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A week in Montreal - Improving French, and Biking

Wow, what a trip. What an experience. What a fantastic exercise for my French. Getting to know what a beautiful city Montreal is was fascinating.

Where to begin? Montreal is the second biggest city in Canada, and the 9th largest in North America. Wikipedia says "Montreal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris."

Also from Wikipedia, French is spoken at home by 56.9% of the population, and English by 18.6% of the population. In the larger area surrounding Montreal, 67.9% speak French at home, and 16.5% speak English at home.

What I found in the places I visited was that in every interaction, whether it be on the streets, in a restaurant, in a pharmacy, in a grocery store, at work, everybody speaks to each other in French. All of the signs are in French. Some places closer to the downtown core or tourist attractions have signs in French and English.

The city was a wonderful experience. Before leaving, I wanted to speak in only French. At the end of every day, I wrote quick notes about the mistakes I made, the nervousness I had at times, and the invaluable amount of French I learned, which ended up becoming a detailed account of my trip.

What I realized was that one could probably get around the city and survive with only English. However, people naturally speak to each other in French. It seems more polite to speak to somebody in French. When you make an attempt to speak to somebody in French, you're speaking to them in their language. That goes to their heart. I see so many people brighten up when they are spoken to in French when they expect you to speak in English. For an example, when I was buying some souvenirs at a dollar store, I told the cashier, "Je pense que c'est evidemment que je suis un touriste?" She laughed and said "Oui."

Earlier in my trip, I made some silly mistakes with speaking French because of nervousness and having to answer quickly. I said things like "un poubelle" or "je vais suis." I would never make a mistake like this on Duolingo or Memrise, but when you're in the moment of the conversation, it just slips out like that. Sometimes you realize right away, and sometimes you realize that you said something stupid ten minutes later when you've walked away from the person.

Later in my trip, I felt that I had made huge success. I walked into a French restaurant, was seated, conversed with the waiter, was given a French menu, ordered, paid, and left. Our entire interaction didn't have a single word of English. I may have pronounced "poitrine" wrong or something, but I was understood, and I was thrilled to understand everything. I wasn't hearing just random sounds that sounded like French.

Canadians have a reputation for being polite. Montreal definitely lives up to that reputation. There’s something about the way “Bonjour” and “Merci” are said, the best way I can describe it is that it is so sweet to hear. It feels weird to be speaking English again. My instinct is still to say “Merci” instead of “Thank you.”

Merci beaucoup, Montréal ! Merci beaucoup to Duolingo and everyone that has helped me with learning French to make this trip possible.

Here a couple of photos I took on my trip if you are interested. I'll be posting many more on my “photography blog” over the next few days.

Near downtown

City from Pont Jacques-Cartier

A road with bike paths, Mont Royal in the distance

A path at Mont Royal

View of the city from Mont Royal

Parc René-Lévesque

Canal de Lachine

June 8, 2015



Thanks for sharing your experience with us! My favorite part was when you said

> Montreal definitely lives up to that reputation. There’s something about the way “Bonjour” and “Merci” are said, the best way I can describe it is that it is so sweet to hear.



I'm glad you enjoyed it!


Thanks for the photos! Makes me (mildly) nostalgic.


My pleasure! Did you live/ visit there?


Lived there for 20+ years. I only get back once a year if I'm lucky.


Lovely. Thank you for the photos and enthusiastic trip report. I'm glad that someone is out there practicing what they have learned. Have a lingot.


Thank you very much!

The first night, I had great difficulties with getting a room and then finding the hotel (unrelated to language learning), which was very discouraging. After some well deserved rest, I was able to recuperate.

It's a wonderful experience to get to use a language that you've been practicing for a reason other than an intellectual exercise.


I think it's great that you did it even though it was difficult. Many people are afraid, but you have to risk looking possibly foolish if you want to learn to speak. We learn from our mistakes and hopefully laugh at them later.


Ah, Quebec! I was young and stupid and refused to speak French when I went, so much respect for speaking! Did you get to see Quebec City also, or just Montreal?


