February 2, 2009 10:15 AM   Subscribe

I have some money saved up, I am a Canadian citizen, and I have a strong desire to learn French properly. But how?

I'm thinking I should do some sort of immersion program followed by living/working in Montreal. I could go to Quebec for an immersion program-- I could even go to France. What, in your opinion, is the best way to go about this? Any particular programs to recommend? Any tips?

Thanks, as always, in advance.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium to Education (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that I'm a semi-recent university graduate.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium at 10:16 AM on February 2, 2009

If you've spent a term as a full time student this (academic) year, the Canadian government will pay for you to take a five-week immersion course.
posted by limon at 10:22 AM on February 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, even if you don't qualify for Explore, you can enroll in any of the institutions they work for as a private student. Their list is a pretty good place to start your search for a good program.
posted by limon at 10:24 AM on February 2, 2009

I moved to Quebec City for 6 months. Worked like a charm. I took this course at Laval, then I got a job through a temp agency for a few months.

I chose Quebec City because it is a city (albeit small) but it is much, much less anglophone than Montreal. Many of the people I met there did not speak English at all. Plus, super beautiful.

Laval will help find accommodation for you. I chose to live in the downtown, rather than near the University, and I was happy with that choice.
posted by girlpublisher at 10:25 AM on February 2, 2009

Do you care if you learn Québécois French? A friend who grew up in Montreal and learned French there such had to enter an immersion program when he moved to Geneva, because they couldn't understand him. This is hardly the first instance I've heard of this, so something to keep in mind.
posted by meerkatty at 10:25 AM on February 2, 2009

(Sorry, don't know where that "such" came from. I do actually speak English.)
posted by meerkatty at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2009

The traditional answer is: Move to Montreal and get a francophone bf/gf who's interested in "cross-cultural exchange". There's nothing like learning a language like immersion. Even if you decide to use French later on, like in the Federal Government, for example, your street French will give you an enormous leg-up on everyone else.
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on February 2, 2009

If, as meerkatty suggests, Québécois French is a problem, check out Alliance Française.
posted by limon at 10:29 AM on February 2, 2009

Keep in mind that Canadian French isn't really the same as European French. From my experience living in Montreal and Ottawa, a French Canadian would have some difficulties. But, this may just be an uninformed rumor having not been to France yet.

Montreal has enough English speakers that you don't really get immersed. I learned enough to be able to read signs enough to get the gist of what they meant, but beyond a few basic words and phrases never picked it up enough to converse. Same with visiting Quebec City and up in the Mont Tremblant region. A lot of people know English, although they often only grudgingly use it.

So, where I'm going with this is that if you're looking for immersion, the drive to learn the language as a necessity to communicate, places that are tourist destinations such as Montreal might impede your desire.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:33 AM on February 2, 2009

Move to France for a while. It will be fun. Never switch out of French. Bring a dictionary. Immersion is the only way to learn.
posted by devnull at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2009

I did the "J'explore" program in Trois-Pistoles before I moved to Montreal for university. I had taken French Immersion in high school in Ontario, so I already had a pretty good sense of grammar and everything, so I was put in the "Advanced" class-- just for background, since I think that's relevant to how much I got out of it.

I felt like a lot of people I knew there who were beginners in French found the program kind of scary and alienating, since you're disallowed from speaking English anywhere, anytime, and can get sent home for being caught speaking English too many times. However, I found it improved my spoken French drastically, and I was thinking in French by the end of the month. And if you are a beginner, but willing to work hard and really try and immerse yourself, I imagine you would get a lot out of it. There's not a lot of room for ambivalence, though, and I saw a lot of people quit part-way through.

I wouldn't recommend beginning by moving to a French-speaking city to learn French, since everyone will probably try and just accommodate you in English even if your French is pretty decent.
But, I think that doing the "J'explore" program as others have suggested will totally give you a good background in spoken French-- keep in mind though that especially if you go to one of the rural schools, you will very very much be learning a distinctive dialect that people from France, for instance, will find totally hilarious and incomprehensible, but will put you in good stead if you're working with other French-Canadians.
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:42 AM on February 2, 2009

Rosetta Stone. 30 minutes a day and you will be speaking French in no time.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 10:42 AM on February 2, 2009

I know many Quebecois who have moved to various French-speaking areas (including Geneva -- which has, don't forget, its own distinctive slang and accent). The "No one will understand you anywhere else!" stuff is not true. I mean, there are some examples of it being true, no doubt, but it's not all that common. Some people are jerks and will pretend not to understand you, but there are jerks everywhere and a different accent is just a pretext. Obviously you won't know the same slang, but slang isn't so hard to pick up.

You can learn French even in Montreal, but you need to be far more dedicated to doing it in a city where most people are effectively bilingual.

The best choice really depends on what you want to do once you're more fluent in French, so more details might be useful here. Certainly taking a French program like J'explore and then living somewhere Frenchish will be the easiest, because you don't need to worry about medical care, visas, etc, but it might not fit your general goals.
posted by jeather at 10:54 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey jeather (and anyone else...),

My general goals are, well, very very general. I want to be able to converse, read, and write French at a non-laughable level of proficiency. I should point out that I'm a beginner. I suppose that learning French will open doors for me in fields such as government and journalism, but since my career goals are vague these days, such concerns are secondary to my desire to learn French for its own sake.

