How to understand Quebec French? Tips and resources

If you’ve learned French in France, or international French, you may have been underexposed to regional variations of French such as the ones spoken in Quebec, West Indies (Antilles) or African countries. If you’re moving to Canada, you may be worried about your ability to understand Quebec French.

This is a legitimate concern as many native French speakers also struggle with Quebec French at first. This is not the learner or the speaker’s fault. In my opinion, this is due to the limited exposure we have to non-Parisian French. I hope that, in the future, the diversity of French will be more prevalent in the media and pop culture.

How to improve your ability to understand Quebec French? #

Listening comprehension might be challenging at first. As a consequence, it’s a good idea to get some exposure to Quebec French before coming to prepare your ears and brain. 

There is no secret. You need two things.

  • Firstly, you need to give your brain the keys to decode the way people speak in Quebec. You can do this through analysing the specific sounds of the language and common sentence patterns.
  • Secondly, you need to “bombard your brain” with speech produced by speakers from Quebec. Start with resources that are more neutral, easier to understand, and gradually increase the difficulty.

Understand the features of spoken Quebec French. Then, create your virtual immersion or get out there and interact with people if you already live in Quebec.

My accent is a rather neutral international French. Moreover, because I teach French, I try to articulate well and use simple sentences. So, when I work with learners who live or want to live in Canada, here’s what we do:

  • identify differences between “book French”, French from France and Quebec French pronunciation and shortcuts in the spoken language. I answer your questions during our sessions.
  • find resources you enjoy and that you find useful to practice listening on your own time (see below for some references)
  • increase awareness of the cultural context, history, current issues

Recommended resources #

  • a francisation manual: method Par Ici (all levels). I love these manuals because they are designed for new immigrants, to help them navigate life in French in the context of Quebec. This will get you up to speed quickly and introduce the local most common vocabulary.
    • free short video extracts and an online course on this website: je-parle-québécois (made for French-from-France and for foreigners!)
  • YouTube resources:
    • my own videos on the history of Quebec and some language differences
  • If you like learning with TV and audios, there are a lots of resources produced in Quebec. This will help get your ears familiar with the language, the culture and learn some expressions.
    • on Netflix. Here are only a few examples. M’entends-tu, a trilogy: 1981 / 1987 / 1991, The Fall of the American Empire by Denys Arcand, and Bon Cop, Bad Cop.
    • on YouTube: the series Les Parents, YouTubeurs (for example Audrey D)
    • Radio and Podcasts. Watching and/or listening to Radio Canada is a good introduction as the accent and vocabulary are quite neutral and they create lots of podcasts and shows. This also helps to get familiar with the cultural and political context. Although it might seem quite foreign and disconnected from your reality before your arrival, it might help you transition. 

      I like this Instagram account: radpointca to read or hear about the news in a nutshell every day. also has lots of resources with French subtitles.

      If you live in Canda, you may want to pay a subscription to to access hundreds of TV shows

What if you really can’t understand day-to-day Quebec French? #

Day-to-day Quebec French and Radio-Canada French are almost different languages. Just like day-to-day French in France is very different from journalist/book or literary French. This is mostly because many people speak fast or don’t articulate well, and there are also many slang words. People in Quebec often can’t understand typical French slang either, unless they’re exposed to many movies or songs from France.

Have you ever thought of using books to develop your vocabulary?

Books and plays by Michel Tremblay are great to read the words you normally only hear in spoken Quebec French, including swear words. That way you’ll have time to look up words. There are plenty of resources online to find the meaning of an expression, Google is your best friends! Just type the expression + meaning. Many of his books have been translated to other languages. You could buy both and read in parallel to check the meaning. Recommended if you already have an upper intermediate or advanced level and have already read books in French.

Do you need to speak Quebec French? #

People in Quebec understand international French as well as Quebec French, therefore you’ll be fine using whatever French you’ve learned. People will understand you. When they hear a non-French accent, people may switch to English to help you (especially in Montreal). However, if you feel able to interact in French, don’t be afraid to continue in French or let them know you’d prefer sticking to French if they’re comfortable with it.

You don’t need to learn specific words or expressions typical of Quebec. Nonetheless, if you’ve been living here for months or years, you might just pick up those words and expressions and start using them naturally. It’s also a nice gesture of integration and a way to show your appreciation of the local language.

Discover other recommendations in this episode to be published on March 17, 2021.

understand Quebec French
Listen to the podcast (in French) or watch the video with English subtitles

Need help with your French before moving to Quebec or to step up your game after living here for months or years? I’ll be happy to hear from you and discuss how I could assist you in your journey

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