Maybe our ease at getting along with the language barrier also has something to do with having spent the majority of the past five years not understanding the locals at all, and so have become quite apt at getting on with day to day life blagging and realizing the great art of pointing to what you want and using hand and facial gestures in place of words to get by. Whatever the reason, we find the whole language issue not as great of a problem as we had expected it to be.
Despite this, there is no doubt knowing both languages would help, and I felt it would be a wasted opportunity to not at least try to learn some of the language whilst out here, so I enrolled in a French course. I attended approximately five French lessons during my time at school. I had really enjoyed that brief glimpse into another language and was gutted when I had to give it up (thanks, ME); so to be able to do it now is great (ha! ME). The only trouble is, after starting and not advancing too far with both Spanish and German over the past few years, I sometimes get very mixed up between the three languages. When searching in my mind for the French word I want, I have to bypass the German and Spanish ones eager to escape out of my mouth (and sometimes they achieve their goal, especially the Spanish as it's more similar to French). Luckily I have a very understanding teacher and classmates!
I just go twice a week, for an hour and a half at a time. Although I would love to do an intensive course which is five days a week for 6-8 hours a day, and attempt to blitz the language, this is all I can manage without experiencing burn out along the way. I have been incredibly lucky in finding not only a language school that offers shorter lessons, and in the afternoon as opposed to the evening (my brain switches off for activities such as reading, learning etc at 5:30pm, and the only pastimes I can do after that time are watch TV or cook), but it is also a five-minute walk from our apartment!
It is a fantastic opportunity to study the language; I can practice what I have learnt out and about after the lessons whilst it's still fresh in my mind, but if things get too complicated I have the reassuring thought that I can switch to English and not feel too bad (or guilty) about doing so.
Sometimes the English translation is directly above the French:
Some differences between the two I have noted so far:
- breakfast is petit-dejuner in France, déjuner in Quebec.
- lunch is déjuner in France, le dîner in Quebec.
- wife/girlfriend is copine in France, blonde in Quebec.
- blueberries are myrtilles in France, bluets in Quebec.
- and the most important one I have come across not to get wrong is un/une gosse: it's slang for kids in France, yet means testicles in Quebecois... "J'ai trois gosses" could receive some funny looks out here. (You could innocently be telling someone you have three kids, but they would take it to mean you have three testicles...)
Some times Quebec seems to take French to the letter more than, well, France. Take ‘Stop’ signs. In France, they mostly say STOP to fit in with EU Standard. Here in Quebec, they are mostly ARRÊT. I have seen a few sneaky STOP signs in a few areas of the city. I am sure the language police will not be happy about that (yes there is a public organization called "Office québécois de la langue française", OQLF (English translation: "Quebec Board of the French Language", which promotes making French the official language and fighting Anglicisms). Protecting the French language is one thing, but as with a lot of boards and parties originally set up on the back of a good idea or aim, they appeared to go overboard on occasions.
There has been a story on the news recently about an Italian restaurant here in Montreal, with the language police telling the owner he needs to put a French translation for the word ‘Pasta’. They backed down after public outcry. And another one from a few days ago – an Italian restaurant has been ordered to take an ‘f’ off its name ('Caffe' is Italian, and therefore it should be the French 'Café' apparently. Never mind that the place is an Italian cafe…).
The language issue is a thorny subject, with parties on both sides feeling very strongly about the issue.
I will therefore leave them to it, and continue to ask for things in Spanish, with the odd German verb thrown in for good measure...