French is spoken by a total of close to 500 million people, including nearly 300 million who speak it as their native language.
Like English, however, French is spoken differently in various regions, so one French speaker may use different words and speaking styles compared to someone who lives in another area.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most commonly spoken French dialects from around the world.
While each one has its own unique characteristics, speakers of different dialects can usually cut through the differences and understand each other in conversation and writing.
When most Americans think of French, they think of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
“Standard” French as spoken in Paris and the Île-de-France region is the dialect that native English speakers generally learn when studying French.
This is also the version of the language that’s upheld by official institutions such as the Académie Française.
While an English speaker might not notice much of a difference between Parisian French and another dialect, a native Parisian would pick up on a different accent almost immediately.
One characteristic element of Parisian French is its close connection to the English-speaking world.
With Paris just a few hours away from London, it’s common for words and phrases to move between the two languages.
On the other hand, French speakers who live further from England or in more rural areas may be less likely to use loanwords from English.
Parisian French is the most widely recognized dialect.
However, it’s important to remember that some audiences may prefer an actor who speaks the French dialect that’s commonly spoken in their region.
If you’re looking to hire the perfect French voice actor for your creative project, check out our professional talent today!
Marseillais is another dialect that’s spoken in Marseille and other areas in the southern part of France.
French speakers from Paris and Marseille can still understand what each other are saying, but there are some dramatic differences in speaking styles between these two major dialects.
For example, speakers of the Marseillais dialect tend to pronounce “e” at the end of words, while Parisian speakers will generally leave these silent.
In other words, “France” would be just one syllable in the Parisian dialect, but speakers of Marseillais would place a greater emphasis on the final “e.”
If you learned French as a second language, you could be very surprised when you hear someone start speaking Marseillais.
Even though the words themselves are generally the same, non-native speakers often have trouble following the unique rhythm of Marseillais speakers.
Like other smaller dialects around the world, Marseillais is threatened by the expansion of media that promotes and normalizes the dominant Parisian dialect.
With that being said, Marseillais is still alive and well and is a well-known cultural characteristic of the southern part of France.
The video below shows the style of the Marseillais accent as well as the cultural attitudes of some of the dialect’s native speakers.
One of them puts the matter simply: “C’est plus les gens du nord qui ont un accent que nous!” (“It’s the northerners who have an accent more than us!”)
Belgium is a country in western Europe that shares a border with four other countries: Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
While many countries have a single standard language, Belgium is divided between Dutch and French speakers, with a smaller community of German speakers in the eastern region.
Paris is actually closer to much of Belgium than it is to Marseille, so Belgian French is surprisingly similar to the standard Parisian dialect we covered earlier.
That said, these communities still have distinctive styles and use different words in certain situations.
Native speakers will be able to tell if someone is using a different dialect from their own.
One simple example of the differences between Parisian and Belgian French is their respective words for meals at various times of the day.
In Parisian French, you would usually say “petit déjeuner” for breakfast, “déjeuner” for lunch, and “dîner” for dinner.
Belgian speakers, on the other hand, use “dîner” for lunch and “souper” for dinner.
Belgian French also comes with different words for some numbers, which can be more intuitive than the standard French system for many students who are learning French as a second language.
Standard French uses “soixante-dix” for 70, which literally means sixty-ten.
The normal word for 80 is “quatre-vingt,” or four-twenty.
Similarly, Parisian French speakers say “quatre-vingt-dix,” four-twenty-ten, with no special word for the number 90.
In Belgian French, these words are switched to a more straightforward alternative.
“Soixante-dix” becomes “septante,” “quatre-vingt” becomes “octante,” and “quatre-vingt-dix” becomes “nonante.”
Those might sound strange to a typical Parisian, but they may make more sense to non-native speakers who are confused by France’s irregular numbers for the numbers between 70 and 99.
This video is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to know more about the differences between Belgian and Parisian, or “Metropolitan” French.
The creator also provides some insight into how Belgian French developed differently from the most common dialect.
One interesting element of Belgian French is that it includes many words that were previously part of Metropolitan French but eventually evolved into new forms.
Another example of a difference between these two dialects is that Metropolitan speakers use “nettoyer” for “clean,” while Belgian speakers use the separate “reloqueter.”
If you go to Quebec, you’ll notice that people speak a completely different version of French.
While there are some similarities to various dialects spoken in Europe, French Canadian is a version all on its own that can be surprisingly different from Parisian French and other dialects that are spoken in France.
The most obvious distinction you’ll notice when listening to French Canadian speakers is that they have a unique pronunciation for many vowels.
Many words that once had a long-vowel pronunciation in earlier French dialects are still pronounced that way in Quebec, even hundreds of years after those pronunciations have disappeared from France.
Quebecois speakers also have a unique way of pronouncing the “t” and “d” consonants, at least in some contexts.
When these letters come before a “u,” they are usually pronounced with an “s” or “z” sound that is totally missing from Parisian French.
Even though there are only small variations in vocabulary between Quebecois and Parisian French, the variations in sound are much more obvious.
Check out the video below for a side-by-side comparison of common words in both Parisian and Canadian French.
The first example — ”boisson” for a drink in Paris compared to “breuvage” in Quebec — shows the importance of accurate localization for audiences in these regions.
Some changes are even more dramatic, such as “boisson gazeuse” for a sparkling drink in Paris becoming “liqueur” in Quebec.
“Liqueur” has a totally different meaning to Parisian French speakers, so speakers from the two regions may encounter misunderstandings during conversations.
