Montreal is a bilingual city – almost everyone speaks fluent French and English. C’est un problème for those that want to learn French here as it is common for people to ‘switch’ to English as soon as an accent is detected. So HOW, how can a person practice French effectively whilst in Montreal. I came to Montreal with the knowledge of about 5 French words. I didn’t take French lessons in school (languages were not compulsory). I have been in Montreal for two weeks and I can now hold down a (very basic and limited) conversation! I’m hoping that by the end of the third month, I will be be comfortable in conversing a bit more naturally.

From my experience so far, here’s how I’ve done it (at no charge):


You may have a deep interest in synchronised swimming; granted, there is someone else in your locality with the exact same passion. Similarly, there are French people wanting to learn English and English people wanting to learn French. Meet-ups are organised and scheduled rendez-vous that cater to literally ANYTHING. I’ve been using Meetup to find groups that meet to casually converse in French (catered to a learners need). Meet-ups usually happen in a cafe (you are encouraged to purchase something – like a coffee), and turn out is usually 20-40 people, depending on the group and time.

I attended a meet-up last weekend; honestly, the scheduled three hours completely flew and I could not believe that I managed to ‘speak’ French for that long (I must admit there was plenty throwing around of random vocabulary, hoping they understood – which they did!). There is always a ‘helper’ aka expert of the language on each table of about 3/4, so it was really intimate and there is a constant flow of conversation by everyone on the table.

Post meet-up: I confidently walked into Tim Hortons and ordered speaking in French *score*.

Conversation Exchange

Similar idea to the previous except this method is generally via Skype. Here, a profile is made on ConversationExchange stating the language in which you are native, and the one you wish to learn, and voila – ready to learn. You will receive messages asking for your Skype details and you can go ahead and freely converse flexibly 1-1. If you wish, you could also meet up with the person (provided you are both in Montreal), and pursue the conversation exchange in that way.

Reading the Metro

Travelling everyday has its bonuses in that I am able to pick up the Metro (100% written in French) and spend some time trying to read and understand it. Through this, my reading has exponentially improved. Download an offline dictionary and this will allow you to search the definition of a work, if you are underground. This method is more useful for reading as opposed to oral communication and comprehension. Never-the-less, through this, I was able to identify words that were extremely repetitive and remember them in particular.

Watching French movies with French subtitles

A common misconception is that watching a movie in the studied language (but with native language subtitles), is the way to learn a language. I disagree. It is far more effective to watch the movie in French, and with French subtitles. This way, your brain can synchronise the French sound with the way it looks. For this, some French should already be known and this method will simply enhance good pronunciation and allow you to take to the streets of Montreal with your newly learnt words!

Refusing to speak English

As I mentioned earlier, Montrealers are known to switch to English (VERY quickly) if they notice an accent. Solution: play them at their own game! Just continue speaking French and keep trying. It is very easy to simply revert to English, however, that defeats the goal of trying to learn French in Montreal.  Keep at it!


This list is not exhaustive, and can easily be applied to the study of other languages.

Let me know, how have you tried to master a language? What did you find to be effective?  

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One Comment

  • I had the same experience while in Kenya (only with Swahili). All the locals wanted to practice their English, especially all the kids in the villages around where I was staying, and would immediately switch from Swahili to English when us Americans were around–our conversations would usually spiral into a complicated dance of Swahili and English until the more persistent person won out. Your advice definitely holds true for other places as well!

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