Le québécois en 10 leçons

by Alexandre Coutu

Le québécois en 10 leçons
Le québécois en 10 leçons.

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Le québécois en 10 leçons, subtitled Le cours de québécois parlé, is designed for French speakers who would like to learn more about joual, the unique variety of French spoken informally in Québec.

Québécois French

As I've mentioned before, many Québécois claim that there is no such thing as "Québécois French" - they speak French, thank you very much. But as I and countless other French speakers have found when visiting Québec - and as the author of Le québécois en 10 leçons makes abundantly clear - Québécois French is not at all the same thing as so-called standard French.

There should be no shame in admitting that it is different, and anyone who wants to live, work, or travel extensively in Québec would do well to learn about it.*

Le québécois en 10 leçons

Le québécois en 10 leçons is an ambitious project that aims to teach people who already speak "standard" French (the book is written in French) how to speak and understand Québécois French. Like the author, from this point forward I will refer to QF as québécois, while "standard French" will be called français.

The introduction to Le québécois en 10 leçons offers a bit of information about why québécois exists in the first place, and briefly mentions other French variations to be found in Canada. One interesting comment is that in addition to québécois, many Québécois can speak français perfectly. Le québécois is a familiar, primarily spoken language used to communicate with friends and family, whereas français tends to be used in more formal situations as well as in most writing (other than, say, on the internet and when texting between friends).

If this seems strange to you, think about how you speak to your best friend, how you speak to your boss, and how you write a report. There are certainly differences in vocabulary, and possibly pronunciation and grammar as well. So it is with speakers of all languages, it just so happens that the Québécois's informal way of speaking, or register, is far more elaborate than most.

The extensive pronunciation section offers details about the sounds of letters in québécois, with particular emphasis on vowels. This section is very interesting, extremely important, and not a little daunting. (There is a lot of information here; I have no doubt that I could learn to understand québécois, but it would take a concerted effort and a great deal of time.) This section is also the one part of the book that I think could be improved a tiny bit.**

The heart of the book is of course the 10 lessons, each of which includes a page of dialog and a corresponding sound file, as well as detailed notes about the vocabulary and grammar*** featured in it. Next comes ligne par ligne, a translation of each line of the québécois dialog into français. At the end of each lesson, you can test what you've just learned with multiple choice, translation, and listening exercises.

After the lessons, the book contains a section on sacres (religious profanity) as well as an index/dictionary with more than 450 words.

All in all, if you want or need to learn le québécois, this book has everything you need.

About the author

Alexandre Coutu was born and raised in Québec. After teaching French for several years, he became a translator and interpreter. Le québécois en 10 leçons is his first book.

*See notes on page 2

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*I have always assumed/believed/proclaimed that the difference between français and québécois is equivalent to the difference between British and American English. Having spent some time with this book and - especially - the sound files, I think a better comparison might be informal Scottish and American English: sure, the foundation is the same, but sometimes I can only understand one word in ten.

(This is no exaggeration; I once watched a Scottish movie about teenagers and had to read the French subtitles in order to make any sense of it.)

**I think the use of International Phonetic Alphabet in this book is something of a mixed blessing. The goal of IPA is to provide an objective representation of the pronunciation of any given letter or letter combination, so that a speaker of any language knows how to pronounce it even without a sound file (assuming that s/he has at some point heard the sound and learned the symbol that represents it). The problem is that québécois vowels are often diphthonged, and while this tendency is explained in plenty of detail in this book, it is not reflected in the IPA spelling because, as the author points out, the amount of diphthongization of any given vowel varies (1) according to register (more formal = less diphthongization) and (2) from speaker to speaker.

He therefore chooses not to indicate these variable diphthongs with IPA, instead using the symbols for pure vowels. While there may be a certain logic to this, that doesn't lessen the confusion caused by looking at the IPA symbol for a pure vowel while listening to a strong diphthong in the accompanying audio.

All that said, it's a minor problem - there are detailed explanations of each sound and plenty of sound files to help you learn the correct pronunciation(s) of québécois letters.

***Just a note: If you are familiar with informal français, you'll recognize some of québécois's grammar/pronunciation particularities, such as the assimilation of je in front of suis and sais, the replacement of il and ils with y, the use of on instead of nous (you can read about all of these in informal pronouns), and the dropping of ne (informal negation).

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