French worst English speak­ers in Europe

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By David Chazan in Paris

AS MANY Bri­tish vis­i­tors to France have learnt to their dis­may, if you ask a lo­cal, “Par­lez-vous anglais?”, the an­swer is of­ten “Non”.

Such a re­sponse, per­haps ac­com­pa­nied by a dis­mis­sive Gal­lic shrug, may prompt the ap­pear­ance on the trav­eller’s face of what the au­thor PG Wode­house de­scribed as “the shifty hang­dog look that an­nounces that an English­man is about to speak French”.

Bri­tons have never been renowned for their mas­tery of French – or in­deed any other for­eign lan­guage – but a new rank­ing shows that our his­tor­i­cal ri­vals and clos­est neigh­bours have lit­tle to crow about when it comes to their com­mand of English.

The English Pro­fi­ciency In­dex, a sur­vey of coun­tries with­out English as a na­tional lan­guage, puts France in 35th place – be­hind the Philip­pines, South Korea and Le­banon.

The in­dex, com­piled by Ed­u­ca­tion First, a lan­guage train­ing com­pany, ranks the French as the worst English speak­ers in western Europe while Swe­den comes out top.

Chris­tian Mon­lord, a French­man and con­fer­ence in­ter­preter, said the re- sults did not sur­prise him. “French used to be the lan­guage of diplo­macy, and it is still a big in­ter­na­tional lan­guage, so many French peo­ple still take the at­ti­tude that oth­ers should speak their lan­guage,” said Mr Mon­lord, 75.

An­other rea­son why the French are lag­ging be­hind in learn­ing English may be a feel­ing that the world’s lin­gua

‘I think there are many kids in school who don’t un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is to speak English’

franca is creep­ing into daily life in France, threat­en­ing the very sur­vival of the lan­guage of Voltaire.

English ex­pres­sions are in­creas­ingly used by French speak­ers, even if their over­all level of spo­ken English may not be good.

Ed­u­ca­tion First says: “The preser­va­tion of the French lan­guage has al­ways been the main pri­or­ity in the coun­try. Every time English is per­ceived as a threat to na­tional lan­guages, the level of com­pe­tency in English suf­fers.”

Parisians speak the best English in France, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, but it places the cap­i­tal 25th among in­terna- tional cities be­hind Shang­hai, Buenos Aires and Sofia, the cap­i­tal of Bul­garia.

Ade­line Prévost of Ed­u­ca­tion First sug­gested that the French lack ex­po­sure to English, point­ing out that Hol­ly­wood block­busters tend to be dubbed into French. “Be­cause French is a widely spo­ken lan­guage, we get trans­la­tions with­out a prob­lem. In other coun­tries, for ex­am­ple Swe­den, where the lan­guage is not spo­ken around the world, trans­la­tions from English are not avail­able so eas­ily so peo­ple have more ex­po­sure to English.”

Many French peo­ple also blame for­eign lan­guage teach­ing in schools.

Teach­ers say they are try­ing to place more em­pha­sis on con­ver­sa­tional English, but they are of­ten lim­ited by a lack of re­sources, es­pe­cially in small towns and ru­ral ar­eas.

Damien Gabriel, 29, said chil­dren and their par­ents were also to blame. “I think there are many kids in school who don’t un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is to speak English,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to a Euro­barom­e­ter re­port in 2012, 39 per cent of France’s pop­u­la­tion speak English. An­other sur­vey pub­lished by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in­di­cated that 38 per cent of Bri­tons speak a for­eign lan­guage.

‘Dog-meat farm­ers are in­creas­ingly keen to exit the trade due to dwin­dling prof­its and fam­ily pres­sure’

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