Speaking French in Quebec.
October 22, 2007 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Speaking French Canadian French vs. speaking French French

Is there a noticeable difference between the French as spoken in Quebec as opposed to the French I learned in school? I am sure the written language is pretty much the same, but if I go there and use my high school French will I get laughed at?
posted by 543DoublePlay to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You won't get laughed at and you'll be much better off than someone trying to speak Quebecois French in France (in Quebec, a lot of the popular media, especially films are in "French" French.)

HOWEVER, beyond being a tourist, in which you'll be fine, you may find some difficultly LIVING as a "Parisian" French speaker.

My boyfriend's sister, an American with fluent Parisian French and her husband with fluent Swiss French, claimed discrimination against them during their 12+ years in Montreal. She felt that even as a native English speaker with fluent French that she had trouble getting jobs. Her husband didn't speak English at all and had similar troubles.

My boyfriend, with very good Parisian French, after 10+ years living near the Quebec/Vermont border and going up to Quebec very often, felt "misunderstood" and would have to repeat himself often. We were in Paris last summer and he was often complimented on his French. My two Belgian friends said that his French was great.

My fave difference: Arret versus Stop signs.
posted by k8t at 5:38 PM on October 22, 2007

The accent is different, although not enough for the average non-French speaker to notice, and there are also some vocabulary differences, the swearwords of religious origin(tabernacle, sacrement, etc.) in Quebec French being the first that come to mind. The Wikipedia article isn't bad.

if I go there and use my high school French will I get laughed at?
Heh, probably, but not because of dialectical differeneces ;)

Actually, when I was up in Montreal, everyone was polite and would usually initiate speaking English - I think they just have a special sense of who's a Francophone and who isn't. They were happy to exchange a few words in French with me when I tried, except for some people who got impatient with my French and just switched to English, like that one unfriendly waiter.
posted by pravit at 5:42 PM on October 22, 2007

I'm also reminded of my French(from France) friend, who would get his laugh for the day by asking the Canadian French guy to say something, anything.
posted by pravit at 5:44 PM on October 22, 2007

Seconding pravit - you can use English EASILY! If someone says bon jour, I say "Bon jour, hello. Quebec City is a bit tougher, but Montreal has tons of Anglephones.
posted by k8t at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2007

Yes, there are differences between the French spoken in Quebecois and Parisian French. Read about it on Wikipedia.
That said, no one will laugh at you if you use your high school French in Quebec. Many people, especially in areas with a lot of tourists or anglophones, will immediately switch to English when they hear you say anything.
posted by ssg at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2007

Do you mean Canadian high school french? French Immersion highschool french? French high school french?

In my experience, learning Canadian high school french leaves you with a very strong Anglophone accent. Which will get smiles, but they'll appreciate you trying, at least.
posted by anthill at 5:48 PM on October 22, 2007

Eventually you'll learn the accent - basically, speak out your nose. "Oui" becomes "Waeh", "toujours" becomes "taujoaures"... it's fun.
posted by anthill at 5:50 PM on October 22, 2007

Quebec French = American/Canadian English
France French = England/UK English

As Pravit said, Regardless of your French, I am sure many people will appreciate the fact that you are trying to speak the language (unless they are idiots).

k8t, strange that your b/f's sister and husband had problems. There are a significant number of French-speakers with the Parisian/European accent - I mean I feel like I am in France whenever I am in Outremont (a Montreal neighbourhood), so I am quite surprised that they felt "discriminated against" and that your b/f felt misunderstood.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:55 PM on October 22, 2007

I think it's a state of mind. If you choose to see it as confrontational or rude, you will. Usually it's completely not. It's very normal for people to have conversations with one side speaking English and the other French -- there's no hostility about it. That's just often how it's done here day-to-day. If someone switches to English it's usually because they know it's faster or easier for you, or because they want to practice their English, and it really shouldn't be taken personally.

