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So, I just moved to Gatineau, Québec, and to my surprise I don't understand a word they're saying.

I learned French in France, but can't speak it fluently anymore. On top of that, le français Québécois sounds like a totally different language to me. There are almost no books that explain the differences. I found a few, but they're more like conversational pocket guides.

I feel completely frustrated, as it looks like all my years learning French were just a waste of time. Another problem I'm experiencing is that all the Canadian French TV channels seem to use "proper" French, which I'm able to understand, but that's not the kind of French I hear on the streets!

If anyone could give me a hint on where to start learning this entirely unique dialect of French, it would be appreciated!

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    Howdy! A good start may be the Wikipedia page (look at the French version too, bottom left handside) about Qc French; you may pick up a few simple cues which enable you to grasp some differences. I don't think you've wasted anything, your reaction is just normal imho, give yourself a chance. You may also select a topic in the Banque de dépannage linguistique and look into some differences which might also be showcased in the GDT. – user3177 Aug 17 '16 at 0:34
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    I went to Liverpool and to my surprise, I didn't understood a word they were saying... – jlliagre Aug 17 '16 at 1:20
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    Canadian French grammar is mostly the same than the one used in France.Some basic, usual words are different but the main issue is certainly the different accents, like with scouse. – jlliagre Aug 17 '16 at 2:45
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    I encourage you to practise your listening a lot. There are lots of videos that use the Quebec French and even TV shows and movies. Of course, look up the terms that you don't understand and repeat. – Archa Aug 17 '16 at 14:24
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    @LaurentS. Meh, I'm a native French speaker from Québec and each time I get to watch a French show from Paris or so, I must admit I don't get a lot of what's said without quite a lot of concentration. I must say it's almost easier for me to understand English than Paris French... – user3177 Aug 18 '16 at 18:24
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After three weeks of holidays in Québec, here is what i could say:

  • grammar is almost the same than in France
  • pronunciation can be VERY different, probably depending on the area of Québec (but this is also true in France: pronunciation can be very different in the South of France and in the East of France!)
  • some words are totally different, most of the time to avoid "english words". E.g.:
    -in France, we say "une voiture" and in Québec, i've already heard "un char"... whereas in France, "un char" is... a tank!!!
    -in France, we say "faire du shopping", in Québec "magasiner" (they avoid the english word "shopping")
    -in Québec "ne prenez pas de chance", in France "ne prenez pas de risque"...

Honestly, as far as I experienced in Montreal, Quebec City and Tadoussac, I wouldn't say that they speak a real "dialect"... It is French, with some little differences you will easily learn. The main point may just be pronunciation...

Good luck!!
Gregala

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gregala. I would disagree that Grammar is almost the same. Even some basic grammar constructs are different, such as "y" for "il" or "a" for "elle". Also, things like "Tu veux-tu?", "M'as", etc. Vocabulary doesn't bother me that much, it's easy to learn it. It's they way they say things and the grammar differences that make it incomprehensible for me. Also, the part where I live in is called Hull, but they say it "ol", not "ul" as the French from France would say it. I've heard they speak more "proper" French in Montreal, but in Gatineau it's just horrible :( – jFrenetic Aug 19 '16 at 0:59
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My suggestion: use analogies (in time and space). To Québec folks: I will draw comparisons with another language. Please see no offence in that.

I am a French speaking French-native. I just come back from a wonderful 2-week trip in Québec (Montréal, Tadoussac, Québec, Trois-rivières, Mauricie). I have been to Montréal and Québec several times in the past. I more and more get used to the specificities of the French spoken there, hence the following advices. As a comment, I have a friend from Alsace (a region of France close to Germany) who lives in Québec since 10 years. He had no trace of Alsatian accent, being from an Alsatian family. Yet, he caught a Québec accent very fast. We discussed about that, and went to the conclusion that French-Canadian is quite contaminating (in a neutral sense). So immerge as much as you can.

The first time I went from Boston to QC in a bus. In the Canadian part of the trip, the bus driver was talking with a passenger, quite fast. I had hard time understanding them. Till I saw a fast-food sign, representing a man with a pointy beard. The logo said PFK. The logo was familiar, but it took me ten minutes to see the light. "Poulets frits du Kentucky". Or KFC, in pure French. I wish France does the same with most anglicisms.

From that time on, when I do not understand Québec French, I do try:

  • in time: to unfold the meaning by analogy. A "Char" is a means for transportation. It was used a few decades ago. Remember that Québec parted from France in the past. Some say it is a form of "ancien français". While French Canadian kept traces of regional speech, this is not fully true. In a peaceful modern context, should be "une voiture" (a car). I recently heard (second hand) a Canadian coming back from Venice, and talking about the "kayaks" (gondolas). And under England's rule, it has be influenced too.
  • in space: to unfold the meaning by translation. The closest neighboring country might have a huge influence. My Québec friend uses a lot of "american" expressions in everyday language. Often translated.

For instance, when I say "merci", the reply "bienvenue" is not common in France. But switch to English, you get "you are welcome", which make more sense in the present context. Sometimes, this is even about pronunciation. Trying to unfold pronunciation traits that could be akin to English could be useful too. Indeed, I did that in Alsace. Unfamiliar expressions in French, when they are mapped to German, sound more idiomatic.

So, immerge, and unfold.

[EDIT] I am adding two recent postcasts on the "Nouvelle France"

that may help understand the complicated story of people in Québec. Also adding the notion of "Speak white", a racist insult used by English-speaking Canadians against those who speak other languages in public (more details here). This is illustrated in the version by Michèle Lalonde, at La Nuit de la Poésie, 1970, turned into a reggae version by F. Poirier, Speak White Reggae.

  • Thanks for your suggestions. However, the biggest problem I have right now is that very often I don't even understand what they are saying. If I heard the word, I might have been able to decipher its meaning, especially if it was borrowed from English. But their accent is so weird to my ears, that I often hear just some slurred not well enunciated speech. And for the record, gondola and kayak are not the same :) – jFrenetic Aug 21 '16 at 2:51
  • My experience in Québec is that (generally) people care more, and are a lot kinder that in France. Just ask! – Laurent Duval Aug 21 '16 at 14:29

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