Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Focus

French 'bottom of the class' for English fluency

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

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).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Forget the grammar

Sweden sank to third place after years occupying the top spot. Denmark was ranked second, with Norway (4) and Finland (5) making up the top five.

“English proficiency is largely ensured by the public education systems in these countries, which have included English as a compulsory subject throughout primary and secondary school for four decades or more,” said EF's report.

“The foreign language teaching policies in these countries focus on communication rather than on the mastery of grammar.”

The report, which has been running since 2011, uses data from people completing its online test.

This year, more than 950,000 people filled out the online form.

EF concedes that this is a self-selecting sample of people who are interested in language learning, and not an ideal way to judge the proficiency of an entire nation, but should be viewed alongside other metrics.

Singapore, in sixth place, was the only non-European country to make the top 10.

Luxembourg (7), Austria (8), Germany (9) and Poland (10) made up up the other positions.

Education inequalities remain high in EU

Less people leave school prematurely, but socio-economic status, immigrant background and gender are still factors of underachievement, a commission report says.

University rankings reveal two-speed Europe

British, German and Dutch institutions do very well in the latest university rankings, with Oxford named the world's best. But the French and much of the rest of the EU are lagging behind.

English at risk as official EU language

Under current rules, English must be dropped when UK leaves a senior MEP said. Ireland or Malta could add it back in if EU law is changed.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us