Editor’s Note: This is a controversial article, written by a Dutch author (who spoke good French) based on his travels both in France, which he loved, and Quebec, which he also loved.
This article is probably incomplete in it’s explanation because it was based on the observations of one traveler, however it IS interesting. Perhaps you’ll remember the story of the blind men and the elephant as you read it.
We welcome your gentle comments below:
It is commonly believed that Canadian French and Metropolitan French are pretty much the same, aside from a few pronunciation changes and some colloquial idiom quirks. However, those who learn Canadian French all agree that the difference goes well beyond that. In fact, the differences are so significant that if you are planning to work, live or study in Canada, it might be well worth your effort to learn Canadian French first.
In a sense, Canadian French is more traditional, for instance when it comes to grammar and idiom, whereas Metropolitan French is more formal. This is noticeable especially in pronunciation. In fact, visitors to Canada who did not learn Canadian French first, often find that Canadians consider Metropolitan French to be quite pompous.
So What Are the Differences?
The most striking difference between Metropolitan French and Canadian French for those who already speak French is the idiom. Obviously, both are correct, and if you analyze the different words in either language they both make a lot of sense, if you take into account cultural differences and historic development of each of the two countries.
Obviously, Canada’s border with the USA has also caused the adoption of English words into Canadian French, including the transliterations that usually go with that.
Here are some fun examples to show you how you could get seriously confused, or indeed embarrassed, if you go to Canada and you don’t learn Canadian French first:
- In France, money is ‘argent’. In Canada, they say ‘bacon’.
- A pencil sharpener is a ‘taille-crayon’, but in Canada it’s called an ‘aiguisoir’.
- Where throwing up is ‘vomir’ in France, Canadian French borrowed ‘barf’ from US English and made it a verb: ‘barfer’
- ‘Why’ in French is: ‘pourquoi?’ In Canada it’s: ‘à cause?’
- In French, kissing or a kiss is: ‘baiser’ or ‘bise’ (bisou). In Canadian French, both are: ‘bec’
- A bathroom is ‘une toilette’ in France. In Canada you could hear the word ‘bécosse’ and have no idea what is being said. It’s a deformation of the English: ‘backhouse’.
- A girlfriend in France is ‘copine’ or ‘petite amie’. In Canada it’s common to say: ‘ma blonde’ even if your girlfriend isn’t blonde at all.
- Underwear is ‘culotte’ in France, in Canada you say: ‘bobettes’
- Did you ever botch up something? They’ll understand perfectly: ‘botcher’ is the word they use in Canada.
The list is, of course, endless. What matters is that you realize that the differences are extensive. If you intend to get the most out of your stay in Canada, it’s really worth your trouble to at least learn some of its idiom.
Will You Understand Canadians With Your Paris French?
Yes, to some degree. But there will definitely be situations where the differences in pronunciation will leave you confused.
Some of the vowels sound distinctly different. Furthermore, Canadian French tends to be even faster than Metropolitan French. When you learn Canadian French, you’ll notice that they also seem to swallow words or partial words that in Metropolitan French are indeed supposed to be pronounced. This is also partially the reason why Continental French is often seen as a bit stuck up or pompous in Canada.
All in all, it is a really good idea to learn Canadian French if you plan to spend any length of time there. And even if it’s just for a holiday, you will feel so much more at ease when talking to Canadians. And an added benefit? Canadians will really appreciate it if you show that you’ve tried to learn Canadian French instead of thinking: ‘Well, I speak French, they’ll understand me just fine!’. And they’ll show you, and your holidays will be that much more fun!
If you would like to try our Canadian French demo, then click on Canadian French and then click on the big “Try It” button.