• France's news in English
 

The French depression about speaking English

The Local/AFP · 26 Sep 2013, 18:15

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.

Story continues below…

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
France kicks off Six Nations amid tight security
France's rugby union team captain Guilhem Guirado. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

France kicks off Six Nations amid tight security
8 minutes ago

France and Italy kick-off the Six Nations on Saturday under a massive security operation as international sport returns to Paris's Stade de France for the first time since suicide bombers targeted the city on November 13.

First French 'neutral gender' defends 'being genderless'
Photo: Whitecatsg/Flickr

First French 'neutral gender' defends 'being genderless'
16 hours ago

The first French person to be given the designation "neutral gender" appeared in court on Friday to testify in an appeal of the decision.

And the 'Liar of the year' award goes to Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen. Photo: AFP

And the 'Liar of the year' award goes to Marine Le Pen
17 hours ago

National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been voted as the "biggest liar" of 2015. But why?

Only in France - pig's entrails sold in vending machines
Photo: Kent Wang/ FLickr

Only in France - pig's entrails sold in vending machines
18 hours ago

As Paris gets its first automatic meat dispenser it seems "Only in France" could you buy bread, cheese, steak and pig's intestines from 24-hour street vending machines.

Calais: UN slams 'appalling' conditions for migrant kids
Children in the Jungle camp in Calais. Photo: AFP

Calais: UN slams 'appalling' conditions for migrant kids
20 hours ago

This time it's the United Nations that has blasted France for the conditions at Calais.

Americans in France
Where do Americans choose to live (or avoid) in France?
Photo: AFP

Where do Americans choose to live (or avoid) in France?
20 hours ago

Can you guess which region in France only 55 Americans call home?

How Paris plans to become a 'model' of cleanliness - really
The Canal Saint Martin area of Paris that has been plagued by litter problems. Photo: AFP

How Paris plans to become a 'model' of cleanliness - really
22 hours ago

Yes, you read that right.

State of Emergency
Emergency powers 'helped foil a terror attack': French PM
Photo: AFP

Emergency powers 'helped foil a terror attack': French PM
22 hours ago

The French PM defended the ongoing state of emergency in France on Friday claiming that the sweeping powers helped them foil a terror attack.

Airbnb hands over €1.2 million in tourist tax to Paris coffers
Photo: AFP

Airbnb hands over €1.2 million in tourist tax to Paris coffers
23 hours ago

Airbnb moves to appease critics by handing over €1.2 million in tourist taxes to Paris City Hall.

Unique French ski resort runs on old slag heap
Photo: AFP

Unique French ski resort runs on old slag heap
1 day ago

France's busy little ski resort of Noeux-les-Mines is also its most unusual. It has no mountains, no snow, runs all year round and is built on a decades-old slag heap.

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
Travel
Wait... that's not snow! Check out France's most unique ski slope
Culture
Don't panic, France isn't bidding a final adieu to the circumflex
Culture
VIDEO: UK group performs Shakespeare for Calais refugees
National
France cuts more red tape: E.G. No license needed to collect horse's sperm
Gallery
How France could really simplify the French language (for us learners)
Culture
Say good bye to 'oignon': How 2,400 French words will get new spellings
Sport
US calls on French help to prevent 'Paris-style' attack at Super Bowl
Culture
Betty Blue star Béatrice Dalle says she ate a dead man's ear (while on acid)
Analysis & Opinion
It's no surprise the French are losing faith in Hollande's war on terror
Culture
What's on: Here are 10 great things to do in France in February
Culture
The 300-metre monument Paris could have had instead of the Eiffel Tower
How a drunken stunt with a mattress on an Alps ski slope ended in tragedy
Culture
Chandeleur - The day the French get superstitious
Culture
Did fear of losing success drive top French chef to commit suicide?
See what changes in France from February 1st
Culture
'S**t! B**lox!'- Ramsay sees Versailles restaurant lose star
Lifestyle
Le Chandeleur: Why do the French eat crêpes on February 2nd?
Culture
Mad Max director to head Cannes Film Festival jury
National
'And what if your daughter married a Muslim?' - Survey shocks France
Features
Are these really 'the only streets in Paris' you need to go to?
Culture
Is the Michelin guide worth the paper it's written on?
Society
VIDEO: See the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris in 1926
Society
Is this the simple solution for Brits stressed out by driving in France?
3,534
jobs available