French worst English speakers in Europe
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.
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