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Thinking about learning French? If you’d like to take on one of the world’s most enduring and widely spoken languages, consider immersing yourself in Canada. Why Canada?
When we think of learning French in a foreign country, our minds understandably go to France. It is, after all, the home of the Eiffel Tower, buttery croissants, idyllic countryside, glamorous Riviera, and a historical context filled with castles and stories of the French Revolution.
Canada, however, offers a much more adventurous, exciting, and outdoorsy take on French culture. Here, you will find expansive terrain marked by endless forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains spanning between Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. Quebec, the heart of French Canada, is a province of multicultural cities and picturesque towns with a uniquely Canadian vibe that is both Europe and North America. Sample one of the country’s most revered French-Canadian dishes, poutine - a sinfully delicious combination of crispy french fries, gravy, and fresh cheese curds - after day hiking and jumping in lakes in Quebec’s Laurentian cottage country, and will know you have arrived.
Of course, you will find plenty of schools and French Language programs across the country that are deeply committed to maintaining French language and culture. Let’s take a closer look at Canada’s dynamic French culture and explore some great places to immerse yourself in the language.
Canada’s Tumultuous French History
Canada’s French history starts in the 1500s, with explorers like Jacques Cartier arriving to colonise the land for the King of France. The booming fur trade brought over many men who traded furs with Indigenous Communities, while colonial ambition and the religious fervour of Catholic missionaries resulted in larger settlements and the establishment of Churches and missions. As battles with the British empire ensued around the world, the French colonies eventually fell to the hands of the English. Though under by British rule until the Confederation of Canada, French culture and language continued to thrive and is an official language in Canada today.
French settlement in Canada is part of a wider narrative of Canada’s troubled colonial past, and any study of French in Canada should be enriched by learning about the devastating impact of colonisation on Indigenous people and the ruthlessness of the trans-Atlantic Slave trade, and the racism that persists in Canada today. The Metis community, for example, are descendants of mainly European men and Indigenous women, and played a key role in the establishment of the province of Manitoba. As a French student in Canada, you will surely be fascinated by the political factors that have resulted in modern Canadian society.
Quebec is home to most of Canada’s French speaking community and is obviously a top choice for French students from Canada and abroad. In this province you will find bustling Montreal, the walled Quebec City, and charming towns like Trois-Rivières or the Eastern Townships. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best places to learn and practice your French.
Montreal is a bustling, multilingual Canadian metropolis where you’ll find iconic French Canadian landmarks, like Old Montreal, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Mont Royal. Beginners will love practicing their French in the city’s shopping districts and numerous eclectic, urban cafes. If you are coming from abroad, you’ll be relieved to know that rentals are much cheaper than other major Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver, but with all the cosmopolitan flair.
The city is Quebec’s economic hub, and is home to numerous boutique schools, colleges, and universities where you can learn French. McGill has beginner courses for its students, but you’ll also find fun classes at smaller schools like the Alliance Française and the ILSC. On a budget? You can find plenty of free and cheap opportunities to learn and practice French with the folks at the Conversation Exchange or join a Meetup in one of the city’s beautiful cafes or parks.
Quebec City is one of the most important historical sites in Canada and the former centre of New France during the days of colonisation. Established by Samuel de Champlain, the city is perched high on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence, which made it an ideal location for defending the colony from invaders. You will find numerous museums documenting the life of the colony as well as the famous Plains of Abraham, where the French fell to a persistent British army. At the heart of the city is the gorgeous Chateau Frontenac, now a luxury hotel.
Within the beautiful city walls are ample opportunities to learn and practice French. Private schools like the Ecole Quebec Monde offer beginner classes, and the University of Laval offers French as a Second Language course should you be interested in taking a pathway toward a degree. You are sure to find a French language school that suits your schedule and budget.
Did you know you can actually go to France without leaving North America? If you are learning French in Canada, it is worthwhile to check out St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the coast of Newfoundland, for a trip into one of France’s self-governing territories. These small islands have quaint, seaside communities where the bank machines spit out Euros and the locals are distinctly and proudly French.
With a private French tutor, you can learn French anywhere from the comfort of your own couch or a cafe in any city you wish. This is a great option if your schedule is tricky or you have specific goals in your language acquisition. If you happen to be on vacation in Canada and are staying in Quebec, it can be a great way to enrich your experience and practice your new skills immediately.
Check out sites like Superprof for some great tutoring options!