Also, I'm glad to hear that Quebecois French isn't incomprehensible to the outside world. I like the idea of Quebec City.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium at 11:09 AM on February 2, 2009

While I think what meerkatty describes could potentially be a problem for other people speaking some flavours of Canadian French, jeather beat me to it: Geneva is an outlier from standard European French, too.
... attempts to speak French are appreciated by the locals. The Genevois tend to speak relatively slowly, with a lilting accent. Differences from standard French in grammar and vocabulary are particularly accentuated in the spoken language.
Imagine an anglophone from Louisiana moving to Glasgow. They might have problems understanding and being understood, but they both speak English, albeit with distinct accents and some small differences in vocabulary.

So if you really want to have a global experience and you have the time and money, go ahead and move to Europe -- or Africa, or anywhere else in the francophonie -- and learn French. Travel is good! But don't think you have to learn French outside of Canada to be understood by the rest of the world. I have yet to see a single European francophone claim they couldn't read La Presse or follow a program on Radio Canada.
posted by maudlin at 11:11 AM on February 2, 2009

Seconding jeather. It's complete bullshit that a Quebecois will be unintelligible in Paris or Lausanne. Only beginners will have difficulty.

First of all, the myriad of accents that you'll encounter within La Francophonie vary greatly. France is teeming with immigrants from Senegal, Tunisia, Morrocco and so on, all speaking their own patois with an accent as thick as poutine gravy. Indeed, France has its own regional accents -- some of which are very similar to the Quebec accent.

Secondly, Quebecois are perfectly capable of toning down their accent in order to be understood. Indeed, the accent you'll hear on an evening newscast from Montreal TV is much closer to continental french than what you'll hear in a bar or in the street. And the accents aren't all that different anyway -- no more so than a Texas accent vs Staten Island. Yeah people will make fun of each other but they'll still understand each other perfectly.
posted by randomstriker at 11:12 AM on February 2, 2009

I'm an American, but learned French starting at a young age (4) from a Québécoise teacher. Though I only went through grade school with her, to this day French people think I'm Canadian. This was actually quite helpful when I traveled to France; sure, I was a colonial rube, but at least not an American colonial rube!

I had absolutely no difficulties understanding or being understood, at least stemming from accent- grammar and vocabulary were somewhat different stories. So, nthing jeather, randomstriker, and so on.

Québec is gorgeous and a lot of fun. It sounds like it would cost a lot less to do a Canadian program, at least initially, so I'd vote for that!
posted by charmcityblues at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2009

I don't recommend Montreal, it is probably the place in Quebec where it is easiest to stay completely anglophone. I suggest Quebec city or immersion program in another place where it is much easier to speak French all the time. Taking classes in Montreal wouldn't be much better than taking classes in any other Canadian city as people on the street will here your accent and switch to English in a heartbeat.

Also if you aren't going to do immersion, listen to French radio and tv, which should be available all over Canada.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2009

I second the recommendation of avoiding Montreal for your purposes. I know anglophones who have lived there for years without ever acquiring anything beyond the other-side-of-the-cereal-box everyone in this country has. When I first moved there, my high-school-French was such that nineteen conversations out of twenty I initiated in French would be switched back to English by the other speaker within seconds. As it happens, I spent last weekend in Quebec City, and even though I am passably fluent in French, I still have a noticeable anglo accent. No one I spoke with switched to English automatically. If you want to jump in the deep end and push yourself, avoid Montreal.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:31 PM on February 2, 2009

posted by zaelic at 1:51 PM on February 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone. I too had my suspicions about Montreal, wonderful as it is.

I don't know how many other people are going to respond at this point, but has anybody worked in Quebec City, or anywhere else primarily Francophone, while trying to learn the language from a beginner's vantage point? If so, what did you do?
posted by Lemon of Byzantium at 2:41 PM on February 2, 2009

Another vote for "don't move to Montreal!" I have many, many friends here who have lived here for years without speaking a word of French. Quebec City or Trois Rivières would be more of a challenge. The problem here is that people have a tendency to switch to English as soon as they hear an accent.

A friend of mine did the J'Explore program this summer, and it was hugely beneficial.

I agree with jeather that the whole "Québécois french isn't real french and won't be understood elsewhere" is bullshit. If you learn French from working here and listening to Radio Canada, you'll be fine. If you learn it from hanging out at a taverne, not so much.

Where do you live right now? Most major hubs in Canada have a francophone community centre. I grew up in Maillardville, a french community in BC, and some people would learn french by volunteering at events and attending music shows, plays, etc. You can google "Franco-Albertain" or "Fransaskois" or whatever and find something.
posted by OLechat at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2009

Response by poster: Also, if anybody has any further suggestion, please keep in mind that I CAN'T do J'Explore. You need to be a student, and I'm not.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium at 3:25 PM on February 2, 2009

You can still do the program. You just have to fund it yourself.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2009

One of my friends is currently living in Paris on some sort of program where he works as an (English) teacher's assistant. I will try to find out more about it for you.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:11 PM on February 2, 2009

I also recommend avoiding Montreal. It's far too easy to avoid French, and your French won't be good enough to get jobs where you work mostly in French (well, that and your lack of connections).

All of the universities in Quebec have ways to learn French. A few links:


There's also stuff in Moncton and Ottawa, but those both have even more English than Montreal.
posted by jeather at 6:19 PM on February 2, 2009

Here are the details of the "Foreign Language Assistants" program. They actually pay you $930 Euros/month for 12 hours/week of work.



The registration deadline for the program that begins this fall is March 2, I think.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:03 PM on February 3, 2009

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