James Bay Road website

You Don't Speak French?

The James Bay Road and region lie within the province of Quebec in Canada. The main language spoken in Quebec is French. In some places no English is spoken at all! But if you don't speak French don't let that stop you from visiting Quebec!

In the James Bay region the native Cree people speak English and their native language, Cree. In fact, some know very little English. Many of them do not speak French at all. However, the non-Cree people speak French, and many of them speak very little or no English.

There are stories of non-French speaking travellers in Quebec getting the cold shoulder from the French-speaking residents. However, I have found in my travels in Quebec that if you make at least an attempt at speaking French, or apologise for not knowing French, that you will not run into many problems.

Here are some tips on how to get by in Quebec as a non-French speaker:

  • Make an effort to try to say what you want in French. Even if your French is bad, it's better than nothing, and the people will appreciate the effort.
  • Apologise for not knowing French. If you can't say that in French, then at least saying so in English is better than nothing. But you need to be genuinely apologetic.
  • Learn some basic phrases in French, such as thank you, please, I'm sorry but my French is very poor, and so on.
  • Utilise sign language to supplement your French phrases. For example, to ask for a fillup at a gas station, gesture with your hand "up", while saying "fill up" (or even better, the French for that) politely.
  • Attitude: remember that you're in Quebec, and the main language used there is French. Don't expect the people who live there to speak English. You're the visitor in their homeland, not them.

Here are some common French language words you will come across on signs as you travel through Quebec:

French English
nord, est, sud, ouest north, east, south, west
chemin road
rue street
lentement slow
access interdit entry prohibited, do not enter
arrt stop
vers to
vitesse speed
information touristique tourist information
dépanneur variety store
magasin store
épicerie variety store
a vendre for sale
rivière river
lac lake
nuit night
ouvert open
fermé closed
gaz gasoline
essence fuel
Sureté de Québec Police
un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten
sentier trail


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