• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'Protectionist' France has worst English in Europe

Ben McPartland · 12 Nov 2013, 17:53

Published: 12 Nov 2013 17:53 GMT+01:00

While most countries in the world are slowly improving their English proficiency skills, France is one ofthe few nations where standards are actually declining, a new study has revealed.

Despite the pressure on young French people to be fluent in English in order to find a job, the study by Education First, which tested the ability of 150,000 adults over five years, revealed that France is one of the few countries where standards have dipped.

The third EF English Proficiency Index by the international education company, ranked France 35th out of 60 countries where English is not the main language, putting it behind China, Taiwan and Italy and just ahead of the United Arab Emirates in the “low proficiency” grouping.

Most notably it was ranked last out of the European nations studied, falling behind the likes of Germany (14th) and Spain (23rd).

Perhaps unsurprisingly Sweden topped the league table ahead of Norway and the Netherlands.

“What makes the situation more remarkable is that most of Europe has either improved or already demonstrates consistently high English proficiency. France currently has the weakest English skills in Europe,” the study said.

Education First concludes that the decline cannot be blamed on obvious explanations such the amount of time French students spend studying English.

“Most French graduates have spent as much time studying English as other Europeans. English teachers in France have similar qualifications to those in most countries,” the report says.

Adeline Prevost, from the Paris office of Education First told The Local the main problem lies with France’s fear of losing its own culture and language.

“We need to be a bit less protective of our language. If you look at Sweden, they are number one in the world for English proficiency and they have the best of both worlds: they keep their own language and culture but they have a high level of English.

“The French have to understand that just because they are talking, reading or listening in English it doesn’t mean that we will kill our own language. Of course that won’t happen. This is the wrong mentality."

SEE ALSO: The French depression about speaking English

Prevost points to the recent uproar over a law to allow more courses to be taught in English at French universities. The proposal - which was voted into law in the summer - was designed to attract more foreign students to France, but many academics and politicians said it would lead to the “self-destruction” of French culture.

Although the Socialist government won the argument in this case and passed the law, Education First argues that over the years France’s soul-searching over how to deal with the dominance of English has held the country back.

“With debate in France still centered on whether or not English is a threat to French, most of Europe has already embraced English as an international tool. France, however, is on a strikingly different trajectory,” said the report.

Prevost argues that the overriding mentality of trying to protect Gallic culture has knock-on effects that harm the chances of French people learning English.

“French students are less exposed to English than in other countries. For example only 16 percent of films in French cinemas are in their original language. Most foreign films are still dubbed into French. We also have quotas for the number of French songs played on radio and for French programmes on TV.

“Even if we started having more foreign programmes with French subtitles, that would help a little,” Prevost adds.

French schools also to blame

Prevost also argues that one of the problems lies in the French school system.

“English is not really pushed in French schools and we also lack the resources compared to European neighbours, where there is a lot more technology, like “language labs”, made available to teach English.

“Young pupils learn English in primary schools, which is great, but often the teachers level of English is not high. They are qualified as primary teachers, not language teachers, so often their English is just basic.

Story continues below…

“It’s not that they don’t want to teach English, it’s just they find it difficult.”

The result is a decline in the level of French teenagers’ English proficiency with a 2012 study by the European Commission revealing French teens had weaker results than students of any other country tested despite having eight years of English lessons under their belts.

For Prevost the French government needs to lead from the front.

“The government needs to invest money to give students the opportunity to go abroad so they can see the importance of learning a language. They have to be aware that English is necessary now. Everyone needs to be able to understand basic English.

“Spain invested a lot of money to help their students go abroad and you can see the results as they have improved their level of English,” added Provost, who also warned  that if the government fails to act then the future job prospects of young French people could be harmed.

SEE ALSO: Ten embarrassing mistakes the French make in English

To see the study in full, which includes detailed reports on individual countries, CLICK HERE.

For more news from France, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French turning to web to find love (but they won't admit it)
Photo: AFP

French turning to web to find love (but they won't admit it)
2 minutes ago

A new survey shows the French are turning to dating apps more and more to find their lovers, although many won't admit it.

