence, Treasury Board Secretariat, can help put you in contact with these associations. Also, the Official Languages Web site provides links to these communities.


Remember that all public information (forms, brochures, electronic bulletin boards, etc.) must also be available in both official languages.

If the volume of documents in your organization does not warrant a full-time translator, you can use the services of a free-lance translator. The Agency uses the translation services of Public Works and Government Services Canada. If you contact them at, you will find a choice of translators in a wide variety of domains: scientific, technical, legal, etc. All documents should be distributed in both languages simultaneously.

Language training

Language training is one of the most effective ways to improve your organization's capacity to offer services in a second language.

Employees attending language training should first be tested to assess their current level of proficiency. The most appropriate objectives and teaching methods to improve the participant's language skills should then be determined on the basis of the language requirements of the position.

Several training options may be considered:

  • language courses offered outside the organization by language schools, colleges and universities;
  • tailor-made courses offered on site;
  • informal conversational courses given by another student, employee or volunteer;
  • self-teaching courses (video tapes, audio cassettes, software packages, etc.); and
  • distance training.

For further information about the availability of language training for your employees, contact your Area Human Resources Advisor.

Initial enthusiasm for language training can fade quite quickly for a variety of reasons, including loss of interest, lack of time, and problems with the course content or approach. But there are ways you can help your training program to be successful:

  • take the time to plan your program carefully;
  • personalize the program for each participant;
  • offer incentives to maintain interest and participation; and
  • regularly monitor the program's progress as well as the progress of students.

Communication plan

Your communications plan should take into account the requirement to inform both official language communities about the location of your bilingual offices.

It is important to choose the right media, including the minority language press, to allow you to reach both linguistic communities.

Consult the directories and information bulletins published by the official language communities. Prepare a list of contact persons and a list of the electronic media preferred by these communities. By using the official language community's radio and television stations as well as its local weekly newspapers, you will be able to make your clients aware of your services and direct them to the appropriate offices. You may also want to distribute your institution's publications in the community association's offices and cultural centres and at special events.

Electronic services

Electronic communications with your clients are subject to the requirements set out in the Official Languages Act. You must ensure that your Web site and the information you email to your clients are bilingual.

Web developers must ensure OLA requirements are met both in the content and the architecture of their sites, in accordance with the Treasury Board's Directive on the Use of Official Languages on Web Sites. Official languages standards are described on the Common Look and Feel for the Internet site.

Services offered by a third party

As managers, you will have to be vigilant when services are co-located and jointly operated so that the public continues to receive the bilingual federal services to which they are entitled. The basic principle is that when a federal service is provided by a partner on behalf of your institution, your institution must take the appropriate steps to ensure that this service is provided in accordance with the Official Languages Act and its regulations.

You may want to check that this obligation forms part of your agreement with your partner(s). Among the aspects you have to consider are such things as signage, reception, publications, "1-800" lines, logos, stationery, advertising and automated information systems.

Telephone services

Recorded messages, including voice mail, are, in many instances, the first introduction a client may have to your service. Make sure that the recorded messages you or your staff provide reflect the equal status of English and French. This is, after all, part of actively offering your services in both official languages.

Long Term Steps


When you recruit staff for positions that require contact with clients of official language communities, make sure to include the following qualifications in the position descriptions:

  • general aptitude for serving the public; and
  • capacity to serve the public in both official languages.

In the case of the supervisors of these employees, the statement of qualifications might include:

  • awareness of the linguistic obligations of federal institutions; and
  • commitment to official languages objectives.


The offices of the Agency that are designated as bilingual for service to the public must use feedback mechanisms to measure the degree of satisfaction on the part of their clients. Excellence in service cannot be achieved without listening to and evaluating clients' comments. The official languages field is no exception. Make the evaluation of the official languages aspect an integral part of any overall evaluation of your operational activities.

General Information on Delivering Services in Both Official Languages

Oral Communication

Call centres and reception
  • Call centres and reception areas will be staffed by individuals able to respond to requests and to greet the public in English and French.
  • Pre-recorded telephone messages will be bilingual.
  • Telephone messages for the general public after regular office hours will be recorded in both official languages.
  • Reception areas will display the appropriate signage.
Public events and ceremonies
  • Welcome speeches at public and official events will be given in both English and French.

Written Communication

Information, advertisements and promotional material
  • A bilingual format is to be used whenever possible.
  • Brochures, pamphlets and all promotional material for general distribution will be made available in both official languages.
  • Publications will include the appropriate version of the following notice: "This document is also available in English" or "Ce document est également disponible en français."
  • Mail from clients and/or the public will be answered in the official language used in the original request.
  • All forms used by clients and/or the public will be made available in English and French, preferably in a bilingual format. If separate English and French versions are produced, there must be an indication that the form is available in the other language.
Media relations
  • All press releases will be produced in English for the English media and in French for the French media; and
  • Press conferences held in one of the official languages will have a spokesperson in the other language.

Information Sheet: Monitoring and Assessment Diagnostic Grid

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Information Sheet: Monitoring and Assessment Diagnostic Grid
Information Sheet: Monitoring and Assessment Diagnostic Grid