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Posts Tagged ‘colloquial’

Is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French?

Is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French?

Maybe no and maybe so.

By maybe no,
I mean that learning Québécois French is inherently probably just as easy or just as difficult as learning any other variety of French. I’m sure this point can be argued — maybe you’ll disagree by saying that spoken Québécois French has more colloquial contractions than other varieties of French. This may be true, but the good thing is that contractions can be learned.

You can learn that sur la often contracts informally to s’a in colloquial Québecois French in the same way that de le contracts to du in all varieties of French. The finer points of the pronunciation of Québécois French may also make it more difficult for some people than other varieties, but I don’t think I’d qualify the differences as exceptionally more difficult.

I can accept that Québécois French may be inherently somewhat more difficult, but not to the extremes people sometimes suggest. If you’re enthusiastic about learning the French of Québec, you’ll probably find the mechanics of it more or less equally challenging or equally breezy as any other variety of French.

By maybe so,
I mean that the Québécois make learning French more difficult than it has to be. What I write here may sting, but I believe it to be the truth. If Québécois French feels much more difficult to learn than other varieties of French, the Québécois themselves play a role in this.

A learner of French once asked me if the French (the ones from France) and their refusal to accept the validity of other varieties of French were to blame for the absence of good quality learning materials for Québécois French.

No, I’m afraid the French have nothing to do with it. It would be convenient to place the blame on the French, wouldn’t it? But the Québécois are free to publish whatever they like without having to consult with the French first.

I’m sure there are different reasons for the lack of good quality learning materials for colloquial Québécois French — publishers may not consider it lucrative, for example, to produce materials for a smaller variety of French (Québécois) than for a much larger variety (so-called international French).

Then there is the resistance to teaching what some Québécois themselves consider to be an inferior form of French. The colloquial register (or level) of Québécois French is what the Québécois use when they speak amongst themselves, but many Québécois are reluctant when it comes to explicitly teaching that register of French to non-francophones.

In French courses in Québec, the colloquial register of Québécois French is generally not taught to non-francophones. Students are taught the standard form of Québécois French (the register used in the media, for example). It is of course essential that students be taught this register of French, but equally essential — and probably much more immediately practical — would be to teach colloquial Québécois French, words like pogner and niaiser, and how the Québécois ask yes-no questions with tu, immediately come to mind.

As a learner of French and more specifically Québécois French, you are not a helpless bystander. When learning Québécois French, the best thing you can do for yourself is to cultivate persistence. Continue to speak French when the opportunities arise, work on improving your listening skills, model your spoken French on that of the Québécois, and refuse to let certain people convince you there’s something wrong with what you’re working towards.

You may have had to deal with a teacher who disapproves of Québécois French, a commenter online who’s “warned” you against learning Québécois French because it’s “too different,” a speaker of another variety of French who believes Québécois French to sound rural or, sadly, a Québécois person who believes foreigners should not speak like the Québécois. Listen to what they have to say, then move on. There are many Québécois who will support you in your choice to speak Québécois French. Don’t let the ones who try to stand in your way stand in your way. If I did that whenever I heard a negative comment, there’d be no OffQc.

Back to the original question — is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French? Probably. But I’ll end with this:

If you learn to understand and speak like the Québécois, you’ll have stood up to many challenges, such as a lack of learning materials, people who’ll try to steer you off course, and bilingual francophones who’ll switch to English on you. Someone who learns Québécois French has learned a lot more than “just” French along the way — patience, persistence and staying on course despite the challenges, to name a few.

Isn’t that impressive?

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A woman from Montréal said this yesterday about another woman:

Elle reste dans le coin.
She lives in the area.

There are a few things from this short sentence that I’d like to point out to you so that you’ll recognise what’s being said if you hear something similar.

Let’s work backwards in the sentence starting from the end: dans le coin (in the area). When dans and le come together, it often gets reduced to dans l’ in speech, even when the next word begins with a consonant. It sounds like danle, as if it were just one word, without pronouncing the e at the end.

Elle reste dans l’coin.

Next, the verb rester is frequently used in Québec in the sense of “to live [somewhere].” At an informal level of speech, the conjugated form reste is very likely to be pronounced resse.

Elle resse dans l’coin.

Finally, don’t be surprised to hear the subject elle pronounced as a. This is strictly an informal spoken usage. You don’t need to adopt it yourself, but you do need to be able to recognise it.

A resse dans l’coin.

And that’s exactly how the woman pronounced it.

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I have no idea who this guy is.

Just another stock photo. I have no idea who this guy is.

Here’s some everyday French to learn taken from a conversation that a guy in his 30s in Montréal had with a co-worker on the phone.

We can tell from the language that this guy is on familiar terms with the person he spoke to.

One of the first things the guy asked when the other person answered the phone was:

Je dérange-tu?
Am I disturbing you? Are you busy?