A French ministry for women, kids, cooking and cleaning?
Photo:AFP

A French ministry for women, kids, cooking and cleaning?
15 hours ago

You might as well have a ministry for "women, kids, cooking and cleaning", angry French feminists tell the government after the latest reshuffle.

Facebook vs France
Facebook to face trial in France over nude painting
THe Gustave Courbet painting "The Origin of the World" Is it art or pornography? Photo: AFP

Facebook to face trial in France over nude painting
16 hours ago

Is it art or pornography? A huge row over the posting on Facebook of a famous painting of female genitalia will be thrashed out in a French court after a landmark ruling on Friday.

IN IMAGES: Bordeaux floods after heavy rain in south west
Photo: Laure Urbano/twitter

IN IMAGES: Bordeaux floods after heavy rain in south west
17 hours ago

See what happens when the mighty Garonne river bursts its banks in Bordeaux on Friday.

France fires warning to Britain over eurozone veto
David Cameron and Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP

France fires warning to Britain over eurozone veto
19 hours ago

France warned Britain on Friday it could not expect to win veto powers over closer integration of the eurozone single currency area in talks on its own future in the EU.

Revealed: The real romantic spots in Paris
Photo: Flickr/Damien Roué

Revealed: The real romantic spots in Paris
19 hours ago

If you had to pick the most romantic spot in Paris, which would it be? See what a group of Paris-based writers went for when we asked them.

France says it's time to move migrants from Calais camp
Photo: AFP

France says it's time to move migrants from Calais camp
20 hours ago

France says "the time has come" to evacuate around half of the jungle migrant camp in Calais

Valentine's Day no-go zones
Paris: The no-go zones for singles on Valentine's Day
"Love is dead". How should singles approach Paris? Photo: Shutterstock

Paris: The no-go zones for singles on Valentine's Day
20 hours ago

Paris is going to be overrun with smooching couples this weekend, so if you're single you need to know where to avoid.

Paris attacks
DNA tests suggest unknown Paris attacker still at large

DNA tests suggest unknown Paris attacker still at large
22 hours ago

Up until now everyone presumed the suicide bomb vest dumped in a bin to the south of Paris was that of France's public enemy number one Salah Abdeslam. But DNA tests suggest an unidentified terrorist is at large.

VIDEO
See what became of this idyllic Normandy tourist resort
Photo: Andia & Alpaca Productions

See what became of this idyllic Normandy tourist resort
23 hours ago

It was meant to be a series of beachside villas and a resort - so how did it become a ghost village where street-artists have taken over?

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
Lifestyle
Forget the EIffel Tower - Revealed: The real romantic spots in Paris
Sponsored Article
Back to Boho chic: Win your new season wardrobe
DNA tests on bomb vest suggest unknown Paris attacker still at large
Gallery
Ten expat complaints about their French lovers
Gallery
French expressions for having sex you won't find in your dictionary
What happened to liberté, égalité, fraternité in France?
'France just isn't what it was and it needs guns,' says Donald Trump
Features
Notre-Dame-des-Landes: Does France really need a new airport?
National
France's deadliest coach crashes since 1973
Business & Money
Champagne and cognac lead record French alcohol exports
Politics
Scandals and deals: Fabius bows out (but he won't be short of cash)
Society
The English called 'barbarians' after this 'massacre' of French crepes
National
This terrifying video shows why you should avoid the sea during a storm
Lifestyle
A closer look at the 11 different American expats you'll meet in France
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is a great place to work
Politics
Why France is unlikely to force UK to move border back home
Society
The French foods you need to eat (in moderation) to stay healthy
Lifestyle
So where do all the Americans live in France and where do they avoid?
Public warned as gale force winds and giant waves lash the French coastline
Lifestyle
How Paris plans to become a 'model' of cleanliness - that's not a joke
Only in France - Pig's entrails, cheese and steak sold in vending machines
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
3,440
jobs available