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French and English are the official languages of Canada and are the languages most commonly spoken. Although the majority of the French Canadian population resides within the province of Quebec, there are many smaller French-speaking communities across the country.
A multitude of other languages are also spoken by aboriginal people and immigrant communities of diverse origins. The most commonly spoken languages after English and French are Chinese (including Cantonese & Mandarin), Punjabi, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, and Tagalog.
By law , French is the official language of the province of Québec.
French and English are the official languages of Canada and are most commonly spoken; there are francophone communities in every province and territory. Quebec's largest city, Montreal, is very bilingual as both French and English are commonly spoken by residents. Outside Montreal and the National Capital Region around Ottawa, the rest of Quebec is overwhelmingly French-speaking, though one can usually find some people who can understand English, particularly in areas popular with tourists.
In Quebec, you will find that people react to you more favourably if you begin by making an effort to speak French, even if the person you are speaking to is perfectly bilingual in French and English. This is considered a matter of courtesy, as the Québécois take great pride in their native language. One should also be careful not to automatically assume that everyone will understand English. In Montreal, most stores and restaurants manage well in English, but that is not usually the case elsewhere in the province.
Provincial laws In Quebec limit the use of English on most signs on and within stores, which can make shopping somewhat challenging for visitors who speak only English. (Canadians who do not speak French may find that, due to a lifetime of exposure to bilingual labelling, they have absorbed enough French to read basic store signs--the proverbial "cereal box French".)
The long-running CBC Radio One program C'est la vie is a great way for English speakers to learn about life in French-speaking Canada (both in Quebec and iin francophone communities elsewhere in the country). The popular word of the week segment is a great way to build your French vocabulary and learn some of the differences between Canadian French and International French.
Canadian English and Canadian French (marked as Cdn below) sometimes differ from the forms spoken elsewhere, but in general, the differences are not too great to impede comprehension to speakers of other national dialects of the two languages. Here are some helpful phrases in Canadian English and Canadian French.
Hello/Good morning – Bonjour
Good evening – Bonsoir
Yes – Oui
No – Non
Okay – D’accord
Please – S’il te plaît (familiar) / S’il vous plaît (formal/plural)
Thank you – Merci
You’re welcome – Bienvenue (Cdn) / De rien (familiar)
Have a good day! – Bonne journée!
Good-bye – Au revoir. ..... which actually means 'see you again'.
I am sorry -- Désolé / Je suis désolé / Je m'excuse
How are you? – Comment vas-tu (familiar) / Comment allez-vous? (formal/plural) / Comment ça va? / Ça va?
I am fine, thank you. – Bien, merci. (Literally, "Fine, thanks.")
I feel sick. – Je suis malade.
Excuse me – Pardon / Pardonnez-moi / Excusez-moi / 'Scuse (famliar, Cdn) / Madame/Monsieur! (to get a stranger's attention)
Do you speak English? – Parlez-vous anglais?
[Maybe more polite than the popular question above: May I speak to you in English? -- Est-ce que je peux parler anglais? (the person you speak to may not speak English well, but she might understand it)]
I don’t speak French – Je ne parle pas français / j'parle pas français (familiar)
I don’t understand – Je ne comprends pas / j'comprends pas (familiar)
Please repeat. – Répétez, s’il vous plaît / Pouvez-vous répéter?
What? – Quoi?
I would like... – J'aimerais...
I'll have... (in a restaurant) – Je prendrais / J'aimerais commander...
The cheque/bill, please... – L'addition, s'il vous plaît / La facture, s'il vous plaît (Cdn)
What is it? – Qu’est-ce que c’est / C'est quoi ça? (Cdn - familiar))
What is your name? – Comment t’appelles-tu? C'est quoi ton nom? (Cdn) / Vous vous appelez comment? C'est quoi votre nom? (Cdn)
My name is… – Je m’appelle… / Mon nom est ...
Pleased to meet you – Enchanté
Where are the bathrooms? – Où sont les toilettes?
How much does it cost? – C'est combien? / Cela coûte combien?
May I speak to…? – Puis-je parler à…?
Where is...? – Où est...?
Who is there? – Qui est là?
