French bottom of the class for English fluency

French ‘bottom of the class’ for English fluency

JOSEPH BOYLE

The French rank the lowest in the EU for proficiency in speaking English, according to an annual survey.

France came 29th overall in the list of 72 countries where English is not the principal spoken language, compiled by teaching firm Education First (EF).

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The report said language teaching in France did not focus closely enough on communication. (Photo: LtDrogo)

But in the mini-league of 19 EU states included in the survey, France came bottom. Much poorer EU countries such as Romania (20) and Bulgaria (24) outdid the French.

At the other end of the scale, the Dutch knocked the Swedes off their perch as the world’s best non-native speakers of English.

But the report’s authors said the notion of a north-south divide in language proficiency was a myth.

Instead, they highlighted the strides taken by countries in the north, central and east, but criticised the major Latin nations.

“Rather than a geographic rift in English proficiency levels, our data indicate a more subtle linguistic lag in countries with Latinate languages,” they wrote.

“The three largest European economies with Romance languages as their primary national languages France, Italy, and Spain show English proficiency levels at or below the European average.”

Not leading by example

EF said Italy (28) and Spain (25) had made “modest improvements”, but they were particularly critical of the teaching and attitudes towards learning in France.

“Teaching methods in France do not emphasise the development of communication skills, and people have little exposure to English in everyday life,” said the report.

“In addition, the idea of ‘Americanisation’ has influenced the public debate on foreign language education policies in the country, complicating practical conversations about teaching by bringing in the emotionally charged issue of national identity.”

Language has long been a touchy subject for French politicians, keen to preserve their language and traditions.

In 2013, Jean-Marc Ayrault, then the prime minister, publicly rebuked his staff for speaking too much English despite his education minister trying to overhaul language teaching in the classroom and admitting that the French were particularly bad at English.

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Joseph Boyle is a regular contributor to EUobserver

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