Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The French are still the worst students in the English class

Yes yes, I know, my French is better than my photographic skills
That is the sober conclusion of a recent study carried out in 54 countries by EF Education First, an international  company which specialises in language training and related activities. The study, details of which were reported by Le Figaro, comes hard on the heels of similar results published by by the OECD and administrators of the TOEFL test. Yes, mes amis français, vous êtes mauvais, voire très mauvais, en anglais.

Unsurprisingly, Scandinavian countries top the list but France is one of the also-rans, including on a European scale where it is in a disastrous 23rd place. Worse, although the French language shares both Latin and Greek influences with English, countries like South Korea, Pakistan and Japan obtained better results.

Parisians are the best English speakers in France, and those from Lower Normandy the worst, that which puts them on about the same level as Peru.

The study notes that the French "do not seem to have integrated the importance of being able to speak English in a world which is becoming ever more globalised" and adds that these poor results "represent an obstacle for adults in terms of access to European and International markets" and that "the strong disinclination of the French to learning English is leading France to a classification in language levels which is lower than most of its neighbours. This mistrust in English may well threaten the economic performance of France in this difficult period."

The French education system is said to be largely responsible for this alarming situation and that "they put an emphasis on grammar and literature at the expense of the ability to communicate [...] The French are proud of the historic role that their language and culture have played around the world. France sees English as a form of individualism similar to capitalism in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in the United Kingdom. The English language is seen as being suspect because of this association."

It is very hard not to agree with these findings and my own experiences bear them out. I have even seen teachers refuse to teach English to younger children if they have the choice between teaching it and other languages because they are 'sick of being invaded by English and Anglosaxon culture.' The French education system is outdated and ineffective, as I wrote here, and the manner in which English is taught is unbelievably bad. The French language is taught as if only grammar and literature were important and students are not encouraged to create or to learn effective oral communication skills. This disastrous approach has been adopted vis-à-vis English and it is clearly not working.

But all is not yet lost. Britain and its culture are becoming increasingly popular among young French people and they seem to speak better English than was the case even ten years ago. Some French cable TV stations are beginning to broadcast English-language films in English with French subtitles and sales of books in English are slowly rising.

If I were to write a school report on France's English studies it would read something like "France must make more effort. An intelligent country, it is capable of much better results than this. More concentration and application will be necessary if France is to be successful later on in life."

Marks - 3/10 and must write 500 lines of 'I must improve my level in English.'

Class dismissed, you may leave.


  1. Fascinating and funny Frip,this is my field and have to say a few of these observations could be made of Turks and the Turkish way of teaching English but-as yet-not the hostility towards cultural corruption..
    Actually reckon Turkey would be much higher up the league.
    You do make me laugh with the school your blog available in French by the way? Have a good evening,Ruth.

    1. 'Evenin Ruth, and I don't know about yer' average Turkish citizen but I'll bet a bottle that Turkish businessmen, like those in many other countries in the Mideast moreover (yup, Turkey happens to be a Mideast country for me, not a European one) speak much better English than their French counterparts. Working with French business executives in connection with English for many years has shown me that they really do have major problems with communicating in English.

      I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. In fact the study conclusions say the same thing - that even were France to start getting serious about teaching and learning English tomorrow the results wouldn't be felt for years to come.

      Oh, and as to my blog being available in French, it isn't I'm afraid. If only because my irreverent writing style wouldn't translate very well into la langue de Molière... :)