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7 Steps to Learn French in Canada [+ 5 French Immersion Programs]

Going to Canada is one of the best ways to learn French.

Sure, indulging in a sip of red wine along the banks of the Seine in Paris is the first thing you might visualize.

But why not have a little poutine during a snowy night out in Quebec?

Quebec, Montreal and Novia Scotia are just a few of the top places to immerse yourself in French Canadian culture.

So in this post, I’ll introduce you to seven ways you can learn French in Canada, plus five immersion programs you can enroll in today.

Contents

7 Tips to Learn French in Canada

1. Don’t use English when going out.

It’s tempting to fall back on your native language when you’re put in situations that risk you being misunderstood or pushing you outside your comfort zone.

But that’s the only way your French will improve!

Use French to order food, ask for directions, chat with locals, go shopping, etc. Even though you won’t be perfect, the practice you get will progress your French more than sitting in a classroom without any real-world usage.

2. Download language exchange apps to make native-speaker friends before your trip.

This is something I personally did before going to Peru for a month, and it paid off in dividends.

Before going to Canada, download a language exchange app like HelloTalk or Tandem. (You can read our full review of HelloTalk here.)

Search for native French speakers from the Canadian province you’re going to, send them a message and let them know you’re coming to their area to practice your French. If you get along well and the conversations continue up until your trip, ask if they’d like to meet up during your stay.

Not only does this ensure you get excellent French practice, but it also means you’ll have friends as soon as you step onto Canadian soil.

3. Find a homestay program.

A homestay is when you temporarily live with a French-Canadian family instead of having your own apartment, dorm room, Airbnb, etc.

There are an insane amount of perks that come with homestay programs.

First, you get complete French immersion since the families speak French at home.

Second, you get daily first-hand experiences with French-Canadian culture.

Your homestay family will cook authentic Canadian food, discuss topics relevant to Canadian culture, show you around the local area and more. You can easily find a homestay using the Canada Homestay Network.

4. Study abroad.

If you’re a university student (or want to go back), consider looking into your school’s study abroad programs. Many team up with Canadian universities across different provinces.

If your current school doesn’t offer anything that catches your eye, you can also look into applying to a Canadian university as an international student unaffiliated with a school.

5. Consume native Canadian French content.

Before and during your trip, you should consume as much native Canadian French content as possible.

Emphasis on Canadian French here—the dialects from Canada and France are noticeably different, so you’ll want to get accustomed to the one you’ll be exposed to daily when you land.

You can easily do this with Canadian TV shows, movies, music, podcasts and more.

You can also use FluentU to find tons of authentic French videos from Canada that are sorted according to level. Each video comes with interactive subtitles, meaning you can click on words to get their meanings, example sentences, pronunciations and more—letting you learn Canadian French in context.

6. Participate in local events.

Once you’re in Canada, don’t be afraid to venture out.

Find local events online through sites like MeetUp or ask your homestay family or new local friends for recommendations.

Another thing I did before traveling to Peru was join a few Facebook groups meant for locals (not foreigners) so I could get an insider’s look into the events locals enjoy the most.

7. Enroll in an immersion course.

Immersion courses are one of the fastest ways to get fluent in French. Not only are you in the country and exposed to the language daily, but you’re also getting the structured study you need to fine-tune details like grammar and vocabulary.

They’re usually intensive courses that last for a few weeks to a few months and involve coming to classes for a few hours a day. Here are five of the best ones in Canada:

5 Immersion Courses to Learn French in Canada

1. McGill’s French Immersion Summer Program

  • Stay in the cosmopolitan city of Montreal. If there’s one city that most embodies Canadian bilingualism, it’s Montreal. From shopping on René Lévesque Boulevard to exploring the fabulous Mont Royal, there’s always something to see and do. Plus, Montreal is generally not as expensive as other Canadian cities like Toronto or Vancouver.
  • Frequent excursions will take you all over Quebec. The French Immersion Summer Program lets you sign up for trips to many great Quebec destinations like Quebec City or Mont-Tremblant.
  • Live with fellow students and make new friends. You’ll get to live in dorms with your fellow students here. Although there’s the disadvantage of being tempted to speak English, you can make friends more quickly this way. You also might enjoy being able to ask questions and discuss language roadblocks with other French learners whenever you need to.