Who is it? – Qui est-ce?
Can you help me? – Peux-tu m’aider? Pouvez-vous m’aider? (formal or plural)
Good luck! – Bonne chance!
Most Canadians will pronounce Québec "kay-bec" reflecting the proper French pronounciation, although "ke-bec" (first "e" short) is also used. Many visitors often mispronounce Québec as "kwee-bec" or "kew-bec"
According to Torontonians, the proper way to pronounce Toronto is "tronno" or at worst "toronno". Pronouncing the second "t" is an immediate sign that you are a visitor, no matter where you are in Canada. Similarly, the name of the nation's capital, Ottawa, is pronounced "odd-a-wa".
The way to pronounce Newfoundland is "NEW-fun-land" or "NEW-fund-land". Its stresses are as in "understand" - some stress on "New", none on "fund", and a fair bit on "land". "New-FOUND-land" is definitely frowned upon, particularly within Newfoundland.
The capital of Saskatchewan is Regina. People familiar with Latin pronunciation will want to pronounce the second syllable like the word "gee", but the correct pronunciation of the city's name rhymes with "sky". So "Regina" is pronounced to rhyme with "red sky nut", with the letter "g" given the soft "j" pronunciation.
The province of Alberta is Al-BERD-uh; the "t' is pronounced with "d" sound from coast to coast. And Calgary, Alberta, is pronounced "CAL-gree" by Albertans, and "CAL-guh-ree" outside of Alberta. "Cal-gary" (Gary pronounced like the man's name) is never heard.
Canada has three northern territories, in addition to ten provinces. The westernmost territory, which borders Alaska, is called " the Yukon" in conversation, never just "Yukon." (" I was born in the Yukon" is correct, while " I'm driving to Yukon" -- no "the" -- is incorrect.) However, "Whitehorse, Yukon" is the correct way to refer to places within the Yukon. Yukon is pronounced so as to rhyme with "few gone". The easternmost (and newest) territory is Nunavut. The territory of Nunavut is pronounced as NOON-ah-Voot. It is incorrect to pronounce it None-of-it.
Although Canadian and American English may have many similarities, there are many differences and sometimes the knowledge of such differences will make you sound a bit more local, or help you to be understood more quickly.
Serviette vs. napkin at a restaurant: Canadians use both terms; Americans almost universally say napkin. Serviette usually refers to a paper napkin.
Bill vs. check at a restaurant: Although Americans may ask for the "check" after a meal, Canadians almost always request the "bill", and requests for the "check" may sometimes cause a little confusion. And it's spelled cheque here.
Pop vs. soda: Canadians say pop, and soda typically means "club soda". Americans use both or either depending on region.
Cutlery is the Canadian word to describe forks, knives and spoons used for eating. Example: “Set the table with cutlery from the drawer in the kitchen.” Silverware in Canada is cutlery made of silver. Many Americans use the term silverware to describe all kinds of eating utensils including the plastic forks and knives on a picnic table.
Washroom vs. restroom: Canadians prefer washroom and Americans prefer restroom. Bathroom is used commonly by both. Never use "W.C" as it will only be understood by people from France, or by Quebecers who have visited France.
Tea vs. hot tea: When Canadians say "tea" they mean hot tea. If they want cold tea, they'll explicitly state "iced tea". In many parts of the U.S., the term "tea" is ambiguous, and you need to state hot or iced. Also, in Canada, "iced tea" is almost always by default a sweetened iced tea. In the USA, this would be called "sweet tea". If you want unsweetened iced tea, make sure to say so.
American cheese: Canadians are generally unfamiliar with the term "American cheese"; the term that's used is "processed cheese" or "Kraft cheese" for the company that first sold it.
Canadian bacon: Canadians call this "back bacon", as fans of SCTV's Bob & Doug Mackenzie may recall. Regular strips of bacon (what the British call "streaky bacon") are simply called "bacon" in both Canada and the USA.
"Brown bread" is the Canadian term for "wheat bread" or bread made from whole wheat. The term "wheat bread" may puzzle some Canadians, since it's all made from wheat. Instead, order your sandwiches on "white" or "brown" bread.