Remember, the -tu in this question doesn’t mean “you.” Instead, it’s an informal yes-no question word. We reviewed this in entry #703.

Tu is always pronounced tsu in Québec, whether it means “you” or used as the informal yes-no question marker. It’s a tsitsu word!

[In the Tranches de vie video from the Listen section, the girl asks the same question but in a different way: je te dérange?]

Throughout the guy’s conversation, he used the expression fait que a lot. It’s used essentially in the same way that anglophones say “so,” or like the French word alors.

Here are a few examples of things he said using fait que:

Fait que c’est bon.
So that’s good.

Fait que c’est ça.
So there you have it.

Fait que tu peux m’appeler.
So you can call me.

Fait que je vais t’envoyer le texte.
So I’m going to send you the text.

He also asked for his co-worker’s opinion by asking:

Qu’est-ce t’en penses?
(sounds like: kess t’en penses?)
Whaddya think?

If we remove the informal contractions, we get: qu’est-ce que tu en penses? The question form qu’est-ce que often gets shortened to qu’est-ce (sounds like “kess”) before the subject tu (another example: qu’est-ce tu veux?). The combination tu en often contracts to t’en (qu’est-ce t’en penses?).

At the end of his conversation, he ended with:

OK, on se r’parle! (verb: se reparler)
OK, we’ll be in touch again!

A final note about the yes-no question marker -tu from above:

The yes-no -tu is used at an informal level of speech very frequently in Québec. This doesn’t mean that est-ce que isn’t used in Québec, however.

An example of a yes-no question that the same guy asked during his conversation using est-ce que is:

Est-ce que tu penses que tu peux faire les modifications dans le texte?
Do you think you can make the changes in the text?

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Here are 5 new items for you to learn in French:

  • 3 colloquial French expressions overheard in Montréal
  • 2 images related to dogs seen in Montréal

1. Hier y’a fait chaud en tabarouette!

It was darn hot yesterday!

A man said this the day after the temperature had warmed up a little. He exaggerated though by saying that it was really hot the day before, even if the temperature wasn’t in fact hot (it was just warmer than usual).

Y’a is an informal pronunciation of il, so y’a fait chaud is a colloquial pronunciation of il a fait chaud.

Tabarouette sounds like ta-bar-wett. The expression en tabarouette makes the adjective that comes before it stronger. Tabarouette derives from the québécois swear word tabarnak, but tabarouette is a non-offensive version of it (like “darn” instead of “damn”).

C’est cher en tabarouette!
It’s darn expensive!

Tabarouette!
Darn! Holy cow!

2. Qu’est-ce tu fais à soir?

Whaddya doin’ tonight?

The girl that said this didn’t ask qu’est-ce que tu fais à soir?, she asked qu’est-ce tu fais à soir? She dropped the word que. This often happens during informal French conversations before the word tu. Qu’est-ce on its own without the que sounds like kess.

Remember, tu in Québec sounds like tsu.

Qu’est-ce tu fais?
(kess tsu fè)
What’re you doin’?

Qu’est-ce tu veux?
(kess tsu veu)
Whaddya want?

Qu’est-ce t’en penses?
(kess tan pense)
Whaddya think (about that)?

À soir means the same thing as ce soir. In most forms of writing, it’s better to use ce soir. In regular conversations, you’ll hear both ce soir and à soir.

3. Ah ok, là j’comprends!

Ah ok, now I understand!
Ah ok, now I get it!

Maintenant isn’t the only way to say “now” in French. In Québec, is very often used instead. Sometimes you’ll even hear it repeated for extra effect.

Là là, chu tanné!
Now I’m really fed up!
Now I’ve really had it!

Chu is an informal pronunciation of je suis.

Votre animal fait un effort4. Votre animal fait un effort, faites le vôtre!

If your animal can make an effort, so can you!

This funny sign in Montréal asks dog owners to make an effort (i.e., pick up after their dog) after their dog has “made an effort” (i.e., gone poo).

Merci de ramasser
Thank you for picking up (after your dog)

Remember, ramasser in Québec is pronounced ramâsser. The accented â sounds something like “aww.”

If the word contains â, that’s easy: say “aww.” But some words take the “aww” sound even if they aren’t written with the accent. Here’s a list of 50 French words pronounced with the “aww” sound but not written with the accented â.

Remember, it isn’t necessary for you to pronounce â as “aww” to make yourself understood. If you pronounce â like a regular a sound, everybody will understand you. At the very least, learn to hear the difference between the â and a sounds so that you recognise the word that people are saying.

Nouvelle aire d'exercice canin5. Nouvelle aire d’exercice canin

New dog exercise area

A little farther down the street, I spotted another sign related to dogs.

This sign tells us that in May 2014 the fenced off area will become a zone for dogs to run around in.

The masculine word air means “air.” The feminine word aire means “zone” or “area.” Maybe you’ll remember this no-smoking sign in French containing a play on the words air and aire.

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