As you probably know, French is spoken in many countries around the world, including Canada. Therefore, it’s a strategic language to learn for business and leisure alike.
However, if you’re considering a language course abroad, where should you learn French? While French is technically the same language everywhere, there are differences between regions and countries.
If you’re reading this article from the US, your neighbor Canada might seem like a great option. Or maybe, you’re dreaming about an Eiffel Tower selfie?
But are these two French varieties mere cousins or long-lost siblings, separated by geography and history? In this article, we’ll cover the similarities and main differences between Canadian French and France French.
French Canadian vs French, baguette et confiture vs pancakes et sirop d’érable, who will win this délicieux duel of dialects?
Are Canadian French and European French similar?
Canadian French and European French are similar in many ways, as they both originate from the same parent language. They share the same core vocabulary and grammar, and use the same standardized written form.
However, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.
By the way, do you know why French is spoken in Canada? Nowadays, nearly 95% of Québec’s population is bilingual. English and French also enjoy the same legal status in the Canadian government.
But retournons à nos moutons (more animal expressions in French here). Keep reading for the main differences between Canadian French and France French!
17 differences between French and French Canadian
1. Pronunciation and accent
For me, this is the biggest difference. Every time I’m in Montréal, I have to rewire my brain and set it to “new language” to understand the locals. The absolutely charming Québécois accent is known for being chantant compared to other Francophone accents that might sound dull.
And French people are so jealous that they love to make fun of it.
While there's no standard Canadian French accent, there are regional variations, and some unique pronunciations include:
- Replacement of "il" with the sound/letter "y" (e.g., "Y'est malade" for "he is sick").
- Replacement of "elle" with "a" and an extended "a" sound (e.g., "a mal au ventre" for "her stomach hurts").
- Use of "chu" to replace "je suis" (e.g., "chu fatigué" for "I am tired").
- Pronunciation changes before the letters "i" and "e," where "t" becomes "ts" and "d" becomes "dz."
- Retention of original French vowel pronunciations that no longer exist in France (e.g., "moi" pronounced as "moé").
2. Vocabulary differences
Canadian French has some special nouns and verbs that distinguish it from European French. Here are some prominent vocabulary terms in Canadian French and their equivalents in European French:
|English||Canadian French||European French|
|Girlfriend||Blonde||Copine/petite-amie (more terms of endearment in French here)|
|Purse||Sacoche||Sac à main|
|To gossip/to natter||Jaser||Bavarder|
|To shop||Magasiner||Faire du shopping/Faire les magasins|
|To lock the door||Barrer||Fermer à clé|
|To chat online||Clavarder||Chatter sur Internet|
3. Unique — and priceless — idioms
In fact, they’re so cool that many French people - myself included - have a hard time trying not to laugh, or at least smile when hearing them!
|Expression||European French equivalent||English|
|C'est plate!||C'est ennuyeux !||It's boring!|
|T'en veux-tu ?||En veux-tu ?||Would you like some?|
|Tu m'écoutes-tu ?||M'écoutes-tu ?||Do you hear me?/Are you listening?|
|Tu t'en vas-tu ?||Tu t'en vas ?||Are you going?|
|Aweille !||Allez !||Yeah!|
|C'est ben loin, là.||C'est très loin.||It's really far.|
|C'est pas ben beau.||Ce n'est pas très beau.||It's not very nice.|
|Elle est ben fine.||Elle est vraiment sympa.||She's really nice.|
|Bienvenue||De rien||You're welcome.|
|Voyons||Allons !||Come on! / Let's go!|
|C'est de valeur.||C'est dommage.||It's a shame.|
|Le bacon||L'argent.||Money (slang)|
|Ça me bouillonne dans le fond de la flûte.||J’ai envie de faire pipi.||I have to go to pee (slang) - Literal translation because it’s too good: It’s bubbling in the bottom of my flute.|
|Avoir les shakes.||Avoir peur.||To be scared.|
|En criant lapin.||En un rien de temps.||In no time.|
|Fou comme un balai.||Heureux comme un pinson.||Happy as a clam.|
|L’affaire est ketchup.||La situation est au mieux.||The situation couldn’t be better.|
|Y’é Heavy Metal||Une personne bizarre.||A weirdo.|
4. Eating time vocabulary
Eating time vocabulary in Québec differs from that in France. It can be quite confusing!
- Le déjeuner (le petit-déjeuner in France) – breakfast–is eaten before midday.
- Le dîner (le déjeuner in France) – lunch–is eaten between midday and 5 p.m.
- Une collation (un goûter in France) – a snack–is eaten between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
- Le souper (le dîner in France) – dinner/evening meal–is eaten from 7 p.m. onwards.
5. Question structure
In casual settings, Canadian French often adds "tu" at the end of questions (e.g., "T'en veux-tu?" for "Would you like some?"). In formal settings, "vous" is used as in other French-speaking regions.
6. Usage of "tu"
Canadian French tends to use the informal "tu" more often in non-business interactions, such as ordering drinks at a bar or speaking to a cashier.
This definitely contributes to their friendliness, as they appear less cold than their French counterparts.
7. Protection of the French language
Québec is known for its efforts to protect the French language. This results in unique translations or calques for English words and phrases (e.g., "arrêt" on stop signs instead of "stop").
8. Use of English verbs
Despite their language protection efforts, English verbs found their way into Québecois (e.g., "J'ai plugé mon cellulaire" for "I plugged in my cellphone").
Just like Spanglish in Latin America!
9. Influence of English
And it’s not just verbs, as English is widely used in French Canadian, for example “napkin” in restaurants.
But as mentioned below, Québec is trying to protect the French language, which results in a funny phenomenon: European French to English to Canadian French.