Parkade (parking + arcade) is often used by Canadians for an above ground multi-storey parking garage.
The "two-four": A uniquely Canadian phrase describing this common packaging for beer (cases of 24). In contrast, Americans count in terms of six packs (which are also available in Canada).
"Rye": Canadian whiskies (such as Canadian Club or Crown Royal) are called "rye" by Canadians. This term is not as familiar in the U.S. where the more popular brands of Canadian whiskey are referred to by their brand names.
"Mickey": In Canada the small size bottles (375ml) of liquor are called "mickies". Americans use the term "pint".
"Mickey D's" is a common name for McDonald's in the U.S. The term is much less common in Canada where McDonald's is simply McDonald's.
" Timmy's" refers to the coffee, donut & sandwich restaurant franchise called "Tim Hortons" which originated in Canada.
eh? vs. huh?: The stereotypical Canadian says eh? at the end of every statement whereas stereotypical Americans say huh. In real life you could talk to 20 Canadians for an hour and never hear it, eh?
You're welcome vs. uh huh: "Uh huh" is a very casual form of "you're welcome" in many parts of the U.S. It's rarely used in Canada and some may even find in a bit cold or offensive. (Occasionally, you will hear "mm-hmm" used in the same way, typically in response to a cashier saying "thank you" after a transaction.)
"To table": In Canada, tabling means to bring up a topic for discussion. In the U.S., it means to put an issue aside for further discussion at a later time.
The fish "pickerel" is what Americans call "walleye" although the term "walleye" has begun slipping into the Canadian lingo recently.
Canadians generally say they're "going to university" after high school. Americans will say they're "going to college". In Canada, a "college" is a post-secondary educational institution that offers vocational courses, or short diploma programs (one or two years); in the Province of Québec, 'college' refers to either a 3-year educational program (with diploma), OR the mandatory 2-year program taking place after the equivalent of high school and before entering university.
Don't assume it's a mistake if you see "centre", "theatre", "labour", or "defence" (as a noun). Most Canadian newspapers and magazines, and many writers, follow the Canadian Press style guide, which reverted a few years ago to the British spellings after a flirtation with Americanization. "Center" is also used to describe the middle of a building or object whereas "centre" refers to a building (example: City Centre Plaza). But Canadians are not consistent in the use of British spellings, or else it would be "Americanisation" - with a "s", instead of the "z".
If you are a Canadian with a sweet tooth, you may want to pick up your favorite treat such as a Coffee Crisp, Smarties, Snickers, Oh Henry, Kitkat, Caramilk, or 3 Musketeers "chocolate bar". In the U.S. the same person would look for a "candy bar".
In Canada, numerical dates (such as on receipts) are most commonly given as DD/MM/YY. For example, November 12, 2006 would be 12/11/06. Sometimes the American format MM/DD/YY is also used. In an attempt to rectify this (and with the introduction of metric) the newer accepted format is YY/MM/DD. (The ISO standard date format is YYYY-DD-MM.) With all the confusion that this has caused, most English-speaking Canadians find the clearest method is to write out the date, eg. November 12, 2006 or Nov. 12, 2006 while French-speaking Canadians will use DD/MM/YYYY or 12 Nov 2006.
Speakers of British English and Canadian English can understand each other most of the time. However, there are a few words that are used differently in Canada from the way they are used in the United Kingdom and vice versa, and they can cause confusion. Here is a list of words that have the potential to trip up a British visitor to Canada, including the Canadian French counterpart to make sure there is no confusion:
( my original table had vertical and horizontal dotted lines, that did not appear in the final version - if someone knows how to put the back, be my guest!)
. 1er étage, rez-de-chaussée, RC
. deuxième étage
. bar, lounge
lounge (in hotel)
. plat principal
. thé = boisson
tea = drink
tea = drink or meal
. sacoche, sac à main
Fam : ‘bobettes’
. boxers, sous-vêtements;
Fam : 'bobettes'
. robe de chambre
purse (ladies only)
knickers, pants, undies (women’s)
jumper, pullover, sweater
. toilettes (NOT : « W.C »)
. savon à lessive
pram / pushchair
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