• 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
Paris bistros crack down on loud-mouthed tourists
Photo: Zoetnet/Flickr

Paris bistros crack down on loud-mouthed tourists

Numerous cafes and bistros across the City of Light have signed up to a provocative campaign aimed at cracking down on loud-mouthed foreign tourists, claiming they're ruining "the sophistication of the Paris dining experience". READ  

Hollande plans reforms after election debacle
France's President Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP

Hollande plans reforms after election debacle

The French government, smarting from a crushing local elections defeat, is to speed up its reform plan in a bid to jump-start the country’s flagging economy. READ  

The key reforms of France's healthcare bill
Here's what you need to know about France's new healthcare bill. Photo: AFP

The key reforms of France's healthcare bill

As part of controversial healthcare reforms presented to French Parliament on Tuesday, France is taking aim at everything from smoking to doctor's fees. Here are eight things you need to know about the new bill. READ  

French MP copy-pastes Wikipedia for new bill
MP Valérie Boyer in 2013. Photo: AFP

French MP copy-pastes Wikipedia for new bill

A French MP has been ridiculed after she was found to have copy-pasted large chunks of text from Wikipedia in her proposal for a new law. The bungling deputy even left in the index numbers. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Crash victims could be identified by week's end
A huge recovery operation is underway at the crash site to try and identify the bodies of the victims.

Crash victims could be identified by week's end

All the bodies on the doomed Germanwings flight that crashed in the Alps one week ago could be identified by the end of the week, the French President said on Tuesday. READ  

La Question du Jour
So what exactly is France's 'winter truce'?
A homeless man in Paris. Photo: AFP

So what exactly is France's 'winter truce'?

Don't be surprised if you see more homeless people out on the streets of French cities from Wednesday onwards. April 1st marks the beginning of "eviction season" in France and the end of the "winter truce". The Local explains more. READ  

Prostitutes furious as Senate bans soliciting
Sex workers at a protest in Paris are against the new bill. Photo: AFP

Prostitutes furious as Senate bans soliciting

French lawmakers have scrapped a plan to hit clients of prostitutes with hefty fines and instead reinstated a controversial law that sees the sex-workers themselves liable to financial penalties and prison sentences if they are caught selling sex. They were blasted as "regressive" by the health minister. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
New road opens up to crash site in French Alps
Trucks carrying specialist air crash investigators set off for the crash site by road. Photo: AFP

New road opens up to crash site in French Alps

The grim search through debris and body parts at the crash site of the doomed Germanwings plane in the French Alps was made easier on Tuesday with trucks able to access the area via a new and hastily built road. READ  

Studying in France: what you need to know
France is home to 300,000 foreign students. Photo: Simone Ramella/Flickr

Studying in France: what you need to know

France is one of the most popular study destinations in the world, with nearly 300,000 foreign students. Relatively low tuition fees and the chance to live in France are certainly appealing, but France’s confusing higher education system can be frustrating to navigate. READ  

Blog: Student life in Paris
How to 'fine dine' in Paris on a student budget
Picnics are a sure-fire way to save a euro or two. Photo: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr

How to 'fine dine' in Paris on a student budget

Paris is world renowned for its fine dining culture - but what about the poor hard-up students who can't afford to scoff at the top tables in town? International student Deirdre McAteer explains how to tighten the purse strings but still eat well in the French capital. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Is it possible to make the most of fine food in Paris on a student budget?
Travel
Everything (well 12 things) you didn't know about the Eiffel Tower
Who were the winners and losers in France's local elections?
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in April
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
Paris: France mulls lifting ban on casinos
Does low cost mean low safety? Questions after Germanwings crash
Gallery
IN PICTURES: A timeline of the Alps plane crash
National
Where in La Belle France do British expats avoid?
National
IN PICTURES: 'Tide of the century' draws tens of thousands
National
Paris ends smog-fighting restrictions as the air finally clears
National
The main mistakes made by French property buyers
National
International French Language day: But what does the future hold?
National
IN PICTURES: What went on behind the clouds during Friday's eclipse
National
French food porn: What is the Gallic grub that goes viral the most?
Culture
France treated to rare Northern Lights show
Politics
Shady candidates undermine French far-right's election bid once again
Politics
French minister takes a swipe at overuse of Franglais in workplace
French gastronomy set for global charm offensive
French newspaper stuns readers with porn film pics on front page
Sport
The reasons why Zlatan Ibrahimovic might really think France is s**t
National
France could soon ban skinny models from catwalks
Health
Is France's much-envied health care system under threat?
National
There are jobs in France where you don't need to speak French
National
New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up
Education
Paris universities on the up in new rankings
Sport
We meet one of the most entertaining footballers in France
National
New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up
Features
Forget Paris. Is Bordeaux the best place to live in France?
Travel
Runaway plane mows down skier on the slopes of French Alps
Society
Friday 13th: A look at France's superstitions
Culture
France is ready to end its stubborn resistance to the English language
Features
'Hedgehog' and other words that French people simply can't say
Society
The worst 'nightmares' of living in France (written by a Frenchman)
Health
French hospitals crisis: 'It's like the UK under Margaret Thatcher'
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in France
VIDEO: Footage emerges of the moment two helicopters collided
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Helicopter crash kills 10, including French sports stars
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in March
New French rail strike: RER B and regional trains to be worst hit
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