Is going to Montreal to learn how to understand spoken French a horrible idea?

I've been trying to learn French for four years now, and I've done a lot of studying through high school, college, some independent reading and movie-watching, and definitely duolingo, but I still consider myself to be at a high-beginner level in understanding spoken French. I've done some free, on-line listening exercises on (I try writing down what's being said), I listen to "La Radio Canada Première" from time to time, I try to understand the dialogue of French movies, and I listen to text-to-speech on kindle books, but I can never listen or transcribe for long without losing focus. I figure that if I really want to understand spoken French, I need to converse with actual people, who can adapt according to how well someone can understand them. Quite frankly, I'm not really wanting to Skype people or do paid, on-line videochats. Time permitting, I'd rather travel to a French-speaking area. I live near Detroit, so I could drive, or ride a bus/train deep into the dreaded heart of French-speaking Canada. I figure Montreal is the place I'd like to be if I want to be uncomfortable not knowing French, but could still use English if I had to. I would probably stay in a youth-hostel ("auberge de jeunesse"), so I'd constantly be around kids who maybe speak French and some who speak English. Would this be a good or horrible idea, because after all, I don't get much from on-line listening exercises, audiobooks, or radio, and I was at 4.64/5.00 five months ago, and 5.00/5.00 three weeks ago, so I figure I might be as far as duolingo can take me.

August 16, 2015


Former Montrealer here (20-ish years).

If you do go to Montreal, the further east you head on the island, the more French and less English you'll find. This could be both a good and a bad thing (when I was there, some areas were very anti-anglo). The further west you head, the opposite is true. Downtown should be a healthy, and super friendly, mix of both.

It won't be a waste of your time, travel never is. Just make sure you make the effort to speak French. When people reply in English, tell them you're trying to improve your French and they'll be more than happy to switch back to French.

If you decide to go, and want some suggestions on places to see, things to do, feel free to ask me on my stream.

August 17, 2015

Just make sure you make the effort to speak French. When people reply in English, tell them you're trying to improve your French and they'll be more than happy to switch back to French.

Past Montreal tourist here. I found that earlier in my trip, my pronunciation and listening were a lot poorer, so (some) people would be more likely to switch to English. When I got used to the accents and improved a bit, all of my interactions only involved French.

August 17, 2015

Hey there. I did something similar to what you're planning. I'm from around Toronto, and I had a one week bike trip in Montreal to work on my French. I loved it.

Here's the post I made when I got back from my first Montreal trip:

I had to stop by a hostel to use their internet to try to book myself a room for a night when I first arrived (I didn't book ahead of time, silly me). All of the hostels in the city were booked for that night, so I went to a hotel. In my short stay there, everyone was speaking English.

Hostels can be quite a bit cheaper than hotels, but I ended up staying at hotels. It becomes a lot cheaper per person if you can find somebody to go with, although that isn't always the case.

If you decide to go, I hope you have a great time and a great learning experience. Bonne chance!

August 17, 2015

The problem with Montreal is it's really easy to just use English there. When I visited, literally the only thing I did in French was watch television. You might be better off going all the way to Quebec City, since it'd be harder (though still not impossible) to get by with English there.

I do like Gwendolyn's language course suggestion. I do want to point out that they're generally not only offered in the summer (I'll be at one in Spain in three weeks), but... yeah, getting the money together for something like that can be a bit tricky.

August 17, 2015

I second this suggestion - living in Montreal it's way too easy to use English so I get lazy and rarely bother using French. Since pretty much everyone is bilingual, seeing that you're a beginner they'll very likely switch to English which gets a bit tiring haha. Quebec City I think would be better, because English is less known there so people are less likely to switch to it, but at the same time they often do know a little English in case you need to express something in English. I found it a lot easier to make myself speak French in Quebec City because I didn't expect everyone to know English like I expect in Montreal.

August 18, 2015

I find Québécois French easier to understand than Parisian French. It's mostly because of the way they pronounce their words, but if you need to speak English, you still can.

August 17, 2015

Go!! Have fun!! I love the comment from Hohenems and don't listen to anyone if they tell you it is a waste of time. I went to Quebec and had an amazing time even with my few phrases I remembered from high school. It is a beautiful city and I absolutely want to go to Montreal as well. They speak French!