Try your French; no one will laugh at you. Most people will appreciate the effort. Again, it's a state of mind, so if you're feeling paranoid you might feel strange. Just don't assume the worst of people.
posted by loiseau at 6:04 PM on October 22, 2007

Don't take it personally when the Metro employees are snotty to you. They're snotty to everyone.

I have the not-great Canadian high school French, and the terrible anglophone accent, and I say something in French in Montreal and they answer me in English. They do seem to appreciate the effort, so I keep trying (also, it's fun).

If somebody starts a conversation, "Bonjour hello," as if it's one word, they are inviting you to use whichever language is more comfortable for you.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:06 PM on October 22, 2007

The 'Word of the Week' segment in CBC's C'est la vie is pretty good on winkling out idiomatic uses that are particularly French-Canadian.

But for tourist/visiting purposes, any French in la francophonie is better than none at all. School French may be better, in some ways, that fluent Parisian French, because it won't set off any subconscious inferiority complex.
posted by holgate at 6:29 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I speak fluent French and really couldn't understand them; they understood me just fine. My husband and I speak French between us (he's Moroccan) so when we were in Montreal I would speak the waiter in French, he would answer in French, I would stare dumbstruck at the waiter while my husband translated into French what the waiter said and then I would answer the waiter in French. Needless to say, the Montrealers were not amused...we weren't trying to be funny, I really couldn't understand them. I finally switched to English and that wasn't a problem at all.

Overall I found the people to be a bit cold, humorless and even snotty as joannemerriem said above. And I live in NYC!
posted by kenzi23 at 6:53 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Heh, heh. I can spot a Q accent at a thousand yards... they are as different from a Parisian accent as Glaswegian is from Estuary English. Even to an Anglophone like me.

As a tourist you won't get laughed at but you may have trouble understanding the replies... while it is true that in Montreal they will just speak English to you, the same is very much *not* true in rural Quebec where many people simply don't speak any English at all.

At which point (in the middle of an ice storm) you suddenly understand why learning the French for 'Windshield Wiper' was so important at school.

On the other hand, I've always found the rural Q's incredibly helpful and friendly to an Anglo like me... somewhat to my surprise, in fact. I was expecting more passive hostility but encountered none whatsoever.

It might be different to live there as an Anglo though.
posted by unSane at 7:32 PM on October 22, 2007

The Quebecoise accent is definitely different and takes getting used to! If you are around for a few days, and you have some French, your ear will sort itself out. But, no one wil laugh at your textbook French. For the most part, they will be grateful.
posted by typewriter at 9:03 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I learned French in an American high school and have been living in Montreal (albeit largely in Anglophone mileux) for years, and still come up with new differences from what I remember from high school! It's fun though, and I get the impression that people don't expect so much from Anglophones anyway (and yeah, they can tell!)

Some fun differences:
French: parking/parker QC: stationnement/stationner
F: le weekend QC: la fin de semaine
F: Je t'en prie QC: bienvenue (this is *ridiculous* to the French)
F: mon ami/petit(e) ami(e) QC: mon chum/ma blonde (really!)

There's also some expressions that QC borrows/translates from English, ie, "c'est comme" and "c'est tellement." I just learned, "une semaine rushante" (not sure of spelling) for a rushed/stressful time! Also, "c'était le fun!"

I'm not sure whether conjoint(e) is not used in French or just new. I also learned 'colocataire/coloc' here.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:07 PM on October 22, 2007

As most have noted, the effort will be appreciated. My Canadian high school french didn't prepare me for joual. I haven't had to complain "il fait frette, tabarnac!!" since I left Montreal.
posted by yqxnflld at 9:18 PM on October 22, 2007

While my French has been in decline since college, I really didn't think it was that bad when I went to visit Quebec City a few years ago. I learned a few things, for instance that the natives have some sort of complex about France French and that they take some perverse pride in speaking really fast and confusing French people (this was confirmed to me by more than one person). Given the proximity to a vast number of English speakers they also seem more defensive about the language, which is where I would imagine they get "fin de semaine" and "courriel electronique," rather than "le weekend" and "le email."