2. Summer Immersion through the Université du Québec à Montréal

  • Various courses for all levels and price points. The UQAM Summer Immersion program leans heavily on college-level courses taught by professors. This is your opportunity to custom-make your own study program.
  • French teacher training program. This program is popular with French teachers because it allows them to boost their language and professional skills over the summer. With French immersion schools increasing in popularity throughout the U.S., this could be the career booster you’re looking for.
  • Take excursions to more “out of the way” Quebec destinations. What’s unique about this program is that it not only offers trips to renowned destinations like Mont-Tremblant, but also to the “true” Quebec, in out-of-the-way spots like Trois-Pistoles or Rivière-du-Loup. In these areas, you’ll hear a very distinct French from the accents spoken in Montreal or Quebec City, which may take some getting used to.

3. The Université Sainte-Anne

Acadian French is spoken in Canada’s Maritime provinces. It’s a distinct accent with roots as far back as Quebec French.

  • Programs are offered in one-, four- and five-week sessions. You’ll get the dosage of French learning you want on your timetable. Furthermore, the one-week sessions are affordable for many people who can’t afford a full summer immersion program.
  • Explore Canada’s Maritime provinces. Although often overlooked by foreign tourists, the Maritimes offer breathtaking scenery and unique cultures. If you go exploring, you’ll find French-speaking enclaves scattered throughout the region.
  • Integrated French Immersion Option. If you’re college hunting, the Université Sainte-Anne is considered a pioneering institution for offering degrees to anglophones with French as the medium of instruction. The only requirements are that you already speak B1 (intermediate) level French and sign a pledge only to use French 24/7.
  • Lower cost of living. Most of Nova Scotia speaks English, but if you’re on a budget, the Université Sainte-Anne and other Maritime French immersion programs are generally less expensive. The Maritime provinces also have a lower cost of living than other regions of Canada.

4. Université de Moncton in New Brunswick

  • Abundance of people to help you with French. New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province, with French spoken in the northern and eastern third of the province and English in the rest. Moncton is about one-third French-speaking—a bilingual city in a bilingual province.
  • Canadians can participate with the Explore Bursary. The Université de Moncton participates in the Explore Bursary, a scholarship for Canadian students that lets them study one of Canada’s official languages (English or French) to the point of fluency. The Explore Bursary provides financing for a variety of programs.
  • You can receive up to six university credits for participating. What makes the immersion program at the Université de Moncton unique is that your summer immersion can be used for college credit, depending on the length of your program. However, you’ll have to check with your university to see if the credits will transfer.

5. University of British Columbia’s French Summer Institutes

  • Affordable tuition of about $1,000 for three weeks. The tuition at the University of British Columbia is reasonable for the budget-minded, but be careful. Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada. What you save in tuition you can lose in cost of living.
  • Choose the morning-only option to explore vibrant and multicultural Vancouver. The University of British Columbia offers morning and afternoon sessions. This is an excellent option if you want to integrate your French learning into a Vancouver vacation. Vancouver has a large immigrant population, a teeming downtown and spectacular west coast scenery. Just be sure to bring an umbrella!
  • UBC Summer Institutes are very popular with prospective teachers. Like the UQAM Summer Immersion program, the UBC Summer Institutes train budding French teachers, attracting French speakers from all over North America who want to pass on this beautiful language.

What Makes Canada a Great Place to Learn French?

Before singing the praises of Canada as a francophone destination, it’s worth mentioning why French has a presence there.

Before the English, the French colonized much of what’s now Canada, founding the cities of Montreal and Quebec City, among others. New France existed from 1534 until 1763, when the English expelled them from Canada in the Seven Years’ War.

After the departure of the French, the remaining French Canadians proudly held onto their language—a difficult task when surrounded by English speakers.

