Here are 10 (mostly) free ways to learn French in Montréal

Go beyond your daily "merci" with the local barista to explore the diverse range of official and unofficial French courses in this bilingual city.
(Credit: Getty Images)

This article was originally published April 4, 2018.

Are you thinking of moving to Montréal without a word of French? You've probably heard a few friendly warnings: despite being a bilingual city, living and working here will require at least basic French skills. Knowing how to read a menu and ask for the bathroom with confidence are good first steps, but they just won't cut it in the long-run. Maybe you've already tried the "quick and easy" apps like Duolingo, or the more expensive options like Rosetta Stone... or perhaps you've whiled away hours watching French cartoons on YouTube (old episodes of The Simpsons are great for training the ear), or re-reading your favourite books (Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers, anyone?).

Whatever your cheapskate methods have been in the past, there's just no replacing a good old-fashioned curriculum. Lucky for you, the language-obsessed government of Quebec puts a lot of effort and money into teaching newcomers how to speak French, and as a result there are plenty of avenues for free learning. Local clubs and meetups also cater to those more socially adventurous among us, no matter your skill level. Here are our top 10 (mostly) free ways to learn French in Montréal.

The Language Laboratory at the BaNQ (FREE)

Yes! A library! The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) is free to join for residents of Montréal and offers a mind-bogglingly diverse array of services. Members have access to the Language Laboratory, which has 20 computer workstations available with language-learning programs like Mango Languages, Rosetta Stone, Tout Apprendre and Learning Express installed, as well as the Ministry of Immigration French courses. Once you have an account with the BaNQ, you can even access these apps from home! Libraries are so cool.

Conversation Exchange (FREE)

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The Craigslist of language learning, Conversation Exchange, is beautifully socialist if not entirely reliable. The goal is to match native-speakers of different languages together so that their conversations can switch back and forth, giving both people a chance to practice. CE acts as a third-party listing, facilitating in-person exchanges, pen-pals, and online conversations. Matches aren't limited to English and French; if you speak Persian, Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic (or anything else), you're likely to find someone interested in a trade. I wouldn't advise this method unless you're an outgoing person and serious about practising, as it's easy for the conversation to settle on one language unless both participants are diligently switching.

Ministry of Immigration — Classroom Courses (FREE)

The Ministry of Immigration really (really) wants you to learn French when you move to Quebec. Sure, the "language-police" get a bad rap, but if you're willing to overlook their questionable conversion tactics, the French classes they offer are the best deal in town. The Ministry funds free in-person intensive, full-time, part-time, and occupation-specific training courses, with additional financial aid available for anyone with accessibility issues (do you need a babysitter or a bus pass in order to attend?). If you're serious about learning French right away, the Ministry programs should be your first stop.

Ministry of Immigration — Digital Courses (FREE)

The Quebec Ministry of Immigration also offers online French courses for registered immigrants, whether or not they've arrived in the province yet. There are two learning formats available: self-training modules, and tutor-led classes. The online courses are completely free and available to immigrants who haven't yet attended 1800 hours-worth of other Ministry of Immigration French classes. (Though honestly, if you get through 1800 hours and still need help, maybe it's time to branch out.)

Mundo Lingo (FREE)

Mundo Lingo is a non-profit organization that hosts free, casual language-exchange events in Montréal and around the world. One language is chosen per event as the 'primary', ensuring that all in attendance get a fully immersive experience. All events are staffed and take place at different venues around the city. These are a great option for newcomers interested in making friends, Francophone or otherwise!

Explore Bursary Program (FREE)

(Source: Facebook/jexplore.myexplore)

Explore is a five-week intensive French-immersion bursary program available to current students and very recent graduates. It's basically an allowance for French summer-camp. Explore participants are awarded $2,200 for tuition fees, instructional materials, meals, activities, and accommodation at participating institutions (of which there are many across Canada). Awardees are chosen via random draw, so this shouldn't be the only program you apply for.

Meetup Montréal (FREE)

Ahhh Meetup. It may be hit-or-miss, but it's free and easy to use. To those uninitiated, Meetup is a third-party platform that allows users to host events and search for like-minded participants. There are many, many language-exchange groups in Montréal with most focusing on either English or French. Once you get your bearings, you may even want to try hosting an event yourself (Meetup will charge a listing fee, though it's free to participate).

Commission Scolaire de Montréal (PAID)

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The Commission Scolaire de Montréal runs a variety of French courses across the island through participating institutions, offering day and evening options on a part-time or full-time basis. Their website is, unfortunately, quite terrible, but the programs are relatively cheap at around $75 per course. Once you know which location makes the most sense for you, contact the school directly for updated information.

YES Montreal (PAID)

Job-seekers in need of specific work-related French classes should check out the 4-week course offered by Youth Employment Services. The lesson plan is specifically designed for students with a basic knowledge of the French language, with an emphasis placed on improving conversational skills in a business context. The classes cost $75 and include cover letter and job interview workshops. (While you're at it, check out all the other amazing paid-and-free programs YES has to offer.)

YMCA French Courses (PAID)

The YMCA offers a wide variety of French courses depending on availability and skill level. The intensive program is perhaps their best deal for newcomers, offering conversational, reading-writing, business French, and TFI prep. Each session lasts 4 weeks (100 hours in-class) and costs $1,216-$1,080 depending on where you are in the curriculum. Financial assistance exists for those under 17, and foreign students receive full membership to their downtown gym while enrolled in a language course.

Chloe Rose Stuart-Ulin is a Montréal-based journalist and editor. Her work has appeared in Ha'aretz, CBC, Lilith, Maclean's, and The Garden Statuary. Follow her @chloerosewrites.