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9 French Dialects from Around the World — Arc de Triomphe
9 French Dialects from Around the World — Arc de Triomphe
Alex Mcomie 107x107
Apr 15, 2024

9 French Dialects from Around the World

French is spoken by a total of close to 500 million people, including nearly 300 million native speakers.

Like English, French is spoken differently in various places.

One French speaker may have a very different accent and vocabulary compared to one from another region.

Understanding regional dialects is a common challenge in video localization.

Translation isn’t always enough when the same language can be so distinctive in different locations.

Just like a British voice actor will sound foreign to Americans, Quebecois French won’t sound natural to Parisians.

In this article, look at some of the most common French dialects from around the world.

While each one has unique characteristics, speakers of different dialects can usually still understand each other in conversation and writing.


1. Parisian French

9 French Dialects from Around the World — The Eiffel Tower

When most Americans think of French, they think of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

“Standard” French is spoken in Paris and the rest of the Île-de-France region.

This is what most English speakers learn when studying French as a foreign language.

It’s also upheld by official institutions such as the Académie Française.

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While they may sound the same to a native English speaker, a Parisian would immediately recognize a non-Parisian accent.

One unique 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.

French speakers in other areas of the country may be less familiar with loanwords from English.

While Parisian French is the most widely recognized dialect, some audiences may prefer an actor who speaks the dialect they’re used to.


2. Marseillais

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Marseille Beach

Marseillais is a dialect spoken in Marseille and other areas in the southern part of France.

Speakers of the Marseillais dialect tend to pronounce “e” at the end of words, which Parisian speakers generally leave silent.

For example, “France” would be just one syllable for a Parisian, but a Marseillais speaker would place a greater emphasis on the final “e.”

If you learned French as a second language, you may be surprised when you hear someone speak Marseillais.

Even though the vocabulary is generally the same, non-native speakers often have trouble following the unique rhythm of Marseillais.

Like other regional dialects around the world, Marseillais is threatened by the expansion of media that promotes and normalizes the dominant Parisian dialect.

Still, Marseillais is a well-known cultural characteristic of the southeastern part of France.

The video below illustrates some elements of the Marseillais accent and culture.

One of them puts it’s 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!”)

3. Belgian French

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Belgium Cathedral

Belgium is a country in western Europe that borders four other countries: Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

While many countries have a single standard language, Belgium is divided between Dutch and French — plus a small community of German speakers in the east.

Paris is actually closer to much of Belgium than it is to Marseille, so Belgian French is surprisingly similar to the standard Parisian dialect

That said, these communities still have distinctive styles and use different words in certain situations.

Native speakers can 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.

Parisians would usually say “petit déjeuner” for breakfast, “déjeuner” for lunch, and “dîner” for dinner.

Belgians, on the other hand, often use “dîner” for lunch and “souper” for dinner.

Belgian French also comes with different words for certain numbers.

The Belgian versions are often more intuitive to non-native speakers.

Standard French uses “soixante-dix” (sixty-ten) for 70, “quatre-vingt” (four-twenty) for 80, and “quatre-vingt-dix” (four-twenty-ten) for 90.

These are much more straightforward in the Belgian dialect.

“Soixante-dix” becomes “septante,” “quatre-vingt” becomes “octante,” and “quatre-vingt-dix” becomes “nonante.”

Those might sound strange to Parisians, but they may make more sense to people who are studying French.

The video below shows a conversation between Belgian and Parisian French speakers.

They go over some of the most well-known differences, such as the pronunciation of the name of the city of Brussels.

While Belgians pronounce it with an “s” sound, French people tend to pronounce the double-S as an “x” — like “Bruxels.”


4. French Canadian

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Montreal, Canada

If you go to Quebec, you’ll notice that people speak a completely different kind of French.

While there are some similarities to the European dialects, French Canadian is a version all its own.

The most obvious thing you’ll notice is the unique pronunciation of vowels.

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Many words that had long vowel pronunciation in earlier French dialects are still pronounced that way in Quebec.

These long vowels remain in Quebecois even hundreds of years after they disappeared from the standard dialect.

Quebecois speakers may also pronounce “t” and “d” differently 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.

The variations in pronunciation are the most obvious difference, but there are also some notable changes in vocabulary.

