Posts Tagged ‘speaking French’

I’d always wanted to write about this but felt it was too off-topic for OffQc. I’ve since changed my mind. Considering that there are in fact a good number of francophones who read OffQc, I think this blog is as good a place as any for it.

If you read comments online in news articles related to language in Montréal, you’ll often come across ones where the author says he won’t return to a certain business because he wasn’t served in French. The idea is that if you don’t speak French, you’ll be punished by no longer getting that francophone customer’s business.

Sure, I know it probably feels really good to punish people who don’t speak French by hitting them where it counts ($$$), but does this strategy work in getting people to become francophone?

I suspect it doesn’t work. I don’t have any evidence to offer other than common sense and an anecdote, so feel free to comment.

When I say common sense, what I mean is this: if all francophones decided to no longer return to a business where the employees are unable to speak French, then that business will have zero French-speaking clientele. In this case, where is the incentive to learn French? If no francophones come into the business, there’s no need for it.

On the contrary, imagine a scenario where 99% of customers to a business are francophone. That business has a very strong incentive to learn French and serve their customers in this language.

We might feel like we’re being proactive by punishing, but I feel this ultimately does nothing to promote French. It may seem counterintuitive, but what I feel we need to do to promote French in this situation is the complete opposite of refusing to frequent these businesses — go there, spend your money, and demonstrate that learning French is beneficial.

And an anecdote:

I remember an employee in a fast-food Vietnamese restaurant in Montréal who was unable to serve customers in French. I will admit that my first reaction was “wow, what nerve.” But instead of storming off, I smiled and spoke very basic French to her. When she didn’t understand, I said it in English. I also said simple words like bonjour, merci and s’il vous plaît.

When I returned a few weeks later, I was surprised when she remembered me. She did her best to say whatever French words she could, and then said the rest in English.

I returned yet again a few months later. I don’t know if she remembered me at this point, but what amazed me was that she served me entirely in French. She stumbled a little when she said the price in French, but she had essentially learned to serve in French.

Yes, it takes patience to do this. It’s easier to punish and may even feel good too. But as a long-term strategy, I believe punishing is worthless. What if we were all just a little more patient, smiled just a little more often, and made newcomers feel just a little more welcome here?

What would have happened if francophones to that restaurant had always impatiently switched to English instead of using simple French? Worse, what would have happened if francophones had simply stopped going to that restaurant altogether?

I don’t know about you, but I have no desire whatsoever to communicate with angry, aggressive people. If I didn’t already speak their language, then I’d have no desire to learn it. It’s so much easier to draw people towards French when we’re patient, friendly and charismatic.

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Rumours suggest that residents of La Tuque, Québec may be warming up to the idea of biting anglophone tourists when requested.

If you’re worried about your English accent when speaking French in Québec, don’t be.

Every so often, I receive an email from a reader concerned about how his or her accent isn’t “good enough.” My answer is always the same: it’s more than good enough, and don’t let your accent stop you.

Here are four reasons why.

1. Nobody’s going to bite you

Maybe you feel the need to hide your accent because you worry (needlessly) about an anti-English sentiment in Québec. If that’s the case, don’t waste another second harbouring this thought. You’ll be very well-received in Québec.

Some people will be interested in you because of your English accent, others will simply be indifferent. More importantly, nobody’s going to bite you because of your accent or because you’re anglophone.

If you ask nicely to be bitten however, somebody might oblige, especially in Montréal. Not sure about La Tuque.

2. Conversations will be easier

If you had no accent, other people wouldn’t bother to slow down a little when they speak. That’s fine if you already manage well in French, but less so when you’re still learning. Your accent can sometimes help signal to other people to not break out the pompoms in French just yet and to slow down a little, making the conversation easier.

You don’t need to worry about bilingual francophones switching to English because of your accent. It’s not usually the accent that causes a bilingual to switch, but the impression that you don’t understand what’s being said (work on your listening) or that you’re having trouble expressing yourself (work on your speaking).

If you do ultimately get the switch, remember that it’s not a Linguistic Blue Screen of Death (a fatal-error message in your head telling you that it’s game over). Rather, it’s an opportunity to try again, or to start a conversation, or to get feedback on your French, or something you simply brush off and carry on.

3. You’ll build confidence

If you’re worried about your accent, you’ll avoid speaking and begin to stagnate. Acknowledge your accent for what it currently is, then forget about it. Go find people to speak with and let your accent hang all out.

When you discover that nothing bad happens, you’ll feel confident about speaking more often. And the more often you speak with people, the more you may just find that your accent starts sounding québécois.

4. Everybody’s got an accent

And that’s especially true in Montréal, where people are used to hearing every accent imaginable in French. You’re not going to shock anybody with your accent.

When people hear your accent, they’ll know it means that you had to learn the language. That’s always impressive to people. Let your accent win you a few compliments from time to time. You’ve earned it.

It’s perfectly understandable to want to make your accent resemble the native speakers’ as closely as possible. For many learners, it’s an enjoyable and challenging goal to work towards. But don’t ever let your current accent prevent you from pursuing what you want from your efforts to learn French.

Photo credit: bouchecl/Wikipedia

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I’m not only sexy because a very big fan is blowing my hair all around, I’m also sexy because I learned French in Montréal.

There are lots of reasons to learn to speak like the Québécois. Here are just five.

1. It’s delicious

You have to admit there’s something cool about learning to speak in a way that’s different to the larger majority of French speakers in the world. The farther you go into the québécois variety, the more you discover that there’s a deliciousness about it that makes you keep coming back for more. It’s kind of like the difference between Apple and Dell.

2. Endear yourself to the Québécois

You’ll endear yourself to the Québécois, who’ll take pleasure in hearing you use a typically québécois word or expression. It sends the message that you’ve made Québec your home, or that the French of Québec is your point of reference, or that you simply like the Québécois. Don’t go overboard with the accent and expressions though, trying to be ultra-québécois! Just be yourself.

3. Rise above the nonsense

Have you ever been told that the French of Québec isn’t real French, maybe even by a school teacher? Some people who have difficulty understanding the Québécois cover up their anxiety about it by denigrating it. By learning the French of Québec, you rise above this nonsense and aren’t held back by other people’s limitations.

4. Dazzle the French

Travel to France and people will be intensely curious about you and your accent! You’ll be asked all kinds of questions, like where you’re from and where you learned French. If your accent is a blended one, like québécois plus the accent associated with your native language, then you’re even more exotic and sexy to the French.

5. Because the sky’s the limit

The French of Québec has loads of different vowel sounds in it. It isn’t necessary to reproduce all of them exactly to make yourself understood. But if you do manage to master the entire québécois vowel system, there’s not much else stopping you in life!

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