Learning French in Quebec: Everything You Should Know to Get Started
You love the cold, hockey, piping hot poutine at the end of a long night on the town and the idea of learning French through immersion.
The prescription: learn French in Quebec, otherwise known as “La Belle Province” (The Beautiful Province)!
In this post, we’ll start by looking at some great options of places you can learn French in Quebec. Then I’ll give you some useful tips to maximize your French exposure to help you practice as much French as possible once you’re there.
- Why You Should Learn French in Quebec
- “La Belle Province” Calls! All About Learning French in Quebec
- And one more thing...
Why You Should Learn French in Quebec
If you want to learn French, an obvious place to do so is France. Yet there are many other places throughout the world where you can learn and practice French. If you’re looking to learn French in a unique and interesting way, then the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec might just be the perfect choice for you.
Quebec is a great place to live, visit and study, and it’s super accessible for people from many different countries. What’s more, the people in Quebec are usually very open to helping outsiders learn and practice French, which isn’t always the case in all French-speaking places.
And yes, it gets cold in the winter, but that’s what jackets are for!
You could even be sold on Quebec’s culture and its proximity to the rest of North America, but you might become hesitant to go there to learn French when you hear that a lot of Quebecers also speak English. “How much of an issue is this?” you might wonder.
The 2011 Canadian census found that just 8.3 percent of the nearly 8 million people in Quebec claimed English as their mother tongue. Yet the census also found that the English-French bilingualism rate was 42.6 percent. These statistics explain why many English-speaking tourists looking to practice French express their frustration at being spoken to in English in Quebec: Quebec is the most bilingual province in Canada.
However, much of Quebec’s anglophone population is concentrated in Montreal and areas close to the borders with the U.S. and Ontario. There’s much to do and see in the rest of Quebec, and 78.9 percent of the province’s population report having French as their mother tongue.
The takeaway is that the French speakers are there for you to practice with, but you’ll need to look in the right places and put yourself in the right situations to meet them.
The Quebecois Accent
Quebecers are known for having a strong, distinct accent in French. French learners are often concerned that learning French in Quebec will mean they won’t be understood in the rest of the French-speaking world.
Most Quebecers are also able to speak with a more neutral accent, however, and if you spend enough time in Quebec, chances are you’ll get an idea of how to do this too.
It’s also true that Quebec has a lot of regional expressions and slang, but they won’t prevent you from learning authentic, “correct” French that will serve you wherever you go in the French-speaking world.
So, rest easy. The French you’ll learn in Quebec is just as good and useful as the French you’d learn in France.
Now that you’re convinced that Quebec is the place to be, put on your fur hat and gloves, and let’s get started!
“La Belle Province” Calls! All About Learning French in Quebec
Here are five essential tips that you should follow if you want to learn French in Quebec. We’ll start off by looking at some places where you can learn French, and then we’ll go through some tips to help maximize your French exposure and practice.
1. Enroll in a French Course
The best way to ensure you speak and learn as much French as possible in Quebec is to enroll in a French course—particularly one with an emphasis on immersion. Although immersion can initially be both frustrating and draining, it’s ultimately much more beneficial to your learning than it would be if you just peppered an English conversation with a few French phrases here and there.
Here are some options for French courses that you can check out!
Dedicated French learning schools
École Québec Monde
EQM gives students the option to take French courses in groups, individually or both. Located in Quebec’s capital, Quebec City, the school provides assistance to students for finding all types of living arrangements, but typically organizes stays with French-speaking host families for the most immersive experience possible. We’ll discuss living with host families more in depth later in this article.
This school offers a wide array of immersion courses for both adults and adolescents in summer, winter and the full academic year. To make the learning even more engaging, many courses have a second focus such as art, sports or cooking. Students have the option to stay with a host family, in a student residence on or off campus, or in a furnished apartment. Edu-Inter is also located in Quebec City.
Located in Montreal, ILSC offers preparation courses for the DELF, TEF and TEFaQ exams, summer French immersion camps for students aged 13-17 and courses on various areas of interest for people of all ages. The full-time, intensive schedule is recommended for the most immersive experience, but there are many other courses to accommodate all types of schedules.
French courses through universities
Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Located between Montreal and Quebec City, Trois-Rivières is a smaller city with around 135,000 inhabitants. Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières offers French courses year round, with the widest range of courses offered in the summer. The university also gives Canadian students the option to take French courses for college credit.
Western University Trois-Pistoles
Situated along the St. Lawrence River in the charming town of Trois-Pistoles, Western University offers some very unique French learning options such as French for French teachers and French immersion for families. Trois-Pistoles is the smallest town on this list, with around 3,200 inhabitants. The city is conveniently located between Quebec City and Gaspesie, a rural region of Quebec known for its beautiful landscapes.
2. Stay with Locals
Quebec’s hotels and hostels are likely to be staffed with fully bilingual employees that are more focused on serving numerous clients than helping you practice your French. Hotels and hostels are also likely to have many tourists and people from out of town—less than ideal conversation partners for French learning.
The solution? Stay with Quebecers! Here are some of the best options of places to stay if you’re looking to improve and practice your French.
