The French really don't like speaking English
"Je suis nul en anglais, désolé!"
I arrived here in Laval, France 9 months ago. 9 months in which I got to know and love an incredible number of new people and in which I was allowed to get a taste of the French way of life and culture. The more time you spend in a foreign country with locals, the more peculiarities and specific behaviors become apparent. It was the same for me, I noticed a lot over the course of time - most of it was also drawn to my attention by my French friends.
Of course, in Germany (and not only here, I'm sure) you know the “typical” image of the French with a beret on his head, a striped shirt, a mustache, a cigarette in his mouth and a baguette under his arm. The film and music industries have, in my opinion, been a major influence on this image and continue to do so. Ever since I've seen films like “La vie en rose” or “Midnight in Paris”, I can't get the image of the street musician playing the harmonica and wearing a beret out of my head. When I was in Paris for the first time in October, I also got a hat from a subway shop - you want to feel the Parisian flair. Well, stupid that I was so far the only person on the street who actually wore this typical headgear. Well, I've already seen a few other people (non-French people, as it turned out when you listened more closely). So more typically touristy than typically French!
English? No thanks! The hat wearers talked in English, so it wasn't particularly difficult to make out that they were tourists. And that brings us to a prejudice that has unfortunately come true again and again: Unfortunately, many French people can speak very little or no English at all. In general, there is a huge lack of interest in foreign languages. At least as far as my experience is concerned. A 2015 study by Education First found the following:
“France came in 29th out of 72 countries in which the English language skills of a total of 950,000 adults were tested in 2015. Only non-EU countries performed worse than the hexagon; Iraq brings up the rear, followed by Libya and Laos. In an intra-French comparison, the south - the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region - ranks fourth from bottom. English is spoken even worse only in Brittany and in the centrally located regions of Center-Val-de-Loire and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. In the comparison of cities, Toulon holds the red lantern: among the nine major cities compared, the capital of the Var takes last place - ahead of Nice and Marseille. The comparison was won by Bordeaux before Lille and Paris. " (Source: http://www.riviera-press.fr/zeit/content/so-schlecht-rechen-franzosen-tats%C3%A4chlich-englisch)
When I tell you that I speak German, French and English, my eyes widen each time. And then a little bit of Spanish- ah la vache! To be honest, the fact that English is such a huge problem here surprised me and also makes me a little sad, especially since I know about some of the backgrounds. Most of my French friends here are students at the prestigious ESTACA or ESIA University in Laval and have a very good level of English (much better than mine). Unfortunately, they only belong to a small part of the French population who have a really good command of the English language. Evelina and I have often asked ourselves why the French school system is failing here (sorry to have to say that!).
But why is it?
Unlike Spanish or Italian, for example, English is not one of the Romance languages that are easier for the French to learn due to their similar vocabulary or pronunciation. For many French people, the English pronunciation (especially the “th” or the “h”) is quite a problem, they are afraid of making mistakes, of being able to hear their accent too much, and therefore prefer not to use English at all speak. Not a good idea. Having an accent isn't a bad thing, and being afraid of having one or making mistakes while speaking shouldn't be an obstacle to learning a new language. But it still does in France.
Another problem is that in English lessons the focus tends to be on the written work - a lot of essays are written, but comparatively little English is spoken. So it is of course no wonder that there is a lack of pronunciation and that the students are not particularly self-confident when it comes to speaking English. Interest in the English language is rather limited. Too difficult, too little used in everyday life. English is the world's number one language and is spoken by over 1500 million people worldwide! Even if you travel to a country without mastering the local language, you can get astonishingly far with English! I am of course aware that I cannot speak for the general public here, but I have nevertheless noticed that many French people like to stay in their comfort zone, their country and, compared to other countries, travel abroad less often. The language barrier is probably a crucial point.
Hope for the future?
I really didn't think that this stubborn prejudice of the non-English speaking French would come true. Will the interest in English increase and the fear of speaking decrease? In my opinion, a school reform would have to be necessary to make English teaching in schools more attractive and English teaching more active (in terms of speaking). English films, series, games in class, greater emphasis on oral participation, stays abroad, etc.: There are so many ways to make language lessons more interesting! I doubt that this will happen in the near future, but I still hope that the French will become more interested in learning English. On verra ou: Let's see.
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