French Localization: Canadian French Vs. European French And Why You Need To Know the Difference

by Erica Goldberg

French localization differences between Canadian French and European French

French localization services are unique, considering the differences in dialects. The same concept applies to speaking French: if you have a conversation with someone and analyze their word choice and pronunciation, you may be able to figure out unique attributes such as their social class and lifestyle.

As a current French localization project manager and past experience living in France and frequently visiting Canada, I have learnt the differences between both French dialects. Since I’m passionate about languages as well as familiar with both Canadian and European French, I am constantly analyzing French linguistics and French translation methods - no matter what situation I’m in.

Although I have spoken French for more than half my life, I still find myself hesitating at certain points of conversation. I always want to use le bon mot (the correct word) even though I know that there are multiple ways to say the same thing. 

How do I translate shoes: chaussures or souliers?

I recently took a trip to the mall to buy a new pair of shoes with a friend who speaks Canadian French. Sounds fairly simple, right? Linguistically speaking, a trip to the mall is much more complicated.  

Initially, I wasn’t sure how to ask my friend if she wanted to come to the mall with me. Should I ask her to go to the mall to magasiner (translation of shopping in Canadian French) as a French Canadian speaker would? A speaker of European French would use the expression faire du shopping in this situation. Subconsciously, I ended up mixing both European French and Canadian French into one sentence by asking her to come magasiner (translation of shopping in Canadian French) with me because I needed to by some new chaussures (translation of shoes in European French).

My friend’s response: “Tu as besoin de souliers?  Est-ce que tu y vas cette fin de semaine?”  ("Oh, you need shoes?  Are you going this weekend?"). Her Canadian lexicon was not a shock to me because I would have also said fin de semaine (a saying many Canadians would use to say the word weekend) instead of week-end like a French person would.

French translation challenges

As my afternoon continued, I used my smartphone to read an email (wait, is a smartphone a téléphone intelligent as they say in Canada, or a portable, as they say in France?  See… it never ends!). The email was from a friend of mine who is originally from Paris and speaks European French. She sent out a party invitation and I replied in French without giving my response a second thought.

The first sentence I wrote was merci de ton courriel (thanks for your email). I erased that sentence just as quickly as I had written it, instinctively knowing that my French friend would mock me for using the word courriel, which is the Canadian French word for email. In France, the word email (or sometimes just mail) is used, just like in English, and the word courriel does not sound “correct” to most French people.

By now, you are probably wondering how and why Canadian French and European French are so different. There are actually several ways to answer that question.

Historical links between France and Canada and how these links influence French language

As you may have already noticed, the main difference between Canadian French localization and European French localization is the terminology. The French arrived in North America in the early part of the 17th century. They formed two French speaking colonies which were called Acadia (modern day Nova Scotia), and New France (modern-day Québec). Nowadays, French speakers in Canada can be found from coast to coast, and there is even some vocabulary variance across Canada. 

The majority of Canada’s French speakers live in Québec, and there are also pockets of French speakers in Ontario and New Brunswick. Many of the French speakers in Ontario (or Franco Ontariens as they are called) live in the Capital Region (in and around the city of Ottawa, which is across the border from the province of Québec) and Northern Ontario (particularly in and around Sudbury). New Brunswick is the only province which is officially bilingual, and there is a significant French-speaking population there as well.

Many of the words from the 17th century have survived the test of time and are still used in Canada today:

European French

Canadian French

English Translation

Parce que

À cause que

Because

Parier

Gager

To bet

L’obscurité

La noirceur

Darkness

Une voiture

Un char

Car

Most speakers of Canadian French are exposed to English to some degree. As a result, English has an influence on the way French is spoken in Canada, and some expressions are borrowed from (or based on) English. Canada’s close location to the US is another reason why the English language influences Canadian French. Here are some examples:

European French

Canadian French

English Translation

Aller se promener

Prendre une marche

To take a walk

Tomber amoureux de quelqu’un

Tomber en amour avec quelqu’un

To fall in love with someone

Une pastèque

Un melon d’eau

Watermelon

C’est logique

Ça fait du sens

That makes sense

 

Some Canadian French words are borrowed from various Indigenous languages:

European Equivalent

Canadian French

English Translation

Les sandales

Les babiches

Sandals

Un tabac

Une tabagie

Corner store

Un renne

Un caribou

Reindeer

When you use a French localization service provider to translate your content into Canadian French or European French, you should keep in mind the area you are localizing for. Just because the text is localized into French does not mean that the content will be understood. Likewise, you may have a translation into Canadian French on your website, but that does not mean that you are geared up to target French speakers outside of Canada. A subtle difference like word choice could be the driving factor in creating a quality business relationship. Contact us today to learn more about Interpro's French localization services.

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Sources:

Erica Goldberg

"I enjoy working with Interpro because it gives me the chance to work with people all over the world. Not many people can say that they interact with people in places such as France, Brazil, Argentina, or China on a daily basis!"