Canada French vs France French: 5 Differences for Global Companies

October 20, 2022
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Does your company serve both France and Canada? You might wonder if you can just translate your content once into French to serve both markets.
For many global companies, there are two important variants of French: Canada French (locale code fr_CA) and France French (locale code fr_FR).
While these variants of the French language have a lot in common, there are some key distinctions between them. These can be important if you want your business to serve the two markets with your products or services.
By understanding the differences between French for Canada and France, you can ensure that you properly localize your content for customers living in those markets.
Let's take a closer look at the differences between these two important French variants…

French as a language for global companies: The key facts

Canada and France aren't the only French-speaking markets in the world.
The French language is spoken in 29 countries worldwide, including Belgium, Switzerland, and several African nations. It is an official language of businesses and organizations, such as the European Union, UNESCO, and the International Olympic Committee.
French is the 7th most spoken language worldwide, with over 267 million French speakers worldwide. Online, the language represents 4.8% of the global online population.
Despite this wide reach, for many US-based companies, the most relevant markets are Canada and France.
Canada is often one of the first markets US-based companies expand into as it shares many similarities with the USA. This cultural familiarity gives US-based companies an advantage over global companies that originate outside North America.
France is the world's fifth largest economy and also can be a strong gateway into the European market. If your company already serves the French-speaking Canadian market, it can make sense to choose France as your next expansion.
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Why is Canadian French different?

The two most commonly requested French variants from our clients are Canada French and France French.
Many people assume that the French spoken in Canada and France are the same. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The two variants represent very different markets with distinct cultural backgrounds and ways of using the language. There are also different linguistic rules in the two language variants.
Both markets use the same underlying French language. But there are some important differences between the two variants.
Why are they different?
For one thing, English has influenced Canada French more than in France, because of the history of British colonization in North America. As a result, you will find many more words and expressions borrowed from English in Canada French.
There is also the influence of First Nations languages on Canada French. Many French words used in Canada derive from these languages, including "achigan" (fish, of Algonquin origin) and "atoca" (cranberry, of Iroquois origin).
Speakers of both French variants can usually understand each other with relative ease. But there are differences it's important to know about when you are localizing your content for each market.

5 key differences between Canada French and France French

Just how different are Canada French and France French?
If you decide to use only 1 version of French for all markets you will need to decide on which set of rules you choose for vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, and pronunciation (if you are using audio). You also need to bear in mind the differences in cultural background and purchasing habits.
In making the choice to only use a single version of French, you are indicating to the audience which market you are prioritizing. This can make people in the other market feel the content isn’t "for" them. This can be a key factor in whether end customers buy your product or service. If they feel they were an afterthought they may choose to take their business elsewhere.
You can divide the differences into 5 key categories:

1. Vocabulary

As mentioned above, Canada French has been influenced by both English and First Nations languages. This leads to a slightly different vocabulary.
You can find examples of these vocabulary differences in many places. For example, the word for "computer" in France French is "ordinateur." In Canada, you are more likely to hear people using the word "computer."
Similarly, the word "portable" is used to mean "cellphone" in France, but would be understood as a "laptop" in Canada.

2. Pronunciation and Grammar

The pronunciation of each French variant is also different. While speakers of both variants can usually understand each other, this is something that you need to consider.
The differences in pronunciation will affect you if you are using audio in your content. Use the right dialect when you are talking to your French-speaking customers or you risk alienating them.

3. Punctuation and Grammar

There are also differences in punctuation between the two French variants.
For example, there is a different spacing before the punctuation marks ";",":","!" and "?" If you were to add or omit the spaces for one market, the result might look sloppy in the other market. This might damage your company's reputation and hurt your chances of success in that market.
The underlying grammar of both French variants is the same. However, there are a few interesting differences.
One notable difference in Canada French is that some specifiers, like prepositions, are taken out entirely. In France, the sentence "I have a child that I have to take care of." might translate as "J'ai un enfant dont je dois m'occuper." But in Canada, this may be reduced to "J'ai un enfant à m'occuper."

4. Cultural background

As a global company, it's important to remember that the cultural backgrounds of the two markets will influence how they use the language.
The cultural background can influence various aspects of doing business in a market. For example, according to Hofstede Insights cultural research, consumers in France are more averse to uncertainty than those in Canada. They also have more of a long-term orientation.
Such factors will affect the type of content consumers in these markets will need.

5. Purchasing habits

Finally, there are differences in purchasing habits between Canadian and French consumers. This will also affect the way you localize content for the two markets, and the language that you use.
According to consumer research, French consumers are also more likely to buy local products than those in Canada. They are more willing to pay higher prices for quality goods. Canadians are typically more price-conscious.
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How to localize your content properly into French

By understanding the key differences between Canada French and France French, your business can better cater to your French-speaking customers.
To ensure that you localize your content effectively for these markets, it's important to have a content strategy. This helps you to be clear on what content you will translate and how you will translate it.
A well-designed content strategy can also help you avoid the potential pitfalls of translating into French and ensure you properly communicated your message to everyone.
By working with a good translation provider that understands both the Canadian and French markets, you can be confident that your content will work for both markets.