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”!
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).
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.
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..
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.
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!).
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.
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.
What about the culture? Well Montreal has it all! You name it we have it!
As far as culture goes urban North American prevails. If you're looking for log cabins, hunting, fishing, sugar-shacks or gig dancing you'll have to leave the city.
The majority of the population declares French as their mother tongue (over 60%) and the rest declare English (about 10%) and everything else in between to make up the full population.
Traditionally immigrants came from Italy, Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and Portugal. However today most immigrants come from Asia, Latin -America, the Middle-east and Africa.
Even though the Quebec Government depicts Montreal as being the second largest French speaking city in the world, the city is not like being in France. In fact most people speak English.
The city counts within its limits two english language universities, several english language colleges, three english language TV stations, several english language radio stations and a major english language newspaper. Therefore don't let the fact that you don't speak French stop you from coming, you'll be surprised how easily you can communicate and it can be an easy way of getting used to the French language before visiting a country like France.
If you are wondering why most of the signs are only in French (even the ones destined for tourists) the reason being that the Quebec provincial government put a law (bill 101) in place forbidding other languages on signs except French. The consequences of disobeing would be heavy fines. However successive court appeals and application of the federal charter of rights have had the effect of relaxing the law and allowed people to display other languages as long as it is 1/3 the size of the predominant French.
The two cheek kiss:
We don't do it as much as in France ( Most strangers won't do it between them when they meet, there has to be some familiarity )but we do it. Use it to your advantage, get to know people. it's fun!
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.
Well, yes it's true that Montreal is French speaking, but I found that it's the most bilingual place I've ever seen. Of course, it's polite to attempt to speak a little French, but if you don't know how, you won't experience any rudeness. The people are extremely friendly.
The phones are also bilingual. Simply press the button for "English" and you'll be all set. The Canadian country code is 1, so to call the USA, you just dial "1" as if making a long-distance call in the States.
It pays to make an effort to speak some French in Montreal. When I got there, I was a bit apprehensive that Montrealers might snub me because of my pidgin French. But they were quite understanding and spoke to me in fluent English!
If you are down town or at other tourist locations, you should have a very easy time getting around in English. Signs will most probably be in French though, in most places around the city, and some people may not be that good in English. Generally speaking, if you don't know French you shouldn't have a hard time.
Almost all restaurants will have bilingual menus, etc..
From the moment you arrive at Montreal's Dorval airport, or cross over any border into the Canadian province of Quebec, you will step into a multicultural, bilingual environment. You will experience the exciting dynamic of two old cultures, the French and the English, that have mixed and harmonized into an exciting and unique blend that is Montreal. Whether it is the taxi driver, or the Hotel concierge, you will have no problem finding someone to speak to you in English. Most signs as well will be bilingual, French first and then in English.