To the untrained ear, all speakers of French may sound very much the same (after all, they are rooted in the same language). In total, there are 29 nations using French as their official language. Behind the country of France and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the largest French-speaking nation is Canada. For those who speak the language fluently, live in these countries, or regularly travel to Quebec, Canada or France, however, they are entirely different and distinct of one another.
While both areas of the world have established French as the definitive national language, the language in practice can be quite different. Beyond the large geographical divide, cultural differences and historical events have shaped linguistic patterns between the two, leading to some complex differences as well as some predictable similarities.
European vs. Canadian: Language Similarities & Differences
Canadian French and European French are both very similar versions of French dialects, so it’s simple for linguists and translators to understand both dialects perfectly. While so close in variation, however, there are still many differences between the two; in fact, it’s much like comparing American English to British English.
The differences between French and French Canadian are a bit more complex beyond the historical changes that led to the evolution of the language. There are a few key areas of difference between French spoken in France and French spoken in Canada:
The pronunciations are completely different; Canadian French actually sounds more like the colonial European French, but evolved a lot over the centuries — especially with industrialization and recent technology — and is much more relaxed than European French. Canadian French vowels are also spoken with more nasal intonation, and the speed of the vowel pronunciation can vary between the two.
The grammar structure is practically the same for both European French and Canadian French. However, in European French, they tend to put spaces before the punctuation marks and do not put accents on capital letters, unlike in Canadian French.
A common element of non-universal languages that develop overseas, the French Canadian language and standard European French have different accents, much like with the Portuguese language. These accents can cause confusion to outsiders, but speakers of the languages can understand one another quite well.
- Written Language
Canadian French is overwhelmed by Canadian English culture and language. In Canada, Anglicisms are not tolerated at all in writing, but, when spoken, are far more tolerated. For example, suggesting the word bacon for money would be considered offensive to read, but would be okay used in conversation.
Here’s an excellent video that helps to explain the differences:
Why Are European French & French Canadian Confused?
Since most of the differences between European French and Canadian French are verbal and not written, it can be easy to confuse both dialects. While the languages look virtually the same in writing (like British English and US English can look almost the same on paper), they are often confused when spoken to those who may not be as familiar with the distinct differences.
For Better Understanding: Example Words & Phrases
Vocabulary is an area of language that can show some more differences between European French and Canadian French, especially considering the informality of French Canadian in comparison. Loan words (or, words adopted from a foreign language; in this case, English and a variety of other influxes picked up during the settlement of Quebec), are especially prevalent in French Canadian, while not as prominant in European French. Here are some example words and phrases in both languages…
- In English: email
- European French: email
- Canadian French: courriel
- In English: sponsor
- European French: sponsor
- Canadian French: commanditaire
- In English: home cinema
- European French: home cinéma
- Canadian French: cinéma maison
- In English: shy
- European French: timide
- Canadian French: gêné
- In English: ice
- European French: glace
- Canadian French: crème-glacée
- In English: perfume
- European French: parfum
- Canadian French: saveur
- In English: sled (or toboggan)
- European French: toboggan
- Canadian French: glissade
- In English: square
- European French: square
- Canadian French: parc
- In English: patients
- European French: patientèle
- Canadian French: clientèle
While rooted together in so many similar ways, European French and Canadian French still have many differences – even some words being spoken and written in a completely different style. With such a sensitive area of language, it’s important to have the help of an expert translator when working through translations of both types of the French language, making sure that each accent, vocabulary word, and cultural influence is noted perfectly.
Our network of language experts consists of translators fluent in both Canadian French and European French, so you never have to worry if your translations are perfectly accurate.
Special thanks to our Lead French Canadian Translator Annie for her contributions to this article.