• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

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
Focus
French fighter jet deal: India 'a school of patience'
Rafale jets at an assembly hanger in Merignac, southwestern France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP

The less-than-supersonic sale of French Rafale fighter jets to India has highlighted the obstacles facing foreign arms firms seeking to do business with the world's biggest weapons importer.

Hollande vows to 'completely dismantle' Calais Jungle
French President Francois Hollande visiting a refugee centre in Tours. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP

President Francois Hollande has bowed to right-wing pressure and stepped up pledge to combat illegal migration.

First driverless minibus goes on trial in Paris
Gilbert Gagnaire, Director General of Easy Mile, poses in front of his driverless EZ10 minibus. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The French capital's transport authority will carry out its first test of a driverless minibus on Saturday.

Feature
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
Receptionist Ivan Lopez in his tiny "chambre de bonne". Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Thousands of Parisians round off a hard day's work with a trudge up six flights of stairs to a tiny, stuffy room they resignedly call home.

Former president Chirac still in hospital but wife home
Bernadette Chirac executes a deal at the French Stock Exchange on September 12. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Former French president Jacques Chirac remains in hospital in Paris but his wife Bernadette has now been discharged.

Pope holds multi-faith meeting with Nice victims
Pope Francis kisses a baby on arrival at his weekly audience in St Peter's Square. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/ AFP

Pope Francis will on Saturday hold a multi-faith meeting of grieving relatives and survivors of an attack in France in July when a jihadist ploughed his truck into a crowd in Nice.

Cameron school pal appointed UK ambassador to France
Ed Llewellyn has spent time in the European Commission. Photo: Gov.uk

Ed Llewellyn attended the Eton College at the same time as former PM David Cameron, and then served as his chief of staff throughout his eleven years as Conservative leader.

UK announces new ambassador to France
Photo: gov.uk

Meet Edward Llewellyn, the UK's new ambassador to France.

How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Photo: Marie/Flickr

Which stage of the assimilation process are you at?

Opinion - Integration
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Photo: AFP

Demands and laws to force immigrants to live, look, and think like the French are futile and damaging.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
Society
Bordeaux hospital ranked as best in France
National
France rolls out 'world's first' driverless buses
Society
15 things a Frenchwoman can do to feel more British
Culture
Every fact you need to know about France's 'départements'
2,730
jobs available