Quebec French, or québécois, has a deep relationship with Montreal. As such, if you want to get the most out of Montreal you may want to consider learning French or improving the skills you already have.
Around 70 percent of Montreal residents speak French as their primary language at home, and French is the sole official language in province of Quebec. Many more speak the language on a daily basis for work and socialising, though most Montrealers are also able to speak English, as well as often being comfortable in a third language. Interacting with the French language is a big part of living in Montreal, and Montreal French can be a charming and fun language.
Quebec French is not a separate dialect, but the accents you will hear are quite different from anything heard in Europe. Some slang words and idioms are unique to Quebec French, with a number of anglicisms borrowed from English. Many Montrealers switch mid-sentence between French and English in conversation –
‘Hey man, comment était le pub hier soir?’
‘Vraiment cool! Your friend Mathieu was there, avec sa nouvelle girl. Il dit hello.’
No matter which Montreal neighbourhood you may be in, you’re going to hear some conversations like that. If you’re looking for more English-speaking communities, this interactive map, courtesy of CBC, shows the pockets of southern Quebec where anglophones predominate.
Bill 101 and Quebec French — The Charter of the French Language
Any newcomer to Montreal should be aware of what is usually called “Bill 101” or the French Language Charter (La Charte de la langue française), an extensive piece of legislation brought in during the 1970’s that made French the sole official language of Quebec. The language laws are far-reaching; larger businesses are obliged to work in French within the workplace, and business-to-customer information, even down to menus in restaurants, must be available in French.
If you are bringing children or plan on having children in Quebec in the future and want to avail of the public education system, under the current laws your children would be obliged to go to a French school, as only the children of those who went to English schools in Canada are allowed to send their children to non-private English schools.
Montreal, French, and employment
Employment in the service (i.e. bar/restaurant) industry, or in companies working mostly with an international clientele, may only require a limited knowledge of French, or indeed none at all. However, anybody aspiring to move to Montreal for career reasons should be aware that French is not only an asset, but usually a necessity.
It is advisable to consider doing some French classes before moving to Montreal. It will make your move a lot smoother and give you confidence, so consider it an investment in your skills.