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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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Focus on what you have control over, like speaking and listening skills. Don’t worry about your accent because it’s not a big deal. [Image courtesy of Snob Affair]

Are you disappointed by bilingual francophones who switch to English on you when you speak French? There is a solution.

It will require work of you and it won’t come overnight, but it’s within your control and it’s achievable.

Last week in Montréal, I overheard two women, one francophone and one anglophone, speaking to each other in French. The two women didn’t know one another. The francophone asked the anglophone for directions, and they spoke together for almost two minutes.

I listened in on their conversation. I’ve developed a very bad habit of listening in on other people’s conversations since I started this blog.

What struck me about the conversation was that the anglophone had an English accent so thick that you could have sliced it with a knife — and yet, the francophone did not switch to English on her. They spoke in French only.

The anglophone, although she had a very heavy accent, seemed reasonably comfortable speaking spontaneously in French. Admittedly, I don’t know if the francophone was bilingual.

I know another woman, also anglophone, who has a very strong accent when speaking French. I don’t know her very well, but I can recall four times recently where she spoke in French with a bilingual francophone who did not switch to English on her.

She may speak with a strong English accent, but she’s able to speak French spontaneously, and I’ve never noted any listening comprehension problems.

I have observed other instances of this with different anglophones in Montréal. Although they had an obvious English accent — sometimes heavy, sometimes not — there was no language switch from French to English.

Yes, I know this is all anecdotal evidence. That’s because: OffQc.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from anglophone learners of French is that bilingual francophones always switch to English as soon as the English accent is detected.

I too used to believe that the language switch was caused by a heavy English accent. I don’t believe this anymore.

I believe now that what causes the language switch is the impression that you’re struggling to find your words (speaking problem), or that you don’t understand what’s being said (listening problem).

This is great news for you.

It means that you can chill out about your accent, which is pretty much impossible to eliminate entirely for us adult language learners, and focus on the stuff that you have much more control over — speaking and listening.

How do you improve your speaking and listening?

I’ll let you in on a secret.

The best way to improve your speaking and listening is by… speaking and listening. 🙂

You’ll become great at whatever you spend large amounts of time doing. Spend your time memorising verb conjugations, and you’ll become great at memorising verb conjugations. Spend your time speaking and listening instead, and you’ll become great at speaking and listening.

As adults, sometimes we think that we’re not ready to speak with others in our new language because we still have trouble recalling words. We fear that we speak too slowly — and it may even be true. However, no amount of independent preparation will ever cure this entirely.

The only way to become a faster speaker with the ability to recall words immediately is through speaking with others.

Until you begin putting yourself in situations where you’re obligated to speak spontaneously in French, you’ll always be a slow speaker searching for your words. And those bilingual francophones will switch to English on you.

The same goes for listening. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s not the native speakers who speak too fast; it’s you the learner who listens too slowly.

Until you begin putting yourself in situations where you’re listening to large amounts of spoken French, you’ll always be a slow listener with a look of bewilderment on your face. And those bilingual francophones will switch to English on you.

So, the best way to get those bilinguals to stop switching to English is to improve your speaking and listening by doing lots of speaking and listening.

You can worry about perfecting your accent later. Or never.

And this is great news because speaking and listening are things you can start improving right now. Yes, you’ve got work ahead of you, but it’s your call.

_ _ _

In the meantime, here are a couple essential phrases to learn for the times when you’re confronted with the language switch:

Nooon! Continue de me parler en français! L’accent québécois, je trouve ça tellement hot! Noooo! Keep speaking to me in French! I think the québécois accent is so hot!

Tu vas devoir me parler en français, tsé. Sinon, tu risques de pogner un ticket. You’re gonna have to speak to me in French, you know. Otherwise, you might get a ticket.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even hope for the language switch just to try those out on someone. 😉

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