No, I didn’t have a tire overdose! Below are a couple of examples:
- Boisson : Beverage : Breuvage
- Facturer : to charge : Charger
- Planifier : to schedule : Scéduler
10. Money words
Unique French slang words for money exist in both languages. Canadian use "le bacon" for "money", while in French, we use slang words like “tunes”, “blé” or “fric”.
There are some minor spelling differences, mostly due to historical reasons. For example, Canadian French may use different diacritics or accents on certain letters compared to European French.
12. Informal marker "Là"
"Là" is used as an informal marker for emphasis or exclamation in Québec. For example: “T’sais là”.
13. Use of "Ben"
The word "ben" (really) is commonly used in informal Canadian French. For example: “Ben t’sais là”.
14. Multiple meanings of "Fin"
In Canadian French, "fin" can mean kind, similar to "sympa" in European French.
15. Social expressions
There are terms for being sociable in Québec (e.g., "sortir en gang" for "going out with friends").
16. Common greetings
"Bienvenue" is commonly used as a response to "thank you" in Canada, a direct translation of “You’re welcome” in English. In France, people would get really confused if you answered “Bienvenue“ to “Merci”, as it purely means “welcome”!
17. Cultural influences
Canadian French has been influenced by English and Indigenous languages due to the country's history, leading to some unique cultural and linguistic features.
For example, terms related to winter sports and Indigenous cultural elements may be more prevalent in Canadian French.
Keep reading for more differences between these two cultures!
French vs. Canadian French culture
Geography and history obviously had a tremendous impact on the French and Canadian cultures drifting apart.
Language and linguistic identity
- Linguistic purity: France places a high value on linguistic purity, and institutions like the Académie Française work to preserve the French language in its most traditional form.
- Dialects: While there are regional dialects in France, the standard Parisian French serves as the linguistic model for the country. French speakers take pride in the uniformity of their language.
- Language variation: As seen above, Canadian French has distinct linguistic features. This is a source of cultural pride.
- Switching: It's common for Canadian French speakers to seamlessly switch between French and English due to the country's bilingual nature, which has led to a unique linguistic blend.
Cultural heritage and traditions
- Historical influence: French culture is steeped in a rich historical heritage, including contributions to philosophy, art, literature, and cuisine. French traditions like Bastille Day and the celebration of food and wine are internationally renowned.
- Artistic legacy: France has produced renowned artists, writers, and philosophers, including the likes of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Claude Monet, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Indigenous influence: Canadian French culture, particularly in Québec, incorporates elements of Indigenous cultures due to historical interactions. Indigenous art, traditions, and cuisine have left a significant mark on the culture.
- Festivals: Québec hosts unique festivals like the Winter Carnival (Carnaval de Québec) and the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which blend French and Canadian influences.
Religion and secularism
- Secular Republic: France has a strong tradition of secularism, separating religion from the state. Laws like the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State underscore this principle.
- Religious symbols: The debate over religious symbols, such as the hijab, in public spaces reflects the country's commitment to secularism.
- Religious diversity: Canadian French culture is influenced by the country's religious diversity, with a significant Catholic heritage in Quebec. However, Canada also embraces freedom of religion and multiculturalism.
- Culinary excellence: French cuisine is celebrated worldwide for its culinary excellence. It includes dishes like coq au vin, escargot, croissants, and fine wines.
- Art of dining: French culture places a strong emphasis on the art of dining, with lengthy meals and appreciation for the gastronomic experience.
- Unique flavors: Canadian French cuisine incorporates local ingredients, such as maple syrup and game meats, resulting in dishes like tourtière (meat pie) and poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy — don’t frown, c’est très bon !). The latest has a controverted history!
- Fusion cuisine: Canadian French cuisine often reflects a fusion of French culinary traditions with Indigenous and English influences.
- Literature and cinema: France has a rich literary and cinematic tradition, with celebrated authors like Albert Camus and filmmakers like François Truffaut.
- Fashion: Paris is a global fashion capital known for haute couture and luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
- Contemporary art: Québec has a vibrant contemporary art scene, producing renowned artists like Jean-Paul Riopelle. Québec cinema has also gained international recognition.
- Music: Canadian French culture has contributed to the music world with artists like Celine Dion, Arcade Fire, Bryan Adams, and Leonard Cohen.
Les Têtes à Claques
We couldn’t write an article on French vs French Canadian without mentioning the infamous “Têtes à Claques”. While French and Québécois sense of humor can be quite different, I think we all agree on that one!
"Les Têtes à Claques" is a popular Canadian comedy web series that originated in Québec.
The title can be loosely translated to "The Slapstick Heads" or "The Smack Heads" in English. The series was created by Michel Beaudet and features a cast of various characters portrayed by animated puppets.
The show gained widespread popularity for its humorous and sometimes absurd sketches, which often incorporate dark humor and satire. It was originally created for a French-speaking Canadian audience, primarily in Québec, but it gained fans across the French-speaking world and beyond due to its availability online.
Here’s my favorite. Enjoy!
Languages, like people, have their own unique personalities and quirks
So, whether you imagine yourself sipping champagne on the French Riviera or making your own tire sur la neige with newfound amis in Montréal, remember that the beauty of language lies in its diversity.
Don’t let the Canadian French peculiarities put you off. Québec is a stunning, incredibly welcoming destination to learn and practice French.
French and Canadian French are like two charming cousins, with their similarities and differences, where "bonjour" and "salut" are two sides of the same magnifique coin.
In the end, it all comes down to one very important question: Are you more a poutine or a cassoulet kind of person?
Keep exploring all the fun and adventure of the French language on our French blog here.