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I was somewhat worried about communicating in Montreal, especially as most of the signs are in French, but I didn't have a problem at all. We didn't run into anyone who didn't speak english. Waiters/waitresses were no exception, right down to the worker at the bakery. Most menus were completly in english, and when you check out places websites almost all have an english option. We did go to one restauant that the menu was in French only, but its fairly easy to get the gist of what the meal is, and besides our waitress spoke english so we could've easily asked. I only encountered one woman who didn't speak english, and even then she spoke enough english to say she didn't really speak english well enough (to give us a tour in english). We spoke english the entire time and didn't have a problem, people just switched to english. A lot of signs weren't in english but in most cases you can figure stuf out (like STOP is ARRETE, SORTIE is EXIT, etc).
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“French Only” signage
We knew of Canada’s official policy that all official signage must be in two languages, English and French, so we were quite surprised to find that much of the official signage in Montréal is only in French. We have since learned that this apparently results from a decision taken by the Province of Québec, intended to help preserve French culture and language. OK, I can understand the concern to limit ‘cultural imperialism’ but this appears to be a question of whether Canadian laws apply nationally: that seems a Constitutional matter and somewhat beyond a VT page!
What is blindingly obvious though, is that most of the tourists visiting Montréal will be English speakers, many of whom can be expected to not understand these signs. At the least, the appeal of the tourist experience will be lessened for those people (when tourist information signs are involved) and they’re hardly likely to comply with signs carrying requests they don’t understand. Overall, I’d have thought this approach likely to be counterproductive (or even dangerous when applied to the internationally accepted “STOP” signs).
Main photo:Sign in bus
Second photo:Sign in railway station
Third photo:Sign in park
Fourth photo:”ARRÊT” for “STOP”!
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Anglophone & Francophone neighbourhoods
Montreal, originally an Iroquois settlement called Hochelaga, was first visited by the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. It wasn't until 1642 that the French began to settle the area. Montreal therefore developed naturally as a completely French-speaking city. Yet, over a 100 years later, in 1760, the English would acquire possession of the land and Montreal started to change. The biggest change was that English-speakers started to settle and change the fabric of the city. The once-French city was shifting into a bilingual city.
Through the following decades many English speakers moved to Montreal and this influenced the neighbourhoods. Some neighbourhoods became predominantly English-speaking while others became predominantly French-speaking.
Nowadays, Montreal is working hard to become a predominately French-speaking city again, but there are still neighbourhoods where native English-speakers (called Anglophones) are the majority.
The general rule of thumb is that rue St-Laurent, the road which divides Montreal into east and west, is the general division of Montreal's French and English speaking communities. Neighbourhoods which exist on the east side of St-Laurent, such as Outremont and the Plateau, are French-speaking. West of St-Laurent, neighbourhoods such as Westmount and NDG (Notre-Dame de Grace) is where you'll find more English speakers.
Of course, this is all general. There are indeed many francophones that live in the neighbourhoods west of St-Laurent, just as there are anglophones who live east of St-Laurent, however, anglophones that live east of St-Laurent are definitely becoming a shrinking minority.
Random side note: Montreal is pronounced "MUN-tree-all" by Anglophones, but the Francophone pronounciation is "Moe-ray-AL" (AL as in Albert).
French and English
The city is divided between anglophones and francophones. However, this division seems to be comming down because many people are able to switch between the two languages easily and seamlessly. I don't think I ran into anyone who did not speak English.
A few words go a long way
Montreal is a thriving city with much to offer. People there are friendly and helpful, most speaking both French and English. Since french is the native language to many people, knowing a polite word or phrase can really help to break the ice.
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Do you speak Frenglais?
Here in Montreal, there are 2 main languages. Being born and raised here, I don't pay much attention to our differences. We tend to speak in both French and English, during our conversations. We mix up both languages wothout even realizing it. If you can say a few key sentences in French, such as Merci, Bonjour, Comment ca va?.... it would help. Being such a large city, we are used to tourists. However, if they see that you are trying to make an effort, the reception will be much better.
Ask if the person speaks English
Ok! The big question...Do people in Montréal speak English? The answer is, No, a beluga whale is translating all of this for me. Since she travels more often then I do, I thought she might pitch in a bit of her knowledge. Just kidding! Don't mind my strange sense of humor, it highjacks my brain once in a while. So I'll leave Hortense the whale go back to her plankton and finish this tip myself...
of course we speak English! Not all of us. But a good part. And just as politeness goes, ask the person in front of you if she or he speaks English, first. If not, they'll let you know. And you can move on to the next person, which probably will be able to speak to you. You can tell them Merci! and they will be happy to have helped. Montrealers and Quebecers in general are not shy to speak to strangers, in fact we love to do so.