Haitian Creole is an extremely unique language that’s based on French but also incorporates elements from many other languages.
Along with standard French, Haitian Creole is currently one of the two official languages of the country of Haiti.
However, it is the most common overall native language in the country, with many more native speakers than conventional French.
While much of the vocabulary of Haitian Creole comes from the French that was common during the 18th-century colonial period, the grammar draws from African languages such as Fongbe and Igbo.
It took a significant period of time for Haitian Creole to develop out of those component parts as well as other influences.
In fact, Haitians are the largest group of people on Earth who continue to speak a creole language.
There are an estimated 10 million to 12 million native Haitian Creole speakers.
With that in mind, Haitian Creole is not technically a dialect of French but a totally separate language that developed off of French.
French and Haitian Creole speakers may not always understand everything the other says, but they would at least be able to recognize some familiar terms and phrases.
The video below features a lengthy conversation involving speakers of both languages.
Despite some occasional confusion, they can generally communicate with each other with relatively few problems.
If you’re planning to produce content for an audience that speaks Haitian Creole, it isn’t enough to offer a French-language version.
Take a look at our team of Haitian Creole voice actors to hire a professional who can help you engage with this audience.
Like Haitian Creole, Louisiana Creole developed from French in combination with various local influences. France had colonial control of “Louisiana” for much of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The colonial boundaries in those times were very different from the Louisiana we know today. When the US purchased the Louisiana territory from France in 1803, it included more than 800,000 miles of land going all the way north to present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.
That said, the continuing influence of Louisiana Creole is extremely limited.
Today, there are fewer than 10,000 people who speak Louisiana Creole, but there are also over 100,000 native speakers of Louisiana French.
The key difference between Louisiana Creole and Louisiana French is that Creole is a totally separate language, while Louisiana French is a variant of the French language.
Like speakers of Marseillais and other threatened languages, Louisianans who speak French or Creole are trying to keep their cultural and linguistic identities alive.
This French 24 special illustrates the region’s unique culture and the efforts people are making to preserve it for future generations.
Despite the growing influence of technology and mass media in propagating major languages, these distinctive languages could stay alive with a sustained effort from native speakers as well as governmental and cultural organizations.
Algeria has a long and tumultuous history with France, starting with the French invasion of Algeria in 1830.
While Algeria gained formal independence from France in 1962, the history of both nations is still closely intertwined.
While the official languages of Algeria are Arabic and Berber, there is still a significant percentage of French speakers who understand Algerian French.
French acts as a kind of lingua franca for the country and is used in much of Algeria’s mass media.
Unsurprisingly, this particular dialect of French is heavily influenced by words and styles from Arabic, which is the most common language in Algeria.
One of the easiest ways to identify French Algerian is its rolled “r,” which sounds closer to Spanish than it does to the version of French that’s spoken in Paris.
French isn’t spoken as widely in Algeria as in some of the other places on this list, and most Algerians who speak French are not native speakers.
Still, the language has a great degree of influence throughout Algeria, particularly in business, education, and the media.
Like in Belgium, French is spoken by a substantial portion of Swiss people.
About 25% to 30% of the population can speak French.
Most of the remainder speak German, but there are also smaller populations that speak Italian and Romansh.
As we saw with Belgian French, Swiss-French is largely similar to the standard French spoken in Paris.
Most of the variations have to do with specific words and phrases, just as there are different words for “dinner” in conventional French and Belgian French.
For example, someone from Paris would only use the word “adieu” as a farewell if they don’t expect to see the other person again.
On the other hand, Swiss-French speakers tend to use “adieu” more casually, in the same way that English speakers might use a basic greeting like “goodbye.”
The video below includes some of the most common and useful phrases in Swiss French that aren’t typically used by Metropolitan French speakers.
One speaker mentions the phrase “il a royé” to mean “it rained” instead of the more traditionally French “il a pleut.”
The Congo was under Belgian colonial control from 1885 to 1960, so it’s no surprise that Belgian French has had a lasting influence in the country.
In fact, French is still the country’s official language more than 60 years after the end of the colonial regime.
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the most populous Francophone city in the world.
It has a much higher number of people than Paris, Brussels, or Port au Prince.
Similarly, the country itself is also the most populous country on Earth where French is the official language.
Even though French is technically the official language, the Congo is split into several different ethnic and linguistic groups.
Kikongo is spoken in the southwest, Lingála in the north, Tshiluba in the center, and Swahili in the southeast.
French is a kind of common language that connects each of those groups.
As we saw in other countries where French is the official language, the Congolese government uses French for official documents.
French is also commonly used in business, educational settings, and the media.
Like all dialects, French in the Congo has been affected by influences from local languages.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of many countries in central and sub-Saharan Africa to be colonized by French-speaking nations.
The Republic of the Congo, Niger, Rwanda, Burundi, Senegal, and Gabon are just a few of the other countries that have been influenced by the French language.
Each of these nations has a unique relationship with the French language and culture, leading to unique French dialects throughout the African continent.
When you hear “French,” you probably think of a single language spoken in France.
The truth is that French is spoken in many areas of the world, and the language itself can change significantly depending on the location.
In fact, even two French speakers from France could have clear differences in vocabulary and speaking styles if one is from the northern part of the country and the other is from the south.
One of the most common mistakes we see in voice acting is when creators fail to fully localize content for the target audience.
The distinction between Canadian French and Metropolitan French might not sound like a big deal to you, but it will be very clear to native French speakers.
If you are thinking of localizing your content to one of the many French dialects, feel free to contact us for help and tips!