August 17, 2015

"...deep into the dreaded heart of French-speaking Canada." LOL!!...and I actually did Laugh Out Loud when I read that... ;-D

But seriously... Hi, I'm an Anglo-Canadian who aspires to be bilingual. I suspect that I'm getting close to where you are with French. I can read and write reasonably well, but when I listen or speak I need to slow things down a bit.

If you do get up to Quebec, definitely visit Montreal - it's one of my favourite cities. There's so much to see and do. It may, however, not be the best place to immerse yourself in the French language. It's WAY too easy to speak only English there. If you need to park yourself somewhere, Quebec City might be a better choice, or perhaps Trois-Rivières.

If you're up for it, however, I'd recommend driving up here and doing a bit of camping. There are some great parks and many have interpretive programs or guided hikes that you can join into. Also, the folks camping beside you are likely to be local families. The problem with hostels is that you're just as likely to find yourself surrounded by other Anglophones. Lots of folks visit "La Belle Province" with the intention of picking up a bit of French. I'd also recommend visiting museums/galleries/historic sites/etc. and taking the guided tours.

I've travelled through Quebec several times and always found the people to be very friendly and welcoming. You'd have to get pretty far off the beaten track before you'd really be lost without French. Most places you can find someone who speaks at least a bit of English. My experience has been that Quebec Francophones tend to be mildly surprised, but pleased and appreciative to find that someone is trying to learn their language. If you've picked up what Duo has to offer, you'll get along fine anywhere in Quebec. Don't think you have to stick to the big cities. Definitely come and visit!

August 17, 2015

I think it depends on how social you are. If you can easily get in contact with people you don't know a youth hostel could be a possibilty.

But have you ever thought about doing a language course or language camp or something like that where you can learn the language with other people from around the world who also want to learn the language? In those courses, that often run for a few weeks in the summer, you learn the language while having fun even though you have lessons and often the people there just talk in the target language because of the different countries they are coming from. Those courses cost of course money and I don't know how expensive something like that can be in the US/Canada. But it might be something to think about!

August 17, 2015

Yeah, I tend to be pretty anti-social, but I could probably manage to be more social if it can drastically improve my French, or if I meet really interesting people. About the language camps, I've seen some things about them online, but I've never really strongly considered them. Unfortunately, I might be a bit late if they're mostly offered during the summer. Also, I have a major aversion to spending money, but traveling can be a big expense, so I figure, comparatively, language camps can't be too bad money-wise.

August 17, 2015

For me it's very difficult sometimes to get in touch with people. For example I wouldn't know how to start a conversation with foreign people in a hostel. But I'm considering to do a language course in Sweden next summer for three weeks and even though that this course isn't cheap I consider it well spend money. In the morning there are apparently grammar and language lessons in accordance to the CEFR and in the afternoon you can further learn swedish through fun lessons like e.g. singing swedish songs etc.

So if you can wait for another year (and maybe put aside money) that could be a great way to learn further French.

August 17, 2015

My family and I spent four days each in Montréal and Quebec City earlier this summer. I am the only one who speaks French, so I did a lot of the talking, although as others in this thread have said, it is easy enough esp in MTL to switch to English if necessary. QC definitely seemed more intensely French than MTL. Both places, I found it possible to continue on in French even if the waitress or whoever was speaking English (because once my husband and/or daughter opened their mouths, we were pegged as Americans and people switched to English). People seemed pleasantly surprised that an American could and would even speak French, and I got several positive comments. By all means, go and enjoy!

Also re: the camp idea, there is a place outside of Bemidji, MN that may be accessible for you. They do immersion camps for grown-ups, not just in the summer. Something like $800 for a week, I think. It's called Concordia Language Villages; you can Google it. (No, I don't own stock in the place; I only know about it b/c a friend of mine worked there for years as a kids' camp counselor.) I have been thinking about doing it myself - it would require airfare, though, I wouldn't drive that far - and I would only do it if the level of spoken French would make it worthwhile. You might look into that if you want a relatively short immersion experience.

Otherwise, there is also which may have a French speaking group (social/casual or otherwise) in your area. There is one where I live - we meet once a month for drinks and chat.

August 17, 2015

It's a wonderful idea. Of course, you should go. Have fun. Speak French as much as you can. It will be an adventure.

I understand about not wanting to do Skype. I'm just not that into it.

