“You’re not gonna understand them!” – “It’s a whole different language!” everyone told me when I had made my decision to go to Quebec for my stay abroad. I was well aware of the fact that the “Québécois” speak had quite a distinct accent and I was extremely looking forward to this challenge. Having studied French for quite a while before my stay abroad, I was already quite comfortable with this beautiful language, especially when it comes to my listening and reading skills. Being in Quebec now, I’m having heaps of fun experiencing Quebec French. I have already learned many expressions and I must say that I have grown quite fond of the dialect, even though it’s still extremely bizarre for me. An example are the expressions “blonde” and “chum” for girlfriend and boyfriend. Also, what makes this whole experience difficult is that not only the pronunciation and some vocabulary is different, but that there are also differences on the level of the syntax, a fact I was aware of before coming here.
What made my arrival easier was that one of my flatmates spent quite some time in France. Therefore, she automatically changes her accent to a rather European French as soon as she speaks to me – to the extent that her friends make fun of her when she speaks. Also, as the people here are very well aware of the fact that they speak “differently” and, also thanks to the fact that there is a great rate of international students at Université Laval, it is usually not a problem if they are asked to repeat a certain sentence or to speak more slowly. Finally, when it comes to me speaking, there is always the final option of switching to English for a word because most young people speak English quite well – always keeping in mind, however, to ask for the French word in the end, so that I can retain it.
Every now and then I catch myself wishing that it was only European French I had to deal with here, which would already be enough of a challenge for me. Trying to understand Quebec French can be very tiring, even for francophone exchange students, as they confirm almost on a daily basis. On the other hand, it is very nice for me to notice how easily I now understand my friends from Belgium and France as compared to my understanding of people from Quebec. This encourages me extremely and makes me notice my learning progress despite the difficulty with the local accent.
After a month in Quebec, I am currently in the phase of “I’m getting there”, especially concerning face-to-face contact. What is still very difficult for me is communication over the phone, where gestures and mimics are absent. A further difficulty are group discussions – be it with friends during dinner or during a seminar at university. This will still need some time to get used to. Further, every now and then I experience frustration, especially when it comes to not being able to express exactly what I wish. Usually, in these situations, I try to start the sentences again and then mostly it works.
As a linguistics student, Quebec is the perfect place for me to be. Not only is the local language very interesting, as already mentioned, but also the entire language situation including language policies and people’s opinions and attitudes towards Quebec French or also towards English, the major language of the country. I am very lucky to be in a seminar concerning bilingualism, as it is highly interesting to learn about and discuss the situation here and to compare it to the situation in multilingual Switzerland.
Finally, I guess the experience of Quebec French has thrown me back into the shoes of a real language learner. With English, I never felt as a learner anymore and usually also with French I felt quite comfortable, because I usually understood almost everything and I did not have to speak actively as much in my daily life. Therefore, feeling like a learner again is a great experience for me to be put back into, especially when thinking about a possible future career as language teacher. Furthermore, I feel like coping with Quebec French makes me listen much more attentively in general, which is a great thing.
I am happy to have chosen Quebec for my stay abroad and I look forward to the time when I will be able to speak with my Quebec friends at ease – perhaps even with a slight Quebec accent myself?
Tamara von Rotz