• France's news in English
 

The French depression about speaking English

Published: 26 Sep 2013 18:15 GMT+02:00

Many Anglos living in France, especially those who have taught English, know all about the shaky confidence levels of the French when it comes to speaking the language of Shakespeare.

However, two new reports have shed light on how just how low their self-esteem around "l'Anglais" has tumbled.

According to data agency Eurostat, the French are the second most insecure in Europe after Italy about their levels of English. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Swedes topped the confidence table.

Eurostat carried out their survey to mark European Language Day, which revealed that when asked whether their level of English was "proficient", “good” or just “fair”, only 13 percent of French respondents believed they were proficient.

This downbeat self-appraisal was of no surprise to David Stenning, director of Interface Business Languages in Paris.

“The French are insecure about their English ability but I've seen it across all of southern Europe. It’s possibly a Latin thing.”

"Most Anglos, when they speak to French people, are happy to accept mistakes, but the French tend to be down on themselves and lacking in confidence. Really they just need to get over the initial hurdle and get on with it,” Stenning told The Local on Thursday.

Eurostat’s table of insecurity was backed up by another recent survey carried out in France by “1to1English”, which revealed that those in management positions in France have a poor grasp of English.

The survey showed that only 16 percent of managers, known as “cadres” in French, are at ease speaking English.

“There are clearly differences between generations. The younger generations are certainly better at speaking English and many managers and middle managers will be in their 40s, 50s and 60s. So that can play a role,” Stenning said.

And how can we explain the French gloominess towards their English language abilities? Well it’s all down to their schooling, believes Stenning.

“The French school system is built around negativity. There’s lots of telling pupils off and putting them down and in the end they come out of it believing they are bad at languages,” he said. “A lot of French people say that themselves.

“Part of our job is to help them see themselves in a better light,” he said.

Another theory that has been put forward in the past is that many French people still haven’t accepted that their own language has lost its influence at the expense of English.

Eurostat's data showed the dominance of English with a whopping 94 percent of upper secondary school students in the European Union choosing English as their second language, with French a distant second at 23 percent, and German at 21 percent. 

And there are even those who believe France would be a happier place all-round if the French accepted the hegemony of English and got on with improving their language skills.

Scientist Claudia Senik told The Local earlier this year the French would be less miserable if they spoke better English.

However one telling stastitic, most noticable by its absence is how well people in the UK view their own foreign language proficiency. Eurostat said the data was not available but did not explain why. Perhaps the answer is obvious.

Don't miss stories like this - join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French MPs approve boosting spying powers
Lawmakers in the Assembly National are set set to OK a controversial spy bill. Photo: AFP

French MPs approve boosting spying powers

French MPs gave the green light to a new law on Tuesday that grants the state sweeping powers to spy on its citizens despite criticism from rights groups that the bill is vague and intrusive. READ  

Uproar as French mayor 'counts Muslim children'
Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers in southern France. Photo: AFP

Uproar as French mayor 'counts Muslim children'

A French mayor backed by the far-right National Front was accused of racism on Tuesday after using the names of school children in his town to decide how many were Muslim. READ  

French female hacks slam lustful politicians
French journalist Tristane Banon who accused former French politician DSK of sexual assault. Photo: AFP

French female hacks slam lustful politicians

"Get your paws off me!" was the message from female French journalists to the country's lecherous male politicians on Tuesday when they published a petition denouncing sexism. READ  

Spying bill
Five dangers of France's new snooping laws
Protesters demonstrate in Paris against the government's controversial bill giving spies sweeping new surveillance powers. Photo: AFP

Five dangers of France's new snooping laws

French MPs are set to overwhelmingly give their backing to a bill that will grant intelligence services sweeping new surveillance powers in the name of fighting terrorism. Here are five reasons why opponents of the bill say we should all be concerned. READ  

French patient left blind after stomach operation
A court will determine if the hospital is guilty of medical malpractice. Photo: Monash/Flickr