For example, the word “liqueur” refers to an alcoholic beverage in France, but it’s used in Quebec to refer to soda.

Check out the video below for a side-by-side comparison.

These differences show the need for accurate localization when creating content for audiences in different regions.


5. Haitian Creole

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Haitian coast

Haitian Creole is an extremely unique language that’s based on French but also incorporates elements from many other languages.

Haiti recognizes both Haitian Creole and French as official languages, but many more Haitians speak Haitian Creole than French.

Haitian Creole vocabulary largely comes from the French used during the 18th-century colonial period.

However, the grammar draws from African languages such as Fongbe and Igbo.

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Haitian Creole developed over a long period of time through the interaction of different languages and cultures.

In fact, Haitians are the largest group of people on Earth who continue to speak a Creole language.

There are an estimated 10 to 12 million native speakers.

To be precise, Haitian Creole is not a French dialect, but a totally separate language that developed from French.

French and Haitian Creole speakers may not always understand each other, but they would still recognize some shared terms and phrases.

The video below features a lengthy conversation involving speakers of both languages.

Despite some occasional confusion, they can generally communicate with relatively few problems.

While some Haitians speak French, it’s important to remember that Haitian Creole is a separate language.

You should consider a full translation and localization into Haitian Creole when creating content for a Haitian audience.


6. Louisiana Creole

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Louisiana swamps

Like Haitian Creole, Louisiana Creole developed the combination of French with various local influences.

“Louisiana” was French territory for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, but the colonial boundaries were very different from the Louisiana we know today.

When the US purchased Louisiana from France in 1803, it included more than 800,000 square miles going all the way north to present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

Today, the influence of Louisiana Creole is extremely limited, with fewer than 10,000 speakers.

However, there are also over 100,000 native speakers of Louisiana French.

The key difference between these two is Louisiana French is a French dialect.

Like Haitian Creole, Louisiana Creole is a separate language with French components.

Louisianans who speak French or Creole are actively working to maintain their cultural and linguistic identities.

This French 24 special illustrates the region’s unique culture and the efforts to preserve it for future generations.

With the growing influence of technology and mass media, it will require a sustained effort from native speakers as well as governmental and cultural organizations to preserve endangered languages like Louisiana Creole as well as dialects like Louisiana French.


7. Algerian French

9 French Dialects from Around the World — Algiers, Algeria

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, their histories are still closely intertwined.

The official languages of Algeria are Arabic and Berber, but a significant percentage of the population speaks Algerian French.

French acts as a kind of lingua franca and is often used in Algerian media.

Unsurprisingly, this particular dialect is heavily influenced by Arabic, the most common language in Algeria.

The easiest way to identify Algerian French is its rolled “r,” which sounds more like Spanish than standard French.

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.


8. Swiss French


9 French Dialects from Around the World — Geneva, Switzerland

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 involve specific words and phrases, just like the different words for “dinner” in Parisian French and Belgian French.

For example, someone from Paris would only use “adieu” as a farewell if they don’t expect to see the other person again.

On the other hand, Swiss French speakers use “adieu” more casually — almost like the English “goodbye.”

The video below includes some Swiss French phrases 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 traditional “il a pleut.”

9. French in the Congo


9 French Dialects from Around the World — Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo was under Belgian colonial control from 1885 to 1960, so Belgian French has naturally had a lasting influence.

In fact, French is still the country’s official language more than 60 years after the end of the colonial regime.

The capital, Kinshasa, is the world’s most populous Francophone city, with a higher number of people than Paris, Brussels, or Port au Prince.

Similarly, the Congo is also the most populous country where French is the official language.

While there are no other official languages, 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 the groups.

Like other countries where French is the official language, the Congolese government uses French for official documents.

It’s also commonly used in business, education, 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.

Final Thoughts

When you hear “French,” you probably think of a language spoken in France.

The truth is that French is spoken in many regions, and the language changes significantly depending on the location.

As we saw, there are even clear differences in vocabulary and speaking styles just from the north to the south of France.

One of the most common mistakes we see is when creators fail to fully localize content for the target audience.

The distinction between Canadian French and Metropolitan French might not be obvious to an English speaker, but it will be very clear to native French speakers.

Thinking of localizing your content to one of the many French dialects? Feel free to contact us for help and tips!

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