3 differences between European French and French Canadian

The French language has travelled all over the world, and thus been adopted by many countries. French is second only to English, in terms of the number of countries in which it has official status. Each of these countries, of course, has their own variant of the language.

French is the mother tongue of around 7.3 million Canadians, this is approximately 22% of the entire Canadian population.

Approximately 85% of these people reside in Quebec, making it the only province with French as the main language.

French language learning

It is not just those with French heritage who are speaking the language in Canada. Approximately 2 million students in Canada are studying French as a second language, with 300,000 children enrolled in immersion programs. A further 3 million adults, whose mother tongue is not French, speak it as their second language.

Every year, over 250,000 immigrants come to Canada, approximately 35,000 of whom are French speakers, adding to Canada’s Francophonie.

How do the languages differ?

Despite sharing a common root, the languages are now vastly different, especially when spoken. French settlers originally came to Canada in the 17th and 18 centuries, after this period of time the area became increasingly isolated from France. This meant that any linguistic changes that happened in France did not travel to Canada.

1. Pronunciation

Canadian French contains many older pronunciations, causing them to have a noticeably different accent.

Although these changes do not mean complete misunderstanding or miscommunication, it can still be incredibly difficult to effectively communicate between the languages.

This means that when hiring anyone to complete projects for you, it is vital to consider where they will be going, this is especially the case with interpreting.

Although many Canadian French speakers will understand the French accent, this rarely works the other way around.

2. Vocabulary

Vocabulary also plays a massive role in differentiating European French and French Canadian.

Both variants of French borrow words from English, however they do not tend to be the same words. For example in French Canadian “to marry” is marier, instead of épouser, the term for “appointment” is appointement in French Canadian, instead of rendezvous Slang also understandably changes between the two countries, as is the case with any language.

3. Grammar

Canadian French tends to follow the same grammatical rules as European French, however there are still several local nuances that have to be taken into account.

Canadian French seems to prefer the informal form.

They are more likely to use ‘tu’ (meaning you) in a much wider range of situation than those in France. The use of the ‘vous’ form is limited for only the most formal and serious circumstances. The order of words in the imperative form is also different, (dis-moi-le instead of dis-le-moi). Although these may seem like very small differences, they are vital in terms of being completely understood.

Which French should you learn?

Learning French requires a lot of time and dedication, and it is further complicated by the plethora of regional accents and dialects. However, it is incredibly worthwhile trying to learn other dialects of French. When in Canada, speaking Canadian French, or attempting to, will provide you with the best possible experience.

As demonstrated above, the difference between these languages is far more than just accent. Therefore, it is vital to have any work correctly translated for the appropriate reason.

This will save a lot of embarrassment, and lead to greater working relationships. It is vital that native speakers are used for these tasks, as they will provide you with a fluent finished project.

Although standard French will ‘get you by’ in most Francophone countries, demonstrating an understanding of the local dialect, and attempting to use it, will garner more respect, and thus could lead to more business.

Share this story

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up