Speaking French in Quebec has changed my life
This first-person article is the experience of Nydia Hadi, an accountant in Montreal. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
I loved Montreal from my first visit. With its parks, bridges, rivers and architecture, it’s more beautiful — and affordable — than Toronto, where I was living at the time. But I never thought I could live here.
When I came to Canada in 2012 for university, I only spoke a little French and a little English. I didn’t think Quebec was an option for me until I learned the basics of French.
The spoken French sounded very classy, exotic and foreign. I particularly liked the nasal sounds, the r the sound and the connection — the way you phonetically connect the last letter of a word to the next — that don’t exist in my mother tongue, Indonesian.
I had first learned French in high school. But those classes were mostly about grammar, and I never really spoke the language. Then the confinement linked to COVID gave me time to take on a new challenge.
I started listening to French podcasts and videos every day, read French articles aloud, and started keeping a French diary. Trying to figure out the complicated grammatical structure challenged my brain.
The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the language and the more I wanted to speak it. But with no real opportunity to speak French in Toronto, I applied for jobs in Montreal — and moved here last year when I got an offer.
Live my life in French
I now live in downtown Montreal. I know I can survive living here with only English, but then what’s the point of moving to Quebec? Whenever I order food or go shopping, I always start with French, although it would be easier for everyone if I only spoke English.
To do this, I have to get out of my comfort zone every day and continue to speak French, even if it takes a lot of effort. I often feel insecure, scared and vulnerable. I imagine people think, what is this girl doing? Why can’t she just speak English if she’s having trouble? Whenever I stumble over my sentences, hesitate or get confused, most people switch to English. It makes it harder to stay confident in my third language.
Sometimes I use a translation app to look up words I’m about to say or to check conjugation. When I don’t have time to google, I use the English word but keep the rest of the sentence in French. Sometimes I pretend that the subjunctive form does not exist.
But the biggest struggle isn’t over vocabulary. It’s trying to understand all the different accents and Quebec slang that I hear. It takes some time to get used to the dialect.
To gain more confidence, I record myself speaking French and post on my YouTube channel, Nyds Learning French. This channel talks about lifestyle, spirituality and my other passions in French. Recording myself in my room without anyone else listening takes some of the pressure off. I can repeat myself over and over until my French is correct. And because anyone can watch the videos I post, it always inspires me to speak well.
After checking in several times, I find it less stressful to talk with real people. And it also makes learning French more fun.
After a few months of living in Montreal, I was surprised to find myself able to hold a simple conversation in French. I felt like a different person. When I was little, I couldn’t imagine speaking in languages other than Indonesian or English. I like the fact that when I speak French or write e-mails in French, people answer me in French. It lets me know that my French is really functional, even if it may not be perfect.
The language of love
Whenever I speak French with new people, I get so excited and open up easily. To my surprise, it brought me many opportunities for friendship and relationships. People often let their guard down and we end up having deeper, more meaningful conversations. They are also willing to speak more slowly and correct my errors in grammar, pronunciation or wording. It makes me feel instantly at home in Quebec.
After living in Montreal for about a year, and now being able to hear that Quebec French is a bit different from the metropolitan French spoken in Paris, I still like the way it sounds. I find I can be more expressive and emotional in French, while English – where there is no distinction between talking with strangers and family – seems so formal.
While learning French, I also ended up falling in love with a French-speaking Quebecer who is now my boyfriend. He likes me to be interested and passionate about his language and his culture. I love that he patiently teaches me French. And I love spending time with his family; it gives me time to hear more informal spoken French. French really is the language of love!
Although we speak English at home, we set aside time to speak only French. What started out as a few hours a week became a full day. We also now only speak French in public places to respect the culture and preserve the language.
When I started this journey, I knew that learning French would be a big challenge. What I didn’t know was that it was going to change my life.
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