How to hold bilingual meetings

This is a brief guide on how to chair bilingual meetings in a federal government workplace. Good intentions to hold bilingual meetings are not enough—you also need specific strategies to succeed. This guide offers tips on how to help make your employees comfortable using either of Canada's official languages at meetings.

Before the meeting

Consider how English and French are likely to be used at the meeting. Is your workplace highly bilingual, or will participants probably favour one language over the other?


Know the preferred language of the participants. If you don't, present any content to be reviewed before the meeting in both English and French.

Indicate that the meeting will be bilingual.

Provide information about arrangements for unilingual participants.


Agendas should generally be prepared in both English and French. Depending on the situation, however, you can try the following:

  • For team meetings, prepare the agenda in English for one meeting and in French for the next.
  • Have some agenda items in English and some in French, with an equal balance.

If the meeting will have an official record, however, be sure to prepare the agenda in both official languages.


Documents to be discussed at meetings should be made available in both official languages. Depending on the situation, however, consider the following:

  • All documents that are already bilingual can be sent to participants in both languages.
  • Advise employees to prepare any documents for the meeting in their first official language. Draft versions of these documents can be translated if they are to be sent to other organizations for consultation.
  • Distribute a bilingual glossary that pertains to the subjects that will be discussed at the meeting. Participants can then refer to the glossary to understand key words and abbreviations used in the discussion.


Your choice of person who will be the meeting's secretary is important to the success of a bilingual meeting:

  • Choose someone who can deal with the agenda and the meeting's documents in both English and in French.
  • Advise the secretary what are your linguistic objectives for the meeting are so that he or she can take them into account.
  • If required, have two secretaries: one for English content and one for French content.


If you are not at ease using your second language, manage the meeting anyway. You can ask a bilingual colleague to help you, as needed.

Summaries of discussion

You can verbally summarize essential elements of discussion from time to time during the meeting.

You can ask a bilingual colleague to provide these summaries. Choose this colleague carefully and discuss your linguistic goals for the meeting. If necessary, ask two people, one to summarize in French, the other in English. You can also arrange to have interpreters at the meeting.


To create an atmosphere where all participants feel free to use English or French, suggest to them that they speak in their first official language. Also invite employees to speak in their second official language from time to time.

Signage and posters in the meeting room

Signage or posters in the meeting room can promote the message that holding bilingual meetings is encouraged. Small tent cards that carry the same message can be placed on the meeting table.

During the meeting

Use English and French from the beginning of the meeting, and invite employees to use their preferred official language.

If you think it will be useful, mention your own level of language expertise. If, for example, you cannot speak one of Canada's official languages with ease, say so, but use your second language in the meeting.

If you don't know whether participants speak and understand both English and French, ask them. Advise that short summaries will be given from time to time in each language.

Here are additional tips to help you conduct a successful bilingual meeting:

  • Switch from one official language to the other. Speak in the official language that is being used less during the meeting.
  • Ask a question to a participant in his or her first official language.
  • Remind employees that it is fine to ask a question or respond in their first official language.
  • Remind participants that they may prepare documents for the meeting in their first official language.
  • Decide which documents for the meeting need to be translated and when.
  • Ask what participants think about the format of the meeting.
  • Minutes should normally be written in both official languages. However, depending on the context, minutes could be written in English one time and in French the next. Alternatively, a portion of the minutes could be in one language, with the balance in the other language.
  • Team up employees to produce short bilingual documents, such as minutes.
  • For long discussions or for large numbers of participants, you may wish to organize two meetings, one in English and another in French. In some cases, it may be useful to have simultaneous interpretation.
  • You may want to ask one of the participants, or a person from outside the group, to act as an observer at your meetings. Ask the observer for feedback.


If you have interpreters at your meeting, they should have:

  • all documents in both official languages, in the order in which they will be discussed
  • the names and titles of all participants and their institutions, in both official languages
  • the principal abbreviations and technical terms (in English and French) that are likely to be used at the meeting
  • written versions (in English and French) of presentations to be made at the meeting

Ensure that there are enough microphones so that interpreters can hear all participants.

Make certain that there are enough headphones for all participants.

A final word

Remember that the chair of the meeting must be able to combine flexibility with tenacity, and be sensitive to the linguistic needs of all participants.

Essential English and French expressions used in meetings

To hold a meeting Tenir une réunion
To convene (to call) a meeting Convoquer une réunion
To attend a meeting Assister à une réunion
To sit on a committee Participer aux travaux d'un comité
The quorum is reached Le quorum est atteint
Order, please! À l'ordre s.v.p.!
The meeting is called to order La séance est ouverte
Adoption of the agenda Adoption de l'ordre du jour
Item on the agenda Point à l'ordre du jour
To include in (add to) the agenda Ajouter à l'ordre du jour
To remove from the agenda Retirer de l'ordre du jour
Other business Autres questions
Approved agenda Ordre du jour définitif
To stick to the agenda S'en tenir à l'ordre du jour
Terms of reference Mandat
To make a proposal Présenter une proposition
To second (to support) a proposal Appuyer une proposition
To withdraw a proposal Retirer une proposition
To ask for a vote Demander le vote
To put a question to the vote Mettre une question aux voix
Is there a mover? Y a-t-il un proposeur?
Is there a seconder? Y a-t-il un second proposeur?
Vote by show of hands Vote à main levée
Secret ballot Vote secret
For? En faveur?
Against? Contre?
Carried unanimously Adopté à l'unanimité
Adopted by a majority Adopté à la majorité
The motion is carried by 12 votes to 9, with 2 abstentions La motion est adoptée par 12 voix contre 9 et 2 absentions
The motion is rejected La motion est rejetée
We will now recess for 15 minutes La séance est interrompue pour 15 minutes
Coffee break Pause-café
We will meet again in five minutes Nous nous retrouverons ici dans 5 minutes
To proceed to the next item of business Passer au point suivant
This question is out of order Cette question est irrecevable
To record in the minutes Inscrire au procès-verbal
Action to be taken Suite à donner
The meeting is adjourned La séance est levée
The next meeting will be held on the... La prochaine réunion aura lieu le...
To write up the minutes Rédiger le procès-verbal

For more information

The following offer further context and details on using official languages in the federal government workplace:

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