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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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5 Quebec

There are many French territories around the world, but the majority of French language speakers actually live in other countries. One of the largest French-speaking communities is located in Quebec.

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Figure 12 Montréal (left), Québec city (right)

Le Québec is the largest of Canada’s provinces. Its capital is Québec City, but the city with the largest population is Montréal. French is the official language in the province; it’s the mother tongue of about 80% of the population, and around 95% of the total population are able to speak it. Overall, there are 8 million speakers of French as a first language across Canada (23% of the population), and a further 6 million (18%) who are French and English bilingual speakers (Government of Canada, 2019).

Quebec was a French colony settled on territory inhabited by native Americans and Inuits. In the 16th century, the French explorer Jacques Cartier encountered what he named Terre Neuve (Newfoundland), and then explored and mapped the St. Lawrence river which flows through Quebec. The names ‘Canada’ and ‘Québec’ were taken from local words: Iroquois kanata and Algonquin kebec. In the 18th century, the French and British crowns went to war over borders and territories in Canada, and France ceded Quebec to the British Crown in 1763. Quebec remained French-speaking, but after this direct French influence ceased, the French spoken in Quebec and the variety spoken in France evolved along slightly different paths.

There are only minor grammatical differences between French as spoken in Quebec and France. They share most but not all vocabulary, and pronunciation does occasionally differ. If you have been learning the French spoken in France, you will easily be understood in Quebec. Indeed, you will receive a warm welcome for travelling such a long way to practise the language that they love! But plan your travel carefully, because winters in Canada are long and cold – as a result, the Québecois (people of Quebec) really know how to celebrate in the summer with street and outdoor festivals.

The Québecois form a large French-speaking community, but you will see in the next section that the largest is found on a different continent.