Thank you! I only went to Montreal. There's a $25 charge each way for bringing a bike on a train with Via Rail, and it's not offered on all trips. I'd love to do some more biking between cities in the future.

My sister has been to Quebec City, but not Montreal. It would be lovely to go to Quebec City.


"Earlier in my trip, I made some silly mistakes with speaking French because of nervousness and having to answer quickly. "

Don't worry or feel bad about that. I watched a video of an RCMP officer right here in Alberta, saying on camera, "The offence for that fine is .... $". He meant, "The fine for that offence is..." And English was obviously his native language.


I think one of the silliest mistakes I made was asking "Can you take a picture?" instead of "Can I take a picture?"

I'm not 100% sure if I did say that, but about ten minutes later, I thought to myself, wait a minute, what did I say to him?


I forgot to mention that this particular police officer was looking for distracted drivers. Sometimes my boss at the restaurant where I used to work, jokingly used to say, on purpose, to repairmen when they wanted him to pay them "How much you owe me?" English was not my boss' first language. He was from China when he was about 18. One guy liked to call him "Hop Sing" sometimes.


Nice post. I'm an American who has been staying in Montreal for about 4 months. You are correct that it is fairly easy to get by with no English almost anywhere in Montreal. When I first arrived in Montreal, I had little French but I still made an effort to say the basics (bonjour, bonne journee, parlez-vous francais, etc.) instead of immediately switching to English. People seem more friendly when they at least see you make a minimal effort to respect their native tongue.

Now that I can speak in basic sentences, I get that rush like you when a short interaction is done in only French. I also get that nervousness too and mess up things in the moment that should seem obvious to me. I think you just have to practice and practice until you can hear or say something as second nature. I am having to "translate" less and less in my hand and more key words and phrases are just 2nd nature when I hear them in French instead of constantly thinking what each word means, which makes fluid conversation pretty much impossible.


People seem more friendly when they at least see you make a minimal effort to respect their native tongue.

Definitely! It seems more respectful to at least try to speak in French.

Practicing by having more interactions has definitely helped me a lot with conversations becoming more natural.

Bonne chance!


Honestly, I don't get why people find it so hard to believe that even a few badly pronounced words in someone's native language can be helpful. Try to reverse the situation, if a Russian guy stopped you in the streets in the US in Russian, and then would get angry with you because you didn't respond in Russian, would you be rude to him? Even if you spoke basic Russian? Of course English is the lingua franca of the world and almost a third of the world population speaks it to some degree, but that's not a reason to expect everyone to talk to you in your native language when you're in their country.

For historical and cultural reasons, French speaking people might be more bothered by that than speakers of some other languages. But still, that's no wonder some obnoxious English people think the French are rude, if only they saw how they act with them in the first place, they'd realize pretty fast who's being rude with whom.

Of course, some people are rude, no matter their nationality or first language. And the language and political tensions in Canada might account for some of this rudeness, on both sides. I'm just trying to debunk at least a part of the mostly undeserved rude reputation of French speaking people.


I agree with everything you say and I hope I didn't give the impression that French-Canadians or French speakers in general are rude as that couldn't be further from what I've experienced.

As far as the culture surrounding the French language, I find it highly interesting and impressive. I think part of the reason that Quebec is such a unique and amazing place is that they take so much pride in their culture and language and are very protective of it. They want you to at least attempt to speak French, and are often much more helpful when confronted with non-native French speakers than in France (or at least that is the common perception). I think it's great to have such a wonderful place to visit in North America because the USA itself is pretty homogeneous culture-wise and it can get a little boring.


I hope I didn't give the impression that French-Canadians or French speakers in general are rude

Oh, no! Quite the contrary. You did express the opposite clearly and I'm happy about it! I was just adding in the same sense of what you said as I know French speakers tend to have the rude prejudice against them, at least in the English speaking world. And more often than not, some people behave nicely and are surprised not to observe said rudeness from them.

Or, on the other hand, some English speakers, who are otherwise very nice people, are so much expecting rudeness that they unwillingly behave in a way to provoke it, and then perpetuate the myth.