August 17, 2015

Hello! I have only been to Montreal once, but I can say it is the most lovely city ever, and it is perfect for practicing French. If you just tell them (in French) that you would like to practice, they are very nice and patient and are willing to help. You're obviously surrounded by the language so reading street signs, store fronts, etc. is very helpful. I'm typically a quiet person, so speaking French with strangers was a bit strange but I can tell you it is one of the best ways to improve French, especially because they are so willing to use English if you need it too. Ordering in a restaurant or cafe and making conversation with the waiter is a good start. Everybody there is so nice and patient and like when I went to a resturaunt, I just said "je voudrais practique francais, s'il vous plait?"(sorry there's no accents, my keyboard is weird) and then everything from there was French and it's fun when they'll just ask you little things and make conversation. It's a great start, especially if you're on the shy side when it comes to speaking French.I loved Montreal so much and honestly I plan on going to college there I loved it so much! I hope you find it as lovely as I did! Oh and I'm from the Detroit area too and we drove to Toronto and then took a train from there (VIA Canada) and it was great, free wi-fi, cozy, and outlets and everything. I recommend it :) Bonne chance!

August 17, 2015

"I can never listen or transcribe for long without losing focus."

I have found the same with my Spanish listening: after a bit my mind wanders if I am not extremely interested in the material. I usually just listen to a couple of sentences of the dialog, let my mind wander off a bit, and then tune back in for a couple more! Of course that only works when watching mindless sitcoms that do not require much effort to follow the plot :)

August 17, 2015

The trick is to find material that you do find interesting.

August 17, 2015

Hi bfoshizzle. A trip to Quebec sounds amazing. I'm going to France next month for basically the same reason. You wrote "I'm not really wanting to Skype people or do paid, on-line videochats." I understand the aversion. Have you taken a look at the app HelloTalk? I have found it to be a logical and helpful next step beyond duoLingo. You can practice both listening to and speaking to native speakers, but not necessarily in real time (unless you want to.) I heard about it in another discussion thread here on duoLingo, and I highly recommend it.

August 18, 2015

When you see "near" Detroit, how close are you to Sarnia? We have an organization that has a French club to help people learn to speak French. I haven't had the time to look into them yet, but I have a friend who says they're great. It might help to call and ask them about what they offer. If Sarnia isn't close, they might have one in the Windsor area. I know there are pockets of francophones in that neck of the woods.

August 18, 2015

While I can't speak to French specifically, I'd recommend looking for local French meetup groups in addition to traveling. They can be great ways to get practice speaking in a foreign language. I'm sure French groups are easy to find (maybe less easy than Spanish in the US, but certainly there are more of them than Brazilian groups).

August 19, 2015

We just got back from a trip to Montreal and Quebec City. I hadn't spoken French since college and I'm in my mid-40s! We had a lovely time, and I DID get to practice my very rusty French while there. My suggestion is to stay away from the tourist areas and do things the locals do - go to the supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, etc. You will mostly hear French spoken there. When I spoke French to sales clerks, they usually answered in English (recognizing that I was a beginner and/or American), but I often replied that I wanted to practice my French, and everyone was kind to accommodate. I still laugh about the clerk in Wal-Mart who was helping me try to perfect my accent for the word "un." I am already planning a trip back - it was so much fun! And we drove up from North Carolina! If I lived in Detroit, I'd go a lot more often!

August 20, 2015
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Two things: Un) Allez, allez! Go to Montreal, or Quebec! Even if you do speak English, being surrounded by French is a very different feeling than learning French in an English - speaking household/neighborhood/town/city. This alone encourages me to try my French. Our family loves Montreal - something for everyone! Do something you love - if you like art, go see the art museum (Musée de Beaux Arts) learn more about Montreal - the McCord Museum; like animals? go to the Biodome; you get the idea, and if it's something you enjoy doing, you will already have some background to appreciate what you are trying to talk about in French.
Deux) Google and contact the Alliance Français Detroit. This group encourages the study and use of French in your area, and can put you in touch with classes, other French speakers, and social events where you can practice! We have one close to us, and I look forward to taking advantage of their many activities. Bon chance, et bon voyage!

August 21, 2015

parts of montreal re good with friendly people .but some parts are full of bigoted anti anglo sentiment they are so many stories in Canadian news about some incidents go on you tube and you will see some them .i' don't mean to turn you off montreal is a big city with good people a good place to learn french

August 17, 2015

i think thats an awesome idea

August 17, 2015

It is a good experience to speak another language, but in Quebec, they do not speak French, they speak Québécois. Same difference with British English and American english.

August 18, 2015
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