• France's news in English
 

'Protectionist' France has worst English in Europe

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.

“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.

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Surfers shun Réunion after shark attacks
Photo: Richard Bouhet/AFP

Surfers shun Réunion after shark attacks

Reunion, once a haven for surfers from around the world, has become a deadly black spot for the sport after a slew of shark attacks. READ  

French ship 'Hermoine' sails again
Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP

French ship 'Hermoine' sails again

A replica of the French navy frigate Hermione which brought General Lafayette to America to rally rebels fighting Britain in the US war of independence, will set sail for the United States again on Saturday, 235 years after the original crossing. READ  

Teens suspected of French website attacks
File photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

Teens suspected of French website attacks

READ  

Tête-a-tête - Tu versus vous
Isn't it time France scrapped tu and vous?
"Did you just say tu to me?" Photo: Shutterstock

Isn't it time France scrapped tu and vous?

Everyone who has ever lived in France knows all about the social minefield that is tu and vous - and that goes for the French too. The Local France’s editor Ben McPartland and French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis argue over whether it’s time to ditch the protocol. READ  

Racism in France
France unveils plan to fight 'intolerable' racism
The French government will reveal on Friday how it plans to tackle racism in France.Photo: AFP

France unveils plan to fight 'intolerable' racism

UPDATED: France’s top ministers, lead by the PM Manuel Valls, unveiled on Friday the country's new plan to tackle rising racism and anti-Semitism in the country. Incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have rocketed since January’s terror attacks. READ  

Huge blaze cuts Paris train link to CDG airport
Rail traffic to the Charles de Gaulle airport has been disrupted. Photo: AFP

Huge blaze cuts Paris train link to CDG airport

UPDATED: The RER B train line linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport was cut on Friday after thick black smoke from a huge fire filled the skies to the north of Paris. READ  

Visiting Paris
The weirdest objects you can see around Paris
Just one of the unusual things you can see around Paris. Photo: ollografik/Flickr

The weirdest objects you can see around Paris

From horned birds to pinched nipples, Paris has more than its share of wacky and offbeat objects to see. Join us as we take a closer look at some of the most unusual things you can find in the city's museums, shops... and even sewers, courtesy of the folks behind the Paris Pass sightseeing package. READ  

Metro whizzes through Paris with doors open
A Paris Metro hurtles through a tunnel with the doors open. Photo: Le Traineau/YouTube

Metro whizzes through Paris with doors open

Or at least that's what a video that has appeared on YouTube appears to show. The French capital's transport chiefs have launched an investigation. But is it real? READ  

When French tourists behave badly abroad
A quokka in western Australia. Photo: OzinOH/Flickr

When French tourists behave badly abroad

As two French tourists are fined for burning a small Australian mammal, we take a look at some of the worst examples of the French misbehaving abroad - including orgies in Pompeii to near-naked dancing in Roman fountains... READ  

US families of Holocaust victims sue SNCF
An SNCF train, stationed in northern France. Photo: Alfenaar/Flickr

US families of Holocaust victims sue SNCF

Descendants of Holocaust victims have filed a lawsuit in the US claiming France's national railway seized property of tens of thousands of Jews and others sent to Nazi concentration camps from France, according to court documents. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Sexual harassment rife on Paris trains
National
Marine Le Pen makes Time 'most influential' list
International
Torching animals to threesomes: French tourists behave badly abroad
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 exhibit
How the health reforms will change life in France
Gallery
Naked protests: The French love to take their clothes off to make a point
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Then and now - the site of the Alps plane crash
Travel
So why would anyone really want to live in Lille?
Opinion
Why the French should be very worried about new spying powers
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
Did a row over stolen veg lead to the murder of a British expat in France?
VIDEO: French rail chiefs SNCF furious after the Paris-Roubaix race
National
What does Zlatan think of his suspension?
Sport
What the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would look like
Culture
IN PICS: Take a look inside France's new 36,000 year-old tourist site
International
Did the Pope reject France's envoy to the Vatican because he was gay?
Cyberjihad: Hacking of French TV channel was 'a step up'
Politics
PROFILE: Jean-Marie Le Pen - France's far-right master provocateur
National
France's fatigued 'anti-terror' police resort to calling sick
National
Dipping baguette in a bowl of coffee! - French habits foreigners don't get
Strike latest: Scores of flights cancelled in France
Features
New Calais migrant camp 'the worst in Europe'
Society
ASK THE EXPERTS: So why are the French always on strike?
National
French air traffic control strike: Tourists face travel chaos
Culture
Which stars will land an invite to the Cannes Film Festival?
Technology
Paris holds film festival for blind cinema goers
National
Paris wants to triple its number of cyclists by 2020
National
Readers tell us of the joys of living in France's 'expat no-go zones'
Cannes Film Festival says no to red carpet selfies for 2015
Health
France to ban unlimited refills of soft drinks
National
Germanwings co-pilot 'searched suicide info'
The enclosed terraces of Paris cafés - where the smoking ban is ignored.
France's 'winter truce' has been called off, but what exactly is it?
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in April
National
Paris bistros crack down on loud tourists. Surely it's an April Fools
National
The key reforms of France's healthcare bill
National
Here's the place to get the best baguettes in Paris
More French pensioners head abroad to settle
Is it possible to make the most of fine food in Paris on a student budget?
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