5 Things English speakers need to know when Traveling through Quebec

As many of you are aware, Quebec has the most French speaking Canadian citizens. The majority of Quebec’s people know plenty of English, many are even good enough to find grammatical errors in pretty much everything I say and write. Most Quebecois’ know more English than you know French. However there are some people, primarily in smaller remote towns, both in Quebec and New Brunswick, who haven’t had a need to work on their English all that much. Brushing up on your French can help out tremendously in many situations, even if you know how awful you are at it, people will smile knowing you’re at least trying.

1. Ask to speak in English

When speaking to a local stranger, be it gas station attendant, bistro staff, or just looking for directions, ask politely if he or she speaks English. You’re more likely to be treated kindly by doing this than by speaking blindly in English with no regard as to whether they speak it or not.

Pardon, madame/monsieur/mademoiselle, parlez-vous anglais?

Which translates to: Excuse me madam/sir/miss, do you speak English?

Most of the time you’ll find out that “Oui“, they do, however if they say “Non“, you’re on your own. Just hope that you’re both good at Charades.

2. Understanding French Road Signs

There are large parts of Quebec where the road signs will stop showing up in both English and French. If you know very little French this can be frightening. Stay calm. There are certain words that you can pick out of those signs to get you in the right direction.

When you see:

French English
Nord North
Sud South
Ouest West
Est East
Entrée Entrance
Sortie Exit
Renseignements Information
Interdit Prohibited
Ouvert Open
Fermé Closed
Cédez la Priorité Give Way
Défense de Stationner No Parking
Interdiction de doubler No Overtaking
Péage Toll
Ralentissez Slow Down
Sens Interdit No Entry
Sens Unique One Way

Of coarse having a map will significantly increase your chances of not getting turned around. Whenever I travel through Quebec I always do some pre-driving preparations just to make sure I know which Highways to get off and on. My last bit of advice for french road signs, follow the herd. As long as you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re probably not breaking any laws, of coarse you might not be heading in the right direction, but there’s no fines for being a lost tourist.

3. Know your French Food Terms

Food and Quebec go together like bikini’s and beaches, popcorn and movies, and peanut butter & jelly. Quebec can be a foodie’s paradise, but ordering your favourite dish can be confusing if you know little to no French. For the most part, pointing to what you want on the menu will normally suffice, but if you want to look extra cool, and not make the mistake of ordering something you didn’t want,  knowing a bit of french can make all the difference.

Food Terms

French English
Je voudrais… I’d like (a)…
Je suis allergique… I’m allergic to…
…aux abeilles …bees
…aux noix …nuts
C’est combien? How much is it?
Est-ce que je peux payer avec… Can I pay with….
…ma carte de credit …my credit card
…ma carte de débit …my debit card (ATM/ABM)
Petit-dejeuner (or) Dejeuner Breakfast
Dejeuner (or) Diner Lunch
Diner (or) Souper Dinner / Supper
Manger Eat
la Soupe Soup
la Salade Salad
le Dessert Desert
le repas meal
avoir faim to be hungry
…click here for more French food translations

You may have noticed there are a couple ways to say breakfast, lunch, and supper. That’s not a type-o, Quebec french is a little different than traditional French. It can sometimes be confusing if you were taught traditional French. Most French speaking Quebec people will call breakfast “dejeuner”, lunch “diner”, and supper “souper”. However they’ll completely understand what you’re trying to say should you say “petit dejeuner” in lieu of “dejeuner”. Just smile while you’re saying it and you’ll be fine.

4. Booking accommodations in French

If you plan on booking a hotel, bed and breakfast, campground, or a dorm in a hostel, there’s a chance you’ll end up having to do so in French. Knowing what to say in person and over the phone can make booking a place to stay in another language much less stressful. If you’re not comfortable speaking in French you can always book through one of the travel agencies in Quebec.

Accommodation Terms

French English
Je cherche… I’m looking for a…
…un Hôtel …hotel
…une auberge de jeunesse …youth hostel
…un camping ….camp ground
…une pension de famille …guesthouse
Est-ce que vous avez des chambres libres? Do you have any rooms available?
Je vourdrais… I’d like a…
…une chambre à un lit …single room
…une chambre pour deux …room for two
…une chambre avec des lits jumeaux …room with two beds
…me coucher dans un dortoir …dorm room
Quel est le prix…? How much is it…?
…par nuit …per night
…par personne ….per person
Je pars aujourd’hui I’m leaving today

5. Understanding some Transportation lingo

If you’re not going to be the one driving there isn’t much need to know about the road signs. However if you plan on catching a bus, train, plane, or ferry, you’ll probably need to know a few french phrases to keep up with all the hustle and bustle going on around you.

Transportation Terms

French English
Quel heur le (…x) arrive? What time does the (…x) arrive?
Quel heur le (…x) part? What time does the (…x) leave?
…le bateau …boat
…le bus …bus
…l’avion …plane
…le train …train
Je voudrais un billet… I’d like a … ticket
simple one-way
aller-retour round trip
de première classe first class
Je vourdrais louer… I’d like to rent/hire…
une voiture a car
un quatre-quatre a four wheel drive
un vélo a bicycle
le numero de quai Platform number
le guichet ticket office
la gare train station

Quebec is a stunning example of Canada’s mosaic of languages and cultures. Whether you know how to say ‘Bonjour‘ or not, you’ll have a good time regardless. Still, brushing up on your French can help you out a lot on the road. Even if you only end up using it a couple times. I compiled the translations into a more “Printer friendly” version, should you decide to print these out and give ’em a go along the way.

Click here for a Printer Friendly version of the translations.

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