So it can be a little bit of a trial.

However, the really fantastic 1790s-era swearing from cabdrivers, with the complex blasphemies probably made up for those problems. I can't remember any of the swears verbatim, but they were really interesting to listen to.
posted by lackutrol at 9:19 PM on October 22, 2007

Quebecois French is as different from France French as UK English is from USA English. But you'll be fine, as you probably will be using words that mean the same thing in both places.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:07 PM on October 22, 2007

The main difficulty you'll have is, I suppose, the slang and the speed. Even the curses are different.

If you're going to Montreal, though, you'll be fine. They switch to English at the first hint of an anglo accent.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:55 AM on October 23, 2007

Oh. Vous-voying (polite, using the 'vous' form) and tu-toying (regular, using the 'tu' form) aren't as important in Quebec as elsewhere. (Those two verbs do not anglicize well...) At least one francophone I've met didn't even know the verbes. So don't worry about screwing up your politeness levels.

Really, you'll be fine. They understand French-French terms for the most part. Try to avoid discussing religion, secession, or how great Ontario people are. (I'm kidding about that last bit.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:00 AM on October 23, 2007

The effort will be appreciated, but don't feel insulted when they switch to their broken English right away, if you want to keep forcing your French just ask them to play along.

Us Quebecois have no problems understanding your high school French, but you'll have a heck of a time comprehending our spoken French... do you remember what a liaison is? That's when you remove the first of two vowels when one word ends with a vowel and the next begins with one, with l'eau instead of le eau being a classic grade three example of this. Well in Quebec, we use liaisons for everything. Phrases such as "Je ne t'ai pas vu depuis une semaine." become "shtai pas vu d'puis un's'maine." (no, that first word isn't a typo)

I liken it to the "memr'es that ne'er will fade." sort of English you see in Robert Burns style poetry, but the real French think it sounds gross. Of course, they just love hearing us swear, but so do we.
posted by furtive at 5:56 AM on October 23, 2007

Depending on where you go in Quebec, particularly the southern bits, they will likely immediately realize you're an Anglo and start speaking English to you. That's always been my experience.
posted by Reggie Digest at 7:56 AM on October 23, 2007

Also, what's worse than getting laughed at is not understanding a damned single word of their French.
posted by Reggie Digest at 8:00 AM on October 23, 2007

I learned French in Ontario from Quebecois teachers. I spent 4 months this year in France. I didn't really have a problem except for some of the slang terms and more youth-oriented language.

People found my anglo-quebecois accent charming and they said I sounded almost Belgian.

It works in your favour that you're making an effort at speaking French. Even with an anglophone accent I was getting fewer dirty looks than the months before I went to France (and gained the confidence to attempt fluent French conversation in la belle province)
posted by KevCed at 9:43 AM on October 23, 2007

I'll let you decide, first an exaggerated "quebecois".
Québecois de souche / Parts

This is very representative and appropriate time of year.
Toune d'automne / Parts

Another to tune your ear

Example of proper swearing

Finally a short quiz
posted by phoque at 7:16 PM on October 23, 2007

Useful terminology: “National” French, not “Parisian,” as France encompasses more than Paris.

The big thing that commenters here are missing is the wide range of dialects in Quebec. At the high end, newsreader French is highly comparable to national newsreader French. (Check for yourself on RDI and TV5.) But there are so many dialects below that level, in so many shades, that there really is no single Quebec French.

It is certainly true that the word joual doesn’t begin to cover the range. The closest thing to the range of dialects of Quebec in France is verlan/lenvers, but that’s something of an artificial dialect. I would like to know more about French idiolects, but I don’t.

Note also that there are hundreds of thousands of Francophones in Canada who never learned French in Quebec and, in fact, have never been there.
posted by joeclark at 6:47 PM on October 25, 2007

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