Hosts and host families
If you’re interested in a long-term stay, a great option is to live with a host family. This is typically done by students enrolled in immersion classes, but is also available through sites like Homestay for those of you who aren’t planning on taking organized French courses.
You can contact the host(s) you’d like to stay with ahead of time to discuss language arrangements that best accommodate the both of you. Staying with real Quebecers in their homes will let you practice your French in a natural setting while learning about culture in Quebec. Homestays also give you the chance to build long lasting friendships that make the language learning experience even richer.
Your host(s) will also show you places and things to do in town that you would never discover otherwise. Such areas are likely to have fewer English speakers, which will allow you to practice your French even more.
You’ll surely have some time alone in your new home, and you may be tempted to revert to English when your French-speaking host(s) aren’t around. You can keep yourself busy by setting up your room as a French-speaking space. Your host(s) will probably be happy to provide you with some French books, movies and other learning materials.
Couchsurfing.com unites hosts and travelers, allowing them to learn about each other’s culture while the host provides temporary lodging for the traveler. Although there’s no limit on length of stay, travelers that couch surf tend to stay for just a few days with a host. Because the stays are usually shorter, couch surfing means you can stay with many different Quebecers over the course of your trip. Staying with many different hosts throughout Quebec is excellent preparation for French in the real world, where you’ll need to understand a variety of different accents and speaking styles.
Other housing options
If you’d prefer something a bit more formal than couch surfing yet less expensive and more personal than a hotel, there are also sites like Airbnb.com or HomeAway.com, which often rent out single rooms in houses or apartments. Of course, if you rent a house and the host isn’t actually there, then you won’t be able to practice French with them. But it could at least give you a base to explore a new area, while avoiding the higher costs of staying in hotels.
Whichever you choose, be sure to read up on some French Canadian expressions and slang ahead of time! They’ll definitely come in handy and are guaranteed to score you some bonus points with your new friends.
3. Get Around with Car Sharing Services
Even with excellent teachers and supportive classmates, French courses in the classroom won’t be able to teach you everything you need to know to become fully fluent in French. Besides—you’ll probably want to travel and explore your new surroundings!
Instead of taking buses and trains, consider using a car sharing service. Besides being cheaper than buses and trains, car sharing is typically offered by locals who regularly make trips along common routes for business or to visit family members. It’s also much easier to strike up a conversation in a quiet car than it is to approach strangers in a bus or train.
A popular site to check out is Covoiturage.ca, the French Canadian version of Ridesharing.com. After meeting some Quebecois friends through car sharing, you can also ask them to add you to car sharing groups on Facebook for regions of Quebec that you might be interested in visiting.
4. Go Where Anglophones Don’t
If you follow the first two steps, chances are you’ll get to explore some of the most French-speaking parts of Quebec. However, it’s understandable that you’ll probably want to plan some of where you’ll go ahead of time.
When choosing cities and towns to visit, keep in mind that Quebec’s major cities and their commercial tourist areas are more likely to have more English speakers. Montreal and Quebec City can be great for French learning if you participate in an immersion program or homestay, but may otherwise pose challenges because of their large English speaking populations. Sticking to smaller towns will you give the most opportunities to practice your French.
As another general rule, the further north you go in Quebec, the more likely you’ll be to encounter French speakers. You can check out this map of the concentration of Anglophones throughout Quebec to get a more precise picture and give yourself the best chance of avoiding English speakers.
5. Frenchify Your Social Media and Internet Usage
The distractions of today’s digital world can be less conducive to real language immersion than the world was before the internet, at least if you don’t know how to use the technology in a way that promotes learning. For the majority of us, however, some level of social media usage is ingrained in our daily routine.
You can use this to your advantage by setting your phone and computer to French Canadian and vowing to only use them to consume content in French. Temporarily delete apps like Instagram and Snapchat and replace them with Quebecois apps!
Free apps like Le Journal de Québec and Le Soleil allow you to keep up with what’s happening in the province, and Sélection Radio du Québec can turn you on to some of Quebec’s classic music. And you can always mute your phone when a song with English lyrics comes on.
If you haven’t yet won over your carpool friends with Quebecois expressions, a flawless karaoke rendition of one of Quebec’s famous folk songs will be sure to do the trick!
Using the apps above to fill your downtime will not only strengthen your reading and listening comprehension, but also keep French fresh in your mind so you’re ready to take advantage of any opportunities to socialize with the Quebecers you’ll encounter.
Be sure to also bookmark a few French learning video sites to keep yourself occupied when you have free time or get a sudden urge to surf the web. For example, instead of mindlessly watching videos on YouTube, you could find a language course on Udemy. There’s also the immersive website and app FluentU that pairs authentic media clips with interactive subtitles, personalized quizzes and other learning aids.
The overlap of French and English is one of the things that makes Quebec unique, and at the end of the day, you’re still likely to have some situations where you’re spoken to in English instead of French.
Faced with this somewhat discouraging reality, it’s comforting to remind oneself that Quebecers on the whole are fiercely proud of the French language and will be happy to help you practice your French.
By using the tips above, you should be able to dive deep into Quebec’s Francophone culture and have a truly unique expérience Québecoise (Quebecois experience)!
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:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
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."
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 FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.