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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  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    This is a damned good guide, Corbin! I love it. I’m on a mission to learn French enough that I can speak it somewhat fluently, but there’s little time for me to practice. The hardest challenge I faced during my trip to France was speaking the language, I found the reading part fairly easy…
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..Alright, So There’s One Resort Vacation Drawback =-.

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin

      @Candice – Merci beaucoup. Yea I grew up in the whole “French Immersion” deal, however I still suck hard at speaking it. I try my best though, which usually ends up with only one eyebrow raised. lol.

      • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

        Hahaha, I never had the opportunity to do immersion. :( I kinda wish I had incorporated it into my University career.
        .-= Candice´s last blog ..Alright, So There’s One Resort Vacation Drawback =-.

        • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin

          @Candice – You didn’t miss much. The one beef I had with french immersion was that by being a part of it you were always in the same class with the same group of kids for literally everything. Even once high school hit. There were a few exceptions (Phys ed, English, Health) but for the most part it was like a big tight knit family. Which sucks if want to meet more people from your school. Oh, another beef. Math in french….math is hard enough. Start speaking en francais when doing algebra…just a headache & a bad grade waiting to happen. lol.

  • http://www.shorttraveltips.com Vi@Travel Tips

    I was surprised I had less problems in France with my English then in Quebec. For me English is third language, you can clear hear accent, but young waitress in cafe somewhere close to Quebec City even didn’t try to answer in English. I can’t believe she didn’t know it. In Montreal was no problems with language.
    .-= Vi@Travel Tips´s last blog ..Checking your email in internet cafe? Don’t forget to LOG OFF =-.

  • Bruno

    Hey,
    I happen to be a Quebec City local and a native French-speaker. Great blog, good advice on how to get around speaking English in Quebec City.

    There are a few mistakes in your French lingo but it’s still very good. One mistake that would be critical though is when you’re asking what time does a train/bus/boat leave, etc.
    ”Quel heur X part/arrive?” should read,

    ”À quelle heure part/arrive X?”

    Enjoy your stay everyone!

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin

      @Bruno – Thanks for correcting my shotty French. I have a habit of botching grammar in just about every language I try to speak. lol. Greatly appreciate having a native Quebecois correcting me. Thanks again for the help!

  • http://www.milatos.com vagelis

    I happen to be a Quebec City local and a native French-speaker. Great blog, good advice on how to get around speaking English in Quebec City.
    .-= vagelis´s last blog ..new photos from kiveli apartments in Crete =-.

  • Gonzague

    Good post. I’m french living in Montreal. I just came back from Gaspésie (QC) where I travelled by bike. Every night, I asked to the people if I can sleep in there backyard. Of course they accepted that each time. They were so kind. Some of them was english speakers.

    I met several time a nice young couple from Vancouver and I suggested to them to do the same instead of paying a motel. But they are too shy to do it. I suggest them some french sentences to say when they meet people, but no, they don’t want to. I understand that. It’s not easy to speak to people you don’t know in a language you don’t know.
    When we travel in an other country, we discover a culture at the same time, an other idea of the word. This discovery should be really realized by meeting people, meeting this new idea of the word, this language, this new reality, without judging it. That is the Big Discovery I thing. To do that, we need some tools to communicate, no a lot. And knowing some words, some sentences, even just “Hello”, makes the Big Difference between a trip and a discovery trip. Each people is a country to discover. In my mind, travelling is not just a long-distance experience, not just a geographic experience. It a way to reduce distance between people and to move closer to them and to realize that, even if they looks different, even if the landscape is different, even if they live so far than us, we can feel very close together. That is the real discovery. And each time, I have the same feeling.

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