Non-French French and Why Am I Just Now Learning This?

I studied French for 3 years in high school and another 3 years at university between 1997 and 2003. Then I took some time off from languages while I was doing my Master’s in Linguistics and ended up moving to France in late 2006. So I guess you could say that I’ve been learning French for 10 years, though those first 6 years were just grammar and literature and not so much useful stuff like comprehension and conversational skills. Granted, I haven’t actually been “studying” French while living in France because I’ve been teaching English most of the time. Nevertheless, after all that time I am still learning new things about the French language that I can’t believe I didn’t learn years ago.

Some French books make a tiny effort to teach you other varieties of French instead of focusing solely on Parisian French. They may mention that Belgian and Swiss French use septante and nonante for 70 and 90 instead of soixante-dix or quatre-vingt-dix. They may also mention that in Quebec, the meals are déjeuner, dîner and souper instead of petit déjeuner, déjeuner and dîner. And that’s about it.

What they forget to tell you is that octante was also once used in Belgium and Switzerland for 80 instead of quatre-vingts – though it’s rarely said nowadays, you can still find it in literature – and that some parts of Switzerland (Vaud, Valais and Fribourg) use huitante. In addition, Belgium and Switzerland both use the same words as Quebec to designate the three meals of the day. I just learned that yesterday. Seriously, I’ve been learning French for years & years and I just now learn that?!?

Obviously I don’t live or work in Belgium or Switzerland or unfortunately don’t regularly talk to Belgians or the Swiss so I understand why it’s harder to pick up the vocabulary differences. I’ve studied in Quebec and still watch Quebecois shows and read blogs written by Quebecois people so I’m familiar with chum, blonde, char, magasiner, dépanneur, vidanges, piastre, niasieux, etc. and I definitely know NOT to use gosses*.

But when it comes to le français belge or suisse, I’m lost. I can’t even detect a Belgian or Swiss accent because I have such little exposure to them. David’s super scientific explanation opinion is that Belgians sound too guttural and the Swiss talk too slow. I love guttural sounds (I think Dutch is the coolest-sounding language EVER) and a slower rhythm would be nice since French people talk way too fast sometimes. Maybe I need to watch some Belgian and Swiss movies. Anyone have any recommendations?

Here are some websites for learning other varieties of French:

Quebecois

Swiss

Belgian

*Gosses means testicles in Quebec, not kids!

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.