Merry Christmas to you all!
This is the only web log to specialize in the declining use of the French language, both globally and within France itself. We use recent and less recent web articles, blog entries and books written in French, English, German and other languages to document the failure of costly Francophonie policies in- and outside France.
The Sarine river running through the medieval Swiss town of Fribourg acts as a language border between its inhabitants, with German speakers living on the east bank and French on the west. Fribourg (Freiburg in German) is one of several towns that straddle Switzerland’s language divide. It is officially bilingual and as such its river also goes by its German name, the Saane.
Switzerland’s multilingual heritage sets it apart in Europe, with the four national languages – German, French, Italian and the little-spoken Romansch – contributing to about 10% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to a 2008 study.
English has entered the mix over the last two decades. Its influence has been spread by the numerous international firms headquartered in tax-friendly Swiss municipalities, its increasing use in academia and its general acceptance as an additional language in wider communication.
“Over the last 20 years English has made quite a lot of inroads in Switzerland,” said Daniel Stotz, an English-teacher trainer in Zurich and researcher into the role of language and Swiss identity.
“In most cases now English is used in wider communication among non-native speakers. Quite a lot of Swiss adults have experienced the fact that English has become a company language. Sometimes it was forced upon them as well. I think some of this interest and perhaps pressure has trickled down to family life.
“It is connected a lot to young people’s life chances. There is a perception that English is important, that it allows you to get better jobs. It has a highly symbolic value as well,” Stotz said.
In a ruling last year, the government decided that the most important Swiss laws should be translated into English in response to growing demand for translation of legislation.
Strong demand for English lessons in schools has also undermined the priority given to national languages in the curriculum. Switzerland’s 26 cantons have agreed to introduce measures over the next few years whereby English will be taught in all primary schools alongside a second national language. Eight and nine-year-olds are already learning it as their first foreign language – ahead of another national language – in 10 cantons.
Swiss multilingualism has been the subject of a four-year research programme by the National Science Foundation that aims to understand the role of language and help the government to map out “a new equilibrium”, according to Walter Haas, president of the steering committee.
The programme is currently compiling a final report from 26 research projects, which is due for review by government at the end of 2009. The findings show English has a place in Swiss culture, although not necessarily a dominant one.
In one Bern University study, Swiss people viewed English as the most useful foreign language, although most opted to use one of the other national languages when first trying to communicate with someone from a different part of the country.
Another study by the University of Teacher Education found that early English teaching later helped German-speaking pupils to learn French, while a third project by lawyers proposed making English a semi-official language in order to attract more foreign professionals to the country.
Another contributor, University of Geneva economics professor François Grin, calculated that Switzerland’s multilingual heritage gave it a competitive advantage worth $42bn – a tenth of GDP.
“If society is going to invest money anywhere, investing in foreign languages, which in Switzerland means essentially one other national language and English, the rate of return is simply fantastic. By and large, we find that multilingualism is a very well paying asset,” Grin said.
Past research by Grin also pinpointed that English was more valued in German-speaking parts of Switzerland. As German is the majority language spoken by 63% of the population, it was more advantageous for Swiss Germans to know English than French or Italian.
It was different in French-speaking regions. The 1997 study established that while English added 18% to salaries in German-speaking regions, it equated to a 10% pay difference in French areas, compared to 14% increases with German or Italian as a second language. Between 1990 and 2000 the use of English increased in the workplace by about 28% and overall use rose in line with other languages, according to census reports.
According to Grin, this shows that multilingualism is expanding as a whole. “English is a very frequently used language but it is not replacing national languages. It plays a supplementary and complementary role,” he said.
One area where English is gaining prominence is within academia. Switzerland backs the 1999 Bologna Declaration, which aims to create a European space for higher education, and the Rectors’ Conference of Swiss Universities has in the past acknowledged English as the “language of academia”. It supports offering more courses in English as the best way of attracting foreign students.
Grin says use of English in academia has grown significantly, but as an advocate for linguistic diversity, he warns that the dominance of any one language in intellectual circles risks “eroding creativity”.
“I believe we are better off with diversity than without, and that it is important to develop language policies that are conducive to the maintenance of diversity. This means if a hegemonic language becomes too overbearing, you have to keep this in check.
“Switzerland defines itself not despite its multilingualism, but as a product of its multilingualism. It’s a very deeply rooted cultural value. Without multilingualism, [there is] no Switzerland,” he said.
It is a view shared by the cross-cantonal educational authority, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Education Directors. “In a multilingual state, the coordination and development of language teaching is particularly important,” a spokeswoman said.
“Therefore the notion of a ‘lingua franca’ will not be limited to English, but rather to an ensemble of languages used within a real context in order to achieve a linguistic exchange.”
She said under Swiss linguistic strategy English had and would continue to have “an important status as an international language”.
But, she added, it is still only part of a bigger picture in which Switzerland shares goals set by the Council of Europe to prioritise multilingualism by ensuring a range of languages, including English, are taught.
En tant que président du Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), Patrick Bourgeois tