As French children filed back to school on September 2nd, Xavier Darcos, the education minister, announced that he was increasing English-language teaching in the curriculum. “I’ve had enough of hearing that the French do not learn English,” he said. “It’s a big disadvantage for international competition.” By the end of compulsory schooling, he promised, all pupils should be bilingual.
The French are embracing English in less high-minded ways too. When they entered a song in English at this year’s Eurovision song contest, it provoked wry amusement abroad, but indifference at home. For many young French musicians singing in English is now de rigueur. The gravelly voiced French crooners of the past have given way to bands like The Do, Hey Hey My My, or Cocoon, whose latest album is called “My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash”. “The children of globalisation are giving up writing in French,” declared Le Monde
France’s fashion press is another cross-dresser, writing of “Vive la fashion attitude” or “Le Hit des It Bags”. In a post-modern twist, teenagers are importing American slang via the heavily north African banlieues, where hip-hop flourishes and street dress is styled on the Bronx.
In the Guardian:
Darcos said that the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had given him a mission to "make France a bilingual nation"
..."Ten years ago people said France's education system was the best in the world and didn't need to be changed at all," he said.
"Now there is a realisation something has to be done because France is falling behind other countries."
Now his successor wants pupils at French lycées — secondary schools — to enrol on three weeks of free "intensive" courses in English during the February and summer holidays.
In addition, all collèges (middle schools) and lycées with low academic achievements have been instructed to offer pupils two hours of extra "support lessons" a week including English. The government plans to encourage what it calls "e-learning" by offering English courses on the internet.
The extra-curricular courses are voluntary and will start in 2010.
Lessons will concentrate on oral English, a fundamental change as most of France's official examinations are written tests.
It is not the first time a French government has tried to close the language gap. In 1989 the education minister, Lionel Jospin, made mandatory two to three hours of English a week for nine- to 11-year-olds. Later legislation introduced 15 minutes a day of English for pupils from six years old.
In 2004 a cross-party parliamentary commission recommended — without success — that English should be mandatory in all schools and afforded the same importance as the French language and mathematics.
Charbonnier believes the new measures stand a better chance of success than previous reforms.
"The world has changed and France has realised it has to change with it. More and more students are spending a year studying in an anglophone country. They realise it looks good on their CV that they can speak English," he said.
In the Charleston Daily Mail, Monday September 8, 2008:
The French government, under monarchs, an empire and five republics, has dutifully protected the French language - and protected it out of existence as a language that is used outside to conduct business.
Under Sarkozy, the French government seems determined to undo some of that damage by speaking up.
French students currently receive 700 hours of compulsory English education over the course of their school careers. But France "is not seeing an adequate return on this investment," Darcos conceded. Expanding on the proposals, he expressed his desire for all French students to be bilingual by the time they finish compulsory education, stressing in particular the need to be able to speak excellent English.