All that you have to know about the French language in Quebec

Some weeks ago, our French coach Sandrine Bénard gave SpeakPlus a major role in an article about learning French online published in the Canadian media Thot Cursus (in French).
We took the opportunity to ask her to further our knowledge of French language in Quebec. Why do Quebecers use French as their official language? What are the specificities and the differences with the French used in France? Find the answer in this article!

Why is Quebec the only Canadian province using French as its official language?

I am not an historian but I can confirm that this is due to the Quebec colonial past when it was called New France (its old name). French people arrived in the 17th century and settled a new colony. However, the endless wars with the British gave Quebec an undeniable British consonance (for instance its civil code).

Quebecers seem to be particularly attached to the French language…

Yes. Quebecers really care for protecting the French language! They adapt and translate everything into French. Also, they can even sometimes surprise French people. For example:

  • fin de semaine (Q) = week-end (FR) = weekend
  • patins à roues alignées (Q) = rollers (FR)
  • sous-marin (Q) = sandwich (FR)
  • chien chaud (Q) = hot dog (FR)

Not forgetting some amusing verbs such as:

  • chauffer (Q) = conduire (FR) = to drive
  • gazer son char (Q) = mettre de l’essence (FR) = to fill up the tank

…  and archaisms such as:

  • souliers (Q) = chaussures (FR) = shoes
  • char (Q) = voiture (FR) = car
  • chaudron (Q) = casserole (FR) = pan
  • breuvage (Q) = boisson (FR) = beverage

… and anglicisms:

  • prendre une marche (Q) = se promener (FR) = to take a walk
  • marier quelqu’un (Q) = se marier (FR) = to marry someone
  • tomber en amour (Q) = tomber amoureux (FR) = to fall in love

There are so many examples and it would take us a long time to mention every single translation from French or English!

What do Quebecers do to preserve the use of French?

stop quebc french translation speakplusThey have legislated laws, such as the law 101 (or Charter of the French Language), that requires that everything must be translated in French. However, I have noticed that people in Montreal use more English than French. For example? When I call to book a hotel next to the airport and they automatically answer in English. In my opinion, in this big city, English will take over French over the next ten years. As far as the city of Quebec is concerned, French is doing very well!

Are the polite expressions different from a culture to the other?

In Quebec, using the informal “tu” instead of the formal “vous” is quite usual. This is not the case in France, where people call other people “vous” as a mark of respect (when address someone older for example).  At the beginning, I was very surprised when my boss asked me to address him using the informal “tu” and to be a first name basis with him. Today, I still feel a bit weird to do so… However, I think it is much nicer when my students call me by my first name in class!

In addition, Quebecers are very nice. We can have casual, simple and natural conversations with them. And do not be surprised if, in the public restrooms for example, your neighbour ask you to pass her the toilet paper under the door! However, there are typical French customs such as kissing someone on his/her cheeks to say hello, that are not part of Quebecers’ customs.

petit champlain district quebec speakplusDoes Quebec have other French cultural heritage?

Besides the language, Quebec has kept a rich architectural heritage from France. Indeed, the Old Quebec – and in particular the Petit Champlain district – is a real wonder. We really have the impression to visit a little and typical French city centre!

The cuisine has a slight influence from France. But rich of more that 400 years of History, Quebec has been able to shape its own culinary identity. As for me, the most beautiful heritage is the one that relates to History and especially this strong feeling of belonging to the Francophonie.

Despite this, defending a language at a regional level must generate dissatisfaction for a part of the population…

As mentioned earlier, the big city of Montreal is probably going to use only English within a few years. The population is cosmopolitan, which is really interesting culturally speaking and English stays the common language for all the newcomers… at the expense of the French language. Although the government offers free French classroom sessions or online language course, English language remains very attractive. I do hope that, in spite of this, Quebec will keep its linguistic pride and its French heritage.

Introduction of Sandrine – French language coach for SpeakPlus

Sandrine Bénard French coach for SpeakPlus French in QuebecBorn in the Reunion Island, little French island in the Indian Ocean, Sandrine Bénard, 36, lives in Canada. After studying literature, Sandrine started to work as a teaching assistant in high school as well as in kindergarten-primary school. After a short experience in France, she decided to move to Canada, where she found a job very easily. She now lives in the beautiful city of Quebec – classified as a World Heritage site by Unesco. She works as a French as a foreign language teacher and even gives classes at Université Laval, the first francophone university of North America! Thanks to the flexibility of her work, she shares her life between Quebec and Perpignan, in the South of France, where her parents live.

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