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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Could German language be forgotten in France?

The German ambassador to France has met the education minister to air her concerns about the decline of German language classes for French students, as new reforms threaten to push the language to a fourth option.

Could German language be forgotten in France?
Students in Strasbourg, eastern France. Photo: AFP
The German Ambassador to France Suzanne Wasum-Rainer met with Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem on Monday night for "extensive discussions" about the number of students in France learning the German language, reported Le Figaro newspaper
 
At the heart of the matter is a slew of education reforms that are on the table in France which would see a shift in the way younger children are taught second and third languages. 
 
The reforms, which are scheduled to take effect in September next year, include measures for pupils to start learning their second foreign language at the age of 12, one year earlier than they currently do.
 
This extra time spent on a new language could mean that cuts are made elsewhere, which would likely mean a removal of "bilingual" or "international" classes.
 

(Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Photo: AFP)
 
And as many pupils opt for English as their number one choice of a second language, and often prefer Spanish as the easiest third alternative – the Germans are worried their language will be forgotten.
 
Ever since the 1963 treaty, France and Germany have both worked to teach each other's languages in schools as part of a reconciliation programme, and the bilingual classes have been seen as a strong part of this tradition.
 
Vallaud-Belkacem has argued these classes are generally reserved for "elite" students, reported Le Figaro, and that she wanted second languages to be accessible "for everyone".
 
Ambassador Wasum-Rainer, however, is not alone when it comes to the concern of the bilingual classes being scrapped.
 
Joachim Umlauf, the head of the Goethe Institute which promotes the study of the German language abroad, has slammed the reforms and said that learning German in France has about the same priority as growing orchids
 
Fifty-nine MPs who are part of a Franco-German unity group also signed a letter for the education minister outlining their own worries on the matter.
 
While the outcome of their discussions remains unknown for now, Vallaud-Belkacem is adamant that it's time to deal with a disparity in French schools. She said recently that France's high school education system (collège) is "doing badly" and pupils' results are deteriorating, 
 
"The problem with French high school pupils today is that they are bored. We need to reawaken their appetite," she said at the time. 
 
Her reforms aim especially to address the issues of children who are falling behind, in an effort to change what some have referred to as France's elitist school curriculum. 
 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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