Memories of Christmas in Québec

I spent my first Christmas in Canada on a farm in a remote village in Québec called Padoue.
I was guaranteed a white Christmas, as the snow had lain thick on the ground since November, and outdoor ice rinks were everywhere, made simply by packing snow, flooding the surface with water, and allowing it to freeze. The farmer’s wife had been busy making home-made chocolates and pies, and I couldn’t wait to see what a French-Canadian Christmas Dinner would be like! Continue reading

Improve your French pronunciation with Francis Cabrel!

Francis Cabrel is a French singer-songwriter and guitarist who rose to fame in the 80s. I first heard his songs when I was living in a remote area of Québec, and even now when I hear him sing I am transported back to that time and place, the farmhouse in the deep snow in the middle of the Canadian winter. His songs have a haunting, poetic quality that linger long in the mind, and are very popular both in France and Canada.

But more importantly for language-learning, he pronounces his words very clearly and quite slowly, so they are useful for improving your pronunciation of French words and your listening skills. Try listening to some of his songs on YouTube and see if you can pick out the words. The more you listen, the more the individual words will start to pop out of the stream of sound, and it can be quite exciting and rewarding when you realize you can “hear” the words and understand them! You might like to try singing along. The rhymes within the songs will also help you learn the correct pronunciation of the words, like rien rhyming with gardien, and aujourd’hui rhyming with nuits.

Here is a Youtube video of one of his most popular songs, Je l’aime à mourir, with the lyrics and English translation, to get you started: Continue reading

15 French idioms using animals

It is interesting that speakers of many languages seem to use expressions involving animals, the French being no exception. Here are 15 examples of popular French idioms featuring our furry friends:

1) Arriver comme un chien dans un jeu de quilles – To turn up when least needed. (Literally: To turn up like a dog in a game of skittles).

2) Bon chien chasse de race – Like father, like son. (Literally: A good dog hunts good stock).

3) À bon chat bon rat – Tit for tat. (Literally: A good rat for a good cat).

4) Avoir un chat dans la gorge – To have a frog in one’s throat. (Literally: To have a cat in one’s throat). Continue reading

Anglicisms in Québécois French

French in France and French in Canada have, unsurprisingly, evolved differently, and whilst both include Anglicisms, these can be different in each version of French.

A good illustration of this I encountered in my time in Québec is the following: Whereas speakers of French from France might say J’ai stationné ma voiture dans le parking, a Québécois speaker would probably say J’ai parké mon char dans le stationnement. (I parked my car in the car park). Continue reading

Weather Talk in French

The English are always talking – and usually complaining – about the weather, but the French do their fair share too. In fact, one way to translate the expression “to make small talk” into French is parler de la pluie et du beau temps, literally ‘to talk about the rain and the fine weather’.

To ask what the weather is like, you can say Quel temps fait-il? Continue reading

Adventures in French Canada

Although it is perhaps a rather delicate subject, one thing I think that visitors to Québec need to be warned about is Québécois profanity. In my first month or so I noticed that people’s speech was full of what appeared to be religious words, and my first thought was, “What devout people they are!” but then it dawned on me that these were swearwords.

Unlike in Standard French, where swearwords tend to centre on sex and excrement (such as merde shit), Québécois profanities (known as sacres from the verb sacrer to consecrate) are words and expressions related to Catholicism and its liturgy. They originated in the early 1800s when people became frustrated by the tight social control exerted by the Catholic clergy. Continue reading

Adventures in French Canada

Here are three delicious Québécois foods I discovered on my travels!

Firstly, poutine. This is basically chips topped with cooked cheese curds and light brown gravy. Sounds disgusting? Well, it might look like “chips with a cold”, but it is actually one of the best things I have ever tasted! Its origins are unclear but the story goes that a restaurant customer back in the 50s asked for cheese curds on his French fries, to which the owner replied Ça va faire une maudite poutine! – That will make a damn mess! hence the name. The gravy was added at a later date, apparently to keep the chips warm. I would love to make poutine at home, but the cheese curds are pretty hard to obtain in the UK. They are produced during the beginning stages of making cheese and they come out salty and “squeaky”, so using our grated cheese would not quite be the same. Continue reading

French in France vs French in Canada

Adventures in French Canada

Québécois French differs considerably from Metropolitan French in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. This I found out the hard way when I arrived in Mont-Joli, a remote little town in the Bas-Saint Laurent region of Québec, Canada, near the south shore of the Saint Lawrence river. I had been posted there in the third year of my degree in French and Linguistics to be an English teaching assistant in a secondary school. Continue reading