Canada is famous for many things, such as beautiful mountain landscapes, ice hockey, a disproportionate representation of funny people in Hollywood (here's to you, "Schitt's Creek"), and maple syrup.
The country is also known for having two official languages: English and French. Since 1977, though, the province of Québec has recognized French as its official language.
The short answer to whether you need to speak French when you go to Québec is, "No." Even though the majority of the province is francophone (French speaking), English is widely spoken in major cities like Québec City or Montréal, as well as tourist havens like Mont-Tremblant and Tadoussac. Even outside of the major metropolitan areas, employees at tourist attractions—such as whale watching operations, hotels, and restaurants—will generally be able to converse in some English or readily be able to find someone else who can.
Nevertheless, the further outside of Montréal you go (Montréal is the English-speaking center of Quebec and has the largest population of English speakers in the province), the less likely it is that the people you encounter can speak to you in English. If you do decide to venture out into less urban Québec destinations, you should have an English/French dictionary or verse yourself with some basic Québécois for travelers.
Beyond where you will or will not be able to find English speakers in Québec, keep in mind that language in Canada is a touchy topic. The long—often hostile—history between English and French speakers includes armed conflict and two provincial referendums in which Quebeckers voted on seceding from the rest of Canada.
Some tourists to Québec—especially Québec City—claim to detect underlying antipathy toward English speakers manifesting itself by way of poor or neglectful customer service. Having traveled more than 20 times to Québec, I have to say I have never encountered such treatment, at least not more than anywhere else in Canada.
Overall, visiting Québec requires no different planning than any other destination. Learning a bit of the language is part of the fun (after all, speaking French just feels glamorous) and may be helpful when you are off the beaten path.
From greetings to ordering lunch at a local café, below are some common phrases and words to learn before your trip. If you have any knowledge of Metropolitan French, take note: formal Québécois is practically the same as Metropolitan French. However, when it comes to informal speech, there is a distinct difference. Aside from their accent, Quebeckers have their own unique vocabulary, including a couple of popular phrases.
- Hello: Bonjour (bon-jour)
- Good evening: Bonsoir (bon-swah)
- Good night: Bonne nuit (bun nuee)
- How are you?: (Comment) ça va? (comm-an sa va)
- Good, thank you: Bien, merci. (be-ahn mare-see)
- And you?: Et vous? (ay voo)
- Can you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais? (par-lay voo ahn-glay)
- I don't speak French: Je ne parle pas français. (juh nuh parl pah frahn-say)
- Please: S'il vous plaît. (seal voo play)
- Thank you: Merci. (mare-see)
- Yes: Oui. (wee)
- No: Non. (nohn)
- Excuse me: Excusez-moi. (ex-cooz-ay muah)
- You're welcome: Bienvenue. (be-ahn vuhn-ew)
- I'm sorry: Je m'excuse. (juh muhx-cooze)
- Goodbye: Au revoir. (oh ruh-vwah)
Asking for Directions
- Can you help me?: Pouvez-vous m'aider? (poo-vay voo ma-day)
- Where is...?: Où est...? (oo ay)
- Where is the restroom?: Où sont les toilettes? (oo sewn lay twah-let)
- How far? À quelle distance? (ah kell dees-tahnce)
- Right: À droite (ah dwat)
- Left: À gauche (a go-sh)
- Ahead: Devant (day-vahn)
Eating in a Restaurant
- Breakfast: Le déjeuner (luh day-juh-nay)
- Lunch: Le dîner (luh dee-nay)
- Dinner: Le souper (le soo-pay)
- How much is it?: C'est combien? (say com-be-ahn)
- For here or to go?: Pour ici ou pour emporter? (poor ee-see oo poor ahm-poh-tay)
- The bill, please: La facture, s'il vous plaît. (la fac-tour seal voo play)
- I'll have...: Je prendrais... (juh prawn-dre)
- I am a vegetarian: Je suis végétarien (male) / Je suis végétarienne (female) (juh swee veg-ay-tar-ee-ahn)
- A drink: Un breuvage (ohn brew-vahj)
- A beer: Une bière (oon be-air)
- Red wine: Le vin rouge (luh vawn roosh)
- White wine: Le vin blanc (luh vawn blahnc)
- Water: L'eau (low)
- A coffee: Un café (ohn cah-fay)
- A tea: Un thé (ohn tay)
- Chicken: Le poulet (luh poo-lay)
- Cheese: Le fromage (luh fro-majh)