Despite the odds, French Canadians discovered a cultural and linguistic pride during the 20th century and, thanks to linguistic laws and Canadian bilingualism, French in the French Canadian areas is alive and well.

French-speaking Canada is generally a cheaper destination than France. 

Of course this depends on your lifestyle, but generally speaking, traveling through Canada is often less expensive than traveling through Europe.

It’s simply a matter of resources. Canada is huge and produces a lot of what it needs. On top of that, Quebec and other French-speaking areas tend to have lower costs of living than provinces like British Columbia.

Canada is much closer to home for many French learners. 

Tying into the above, if you’re from the U.S. (or English-speaking Canada), you can get to French-speaking Canada without a costly transatlantic plane ticket.

Canada gives more opportunities to stay and learn French. 

Staying in France for an extended period generally requires family ties or a job offer for which nobody else in the EU qualifies. Canada, on the other hand, is an immigrant-receiving nation with straightforward and set rules.

First of all, if you only want to visit as a tourist, Canada gives you six months while France only gives three. You can learn a lot of French in six months!

Furthermore, if you speak French, you can immigrate to Canada as a Quebec Provincial Nominee provided you meet the other requirements. On a national level, speaking French gives you points in the Express Entry scheme.

Finally, if you choose to study in Canada, you can stay and work for a while after graduation and receive Express Entry points for having a connection to Canada.

Canada offers a wealth of French immersion programs for all levels. 

In Canada, learning French isn’t just a hobby—it’s a necessity for many public sector jobs. It’s becoming the language of opportunity in Canada.

Because of this, there are many quality French institutes scattered across Canada. Whether you’re in the eastern U.S. or western U.S., there’s a program waiting for you just across the border.

What to Consider Before Heading to Canada

Like any undertaking, you can’t just jump in blindly. Here’s what to know so you can plan your French Canadian explorations to suit your needs.

Traveling alone will force you to speak French. 

If the purpose of your trip is immersion, it’s better to travel alone. When you travel with your friends, you’ll generally stay in an English-speaking bubble.

Also, traveling alone will make it easier to make French-speaking friends and explore what you want.

Canadian French accents are very different from European French. 

Canadian French has been separated from European French for almost 300 years. It goes without saying that the accents are very different.

Those who learned European French are often surprised that they can’t understand Canadian accents (and vice versa). And this isn’t even taking into account the fact that Canadian French isn’t just one accent. Quebec alone has about 15 accents, and then there’s Acadian French, which is also unique.

But just because Canadian French is different from European French doesn’t make it a “degraded” form of the language. It has a long history of development.

In fact, some believe that Canadian French is actually closer to Old French than the French spoken in Europe today.

Many (but not all) Canadian French speakers speak English. 

This is inevitable and comes from Canada’s policy of bilingualism and from being surrounded by English speakers.

French learners are often frustrated when Canadian French speakers respond to them in English. But don’t worry, just say something like:

S’il vous plaît, je veux pratiquer mon français.
(Please, I want to practice my French.)

Do I need a visa to learn French in Canada? 

Generally speaking, if your stay is less than six months, you won’t need a visa if you come from the U.S. (among some other countries).

As such, most French immersion programs that aren’t full-fledged degree programs can be completed in under three months.

It certainly is possible to complete a degree in French in Canada, but you’ll need a study permit.

Want to make a little money while you study? Check out the SWAP program. 

Citizens of many countries can take working vacations in Canada and work while they study French. Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t one of these countries. However, all’s not lost.

The SWAP program provides a series of exchange opportunities for up to six months for U.S. citizens.

For those of us who aren’t rich, this could be an invaluable lifeline while studying. Not to mention, a great way to immerse yourself in French.

 

French has been in Canada since its inception. Far from being an isolated dialect, Canadian French is healthy and diverse.

As one of the nodes of native French speakers, the French-speaking regions of Canada will offer you the immersion experience you’re looking for.

And one more thing...

If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.

FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:

learn-french-with-videos

FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.

learn-french-with-movies

For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:

practice-french-with-subtitled-videos

Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."

practice-french-with-adaptive-quizzes

All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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