Montréal is a dynamic North American city. And If we didn't speak the Shakespearean language, we would be in deep trouble. And surprise of all surprises, you will even hear some Montrealers speak English between themselves. And Cantonese, Vietnamese, Portugese, Italian, Lebanese, French, strange French, funny French, elegant French, etc,etc.
Just below, you will find a French/English - English/French internet dictionnary.
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Multi language culture
.Multi language culture. French and English predominant. There are over 100 languages spoken in CANADA and Montreal has a lot of these.
Most merchants speak English. You can get by in Montreal and Quebec City easily with English as many people like me are bilingual. Here is a picture of the Casino taken from the tourist guide ( I have actual photos taken in 2000 on another page).'PLEASE VISIT THE TRAVELOGUES ABOVE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND PICTURES'
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Since Montreal is very cosmopolitan and has a lot of immigrants living there, it's easy to get around with English. But there are people who don't speak much English, so it's good to know some French. Just remember that the French spoken in Quebec is totally different from what is spoken in France. Some European girls I know could barely understand me when I spoke French to them, because they had never heard my accent before (one of them said "She has a crazy accent when she speaks French!).
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You do not need to be able to speak french...
Whenever I speak to a friend who doesn't speak french, who just came from Montreal, they always say something about how they were mistreated by those damn french speaking people.
You have to realize that some people in Montreal only speak french while some speak both, or some speak only english. If you ask a question to a person and they answer in french....they aren't neccesarily trying to be rude...they just might not know how to speak english. It's not about being rude and stuff...
Of course you will have some who are rude....but you get those anywhere you go. People have bad days, people poo their pants. Who knows.
My suggestion to you is, if you try to speak to someone, try english first. If they can speak it then most likely they will answer you. If they cannot speak english, then they may speak to you in french hoping you understand them. That's not being rude :)
Montrealers tend to speak "Franglais" which basically means we mash the two languages together. Switching from one to other every now and then. That's also not being rude...hhehhe.
Worst comes to worst and you get an FLQ (Front de liberation du Quebec) party member yelling at you, just start to talk about hockey...we can never pass up a good chance to talk hockey!
The whole idea is to chill the F out and have a good time.
Montreal is Quebec's premier bilingual city. Many of its English and French speakers are in fact fluent or at least very knowledgeable in both languages. However, there are some areas of Montreal, such as the Latin Quarter, where French is premier, while in other areas outside the central core, English is first. In many of the city's establishments, you're bound to hear "Hello et bonjour." This reminded me a lot of what I heard in Ottawa, which also has a large Francophone community.
It's always best to learn a few French phrases no matter where you go. If you go in any bookshop, there are cheap simple phrase books available. Speaking a little French (and English) always shows courtesy.
Although the separation issue has died down considerably since 1995, Montreal is not seen as in the thick of the arguement. Because the city's highly bilingual, the separation movement never gained much momentum here unlike Quebec City. A majority of people here are fine remaining Canadian than being part of a separate Quebecois Republic.
Dust up your french
Two words that will get you through Montreal much quicker are Bonjour and Merci. Bonjour means hello and Merci means thanks. Usually a shopkeeper will address you with Bonjour, it is polite to thank the person at the Metro ticket counter with Merci, for example. Oui is yes and Non is no.
Don't hesitate to ask for informations
Almost two third of the population of Montreal speak french and english and there are always willing to give you informations if you ask. They will help you with a smile and will immediatly have consideration for you. Try it! You may have a different experience some times but it is a caracteristic of the Montreal's population.
At any time on the streets you fell free and secure...you'll see!
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Montreal is very cosmopolite
Montreal is very cosmopolite.
You will be able to get by speaking English just fine. People will appreciate if you try to speak French and might even switch to English if they see you in pain. But do try, the effort is worth while.
It's just funny that you may have trouble in some locations to get served in French (not to start a debate, but that what bugs people (and me)... you say 'bonjour' and the answer is 'what'!)
Enjoy your stay tremendously!!!!
Yes..we speak english as well..
Even thought the majority of people here are francophones, most people here are bilingual. But saying 'Bonjour' goes a long way.
People really apreaciate the effort and will often switch to english much faster.
The flag to the left is Québec's national flag (and my personal favorite!) ;)
You'll see a lot of them on the 24th of june which is our national holiday! It's a 3 day party with flags, people with painted faces, bonfires,fireworks, free concerts and well..alcohol! :)
Feel free to participate in the festivities as people like other ethnic groups to join!
Even if there is a LOT of people, kids should be ok..exept for the Maisonneuve concert wich usually attracts between 2 and 500 000 people..i'd keep them away from there..
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Montreal Travel Guide
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