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An Introduction to the French of Quebec

Canada has one province whose sole official language is French: Quebec. Although many Quebecers, or Québécois, are bilingual in English and French (or speak another language as their mother tongue), about 85% still speak French as their first language. While Quebec City (la Ville de Québec) is the province’s capital, Montreal (Montréal) is its largest city. Behind Paris, Kinshasa (Republic of Congo) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Montreal is the 4th largest French-speaking city in the world.

So, when planning a trip to practise your French, why not consider crossing the Atlantic to discover French-speaking Canada? If you do, not only will you get the chance to discover the beautiful old-town of Quebec and have a taste of some poutine, but you’ll also be greeted by a new accent and many differences in vocabulary from the standard French you may have been learning. Here are four aspects of québécois French which prove that learning another dialect of a language can be a wonderfully enriching experience!

1. Je prends mon déjeuner à 8 heures et mon dîner à 12 h 30

Surprised? Here’s difference number one between French in France and Canadian French:

For the French, their breakfast is le petit déjeuner, lunch is called le déjeuner and dinner is le dîner. French Canadians, however, opt for:

breakfast    le déjeuner
lunch          le dîner
dinner        le souper

So don’t be confused if you understand someone as saying they have lunch as soon as they get out of bed! Note that these words can also be heard in Belgium and Switzerland.

2. Your boyfriend is your buddy and your girlfriend is your blonde!

You may have learned mon petit-ami to mean ‘my boyfriend’ and ma petite-amie to mean ‘my girlfriend’. However, in French Canada, your boyfriend is your chum and your girlfriend is your blonde, regardless of her hair colour!

For example:

Voici mon nouveau chum. – “This is my new boyfriend”.
Voici ma nouvelle blonde. – “This is my new girlfriend”.

Just be aware that, while the word ‘blonde’ doesn’t necessarily have derogatory connotations, it is a slang word which should only be used in informal, conversational contexts.

3. C’est là là !

As you may already know, can be translated as ‘there’ and is used in standard French in contexts such as je l’ai trouvé là (“I found it there”). However, in informal, spoken québécois French, this two-letter word is found at the end of many sentences, often without a translatable meaning!

It is often used for emphasis or to add more emotion to a statement. For example, if you’re getting frustrated at a person who is looking for something which is right in front of their nose, you might say regarde, c’est là là ! While the first would be explaining the position of the object, the second one is almost like a spoken exclamation mark, expressing the speaker’s impatience.

4. Les anglicismes

Finally, in case you’re starting to worry about having to learn a whole new language when travelling to French-speaking Canada, don’t panic – many English words are used too!

In larger cities, like Montreal, French and English merge together and influence one another, sometimes referred to as franglais. Some young Québécois will even start a conversation in French then suddenly change into English and back into French again within a few sentences.

This means that québécois French borrows and adapts many words from English.

Here are some of the most common ones:

English / standard French / québécois French

to check / vérifier / checker
to direct or “be the boss of” / diriger / bosser
cute / mignon / cute (English pronunciation)
anyway / de toute façon / anyway (English pronunciation)
a joke / une blague / une joke (English pronunciation)

Sometimes, it’s almost easier for English speakers to understand what a québécois person is saying than it is for people who speak standard French!

Of course, the idea of travelling to a place with an unfamiliar accent and new vocabulary that you haven’t learned may seem daunting, but we hope you can see how interesting and fun it can be visiting many different countries where the language you’re learning is spoken.

Have you had any experience travelling to a country where the language you’re learning is spoken with an unfamiliar accent and vocabulary? Share your stories in the comments section below!

À tout à l’heure, or à tantôt, as they say in Quebec!

2 Comments on “An Introduction to the French of Quebec”

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    For one wonderful week, two senior girlfriends and I attended Saint Anne University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Even as beginner French students we realized that the Acadian French accent and many words were different than what we learned online with Coffee Break French and in our French classes in the province of Newfoundland & Labrador.

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