That reminds me of an anecdote : there was an English speaking guy from New Brunswick who did a video review of his trip to Quebec City on Youtube and he said at one point that he found some locals rude as they would bump, willingly or not, into him when walking in the streets without excusing themselves. But he noticed it happened only in the touristic areas around the city centre, so he started observing who exactly was rude, and he came to the conclusion that it was only other tourists, as on the rare occasions it happened with locals, they would invariable stop and say they were sorry and it wasn't intentional.

Here I'm extrapolating from that anecdote, but I'm guessing it's partly because other tourists all expected so much the local French speakers to be rude, that they acted in a rude way themselves, perpetrating the self fulfilling prophecy ;-).


Haha, that's a funny anecdote. I'm sure there's a ton of truth to the idea that the attitude you bring to an interaction greatly influences the attitude you receive back.


Here is a lingot for making an effort to speak. Well done.


Bravo et merci pour ces belles photos qui me donnent envie de faire mes bagages !


De rien, et merci !


Thank you for the reminder! So beautiful. I recommend it as a great place to practice bad French, funny in retrospect. Once I was alone, lost, panicky and thirsty (which is how I remember it). Lazy under stress, I sought out a native employed in transportation, who patiently listened to me blather on in English, but then... nothing. No reaction. So, really rattled, in French, I asked if he spoke English. He crossed his arms and stared at me quite pointedly before saying, "Yes." And that is all he said in English. He forced me to muster up enough French to get an answer in French I could use. It was a mighty struggle ultimately involving a map, but we persevered, and by the end of the trip Americans were stopping me to ask in halting French if I spoke English! Once in a store, I asked someone who worked there why that happened, because I am American, and she said, "it is because you are not wearing sneakers." !!?!


With Montreal's many one-way roads, I found my map almost completely useless (although it is a nice souvenir).

Near the end of my trip, some people were asking me if I spoke English. I really wanted to say I didn't speak English. Some tourists asked me questions in English ("Where can I buy some beer?") and I answered in French.


I'm going to be living there for about 9 months soon, I'm excited. I started duolingo so I might be able to spit out some french when needed while I'm there, I took immersion when I was in junior high but I've mostly forgotten it now.


Enjoy! I would recommend going through a phrase book. Even if one learns a huge vocabulary and many complex verb conjugations, it would be useful to know phrases like Where is the bathroom, I would like..., Where is the closest...?


Obrigado por compartilhar, a impressão que temos é que os franceses se orgulham muito de sua língua, e o mesmo deve ocorrer com a segunda maior cidade do mundo em que se fala francês. By the way, I am testing your skills in Portuguese, thanks for the tips.


Obrigado! Quebec tem a reputação de falar francês. O francês é uma das línguas oficais de notre país, mais muita gente fora de Quebec não sabe francês.

Bons estudos!


Wonderfull !!! Your text is easy to understand for my bad level ! And it is very interesting ! The pictures are very beautiful ! Thank you !


That's fantastic, I'm glad you liked it!


Tout d'abord, pardon de ne pas avoir écrit ce message en français (et non en anglais) car, comme je suis française, j'arrive mieux à m'exprimer dans cette langue plutôt qu'une autre... >.<'

Franchement, je trouve cela super que des personnes, comme toi, apprennent le français malgré ses difficultés qui peuvent poser quelques problèmes dans son apprentissage ^_^ Car, même moi qui suis française, je peux trouver parfois que le français est difficile (avec toutes ces conjugaisons, articles partitifs, accords avec l'auxiliaire, ect...) !

Et je suis heureuse que ce voyage à Montreal ne t'est pas dégoûté de cette langue ;D

Pour finir, je suis désolé si des mots ou formes de phrase ont pu te gêner dans la compréhension de ce message. Je te dis cela car, comme le français est ma langue natale, je ne peux pas vraiment voir toutes les difficultés de cette langue. :)

Bonne journée ou bon soir, Lola (15 ans, française xD)


Merci beaucoup, Lola. Mon voyage était incroyable. J'ai appris beaucoup, mais j'ai encore beaucoup d'apprendre.

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