French patient left blind after stomach operation

A woman who went to hospital for what was meant to be a routine stomach operation was left blind, with her family now suing for damages to the tune of €2 million. READ  

National Front feud
Le Pen: I don't want my daughter to be president
Jean-Marie Le Pen at the party's May Day rally. Photo: AFP

Le Pen: I don't want my daughter to be president

After being suspended by France's far-right National Front, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Tuesday hit back at its current leader, his daughter, saying it would be "scandalous" if she were to be elected president of France. READ  

Video reveals the dirty underbelly of Cannes
The scene below the sea in Cannes, southern France. Photo: Facebook/Screenshot

Video reveals the dirty underbelly of Cannes

An amateur diver has stolen the show a week ahead of the Cannes Film Festival's launch after he took a camera under the sea and showed the polluted wasteland that lurks beneath the surface of the French Riviera. READ  

France tells migrants 'forget UK and stay here'
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve meets migrants in Calais on Monday. Photo: AFP

France tells migrants 'forget UK and stay here'

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has urged the hundreds of migrants living in squalid make-shift camps in Calais to forget about going to the UK and seek asylum in France. READ  

France: Second patient dies in artificial heart trial
The artificial heart from Carmat. Photo: AFP

France: Second patient dies in artificial heart trial

The second person in France to receive a much-hyped new-generation artificial heart has died eight months after receiving the transplant, biomedical firm Carmat said Tuesday. READ  

National Front in crisis
Le Pen senior suspended from National Front
Jean-Marie Le Pen has been suspended from the party his daughter now leads. Photo: AFP

Le Pen senior suspended from National Front

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of France's far-right National Front was temporarily suspended from the party on Monday and he may yet lose his title as honorary president. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Five reasons we should be worried about France's new snooping laws
Politics
Why all the dodgy ties? A French view of the UK general election
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in May
National
French teen suicide after sex video web bullying
International
France bags another fighter jet deal but should Paris thank the US?
Migrant camps spring up in the heart of Paris
Culture
Only in France? Naked comedian stuns French culture minister
France launches bid to buy Europe's biggest and most spectacular dune
Business & Money
Why May 2015 is the best month in years to work in France
Five great outdoor bars in Paris to check out this summer
Society
French elevator protocol: Greeting, flirting and yes, even sex
National
France goes on the defensive after UN experts say 'racism is trivialised'
Double standards? French Muslim barred from class over long skirt
Travel
Getting from CDG airport to Paris by road should now be a lot quicker
International
The French don't seem to care about the UK election and that's normal
France may produce the most wine, but who drinks the most?
National
Why do the French have such a sorry record for recycling?
7Up row could see French language enforced on all flights to Canada
Culture
Take a peek inside France's newest, but oldest tourist attraction
National
How to disguise the fact you are clearly not French
France desperately hunts for church terror plot accomplices
WARNING - When in France use first names with caution
Can France really protect 4,500 churches around the country?
So what does the world's oldest bubbly taste like?
British expats left in lurch by NHS clampdown
Tossing cigarette butts in Paris to prompt €68 fines
Culture
Cannes Film Festival reveals jury
Flamanville: France's nuclear 'calamity' that has the UK worried
Features
Forget the Mona Lisa, here are the weirdest objects you can see in Paris
For many Britons 'Waterloo' is just an Abba song or a train station
IN PICTURES: See the French ship 'Hermione' set sail again for the US
Opinion
Is it time the French scrapped tu and vous?
National
Marine Le Pen makes Time 'most influential' list
National
Sexual harassment rife on Paris trains
Cannes Film Festival line-up revealed
National
Cartoonist's book slams 'Islamophobia swindlers'
National
More French women than men lured by Isis
Society
Les Entrepreneurs: We chat with the founder of Paris Picnic
National
Edith Piaf celebrated at Parisian show
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
How the health reforms will change life in France
Gallery
Naked protests: The French love to take their clothes off to make a point
Travel
Lille: France's most underrated city?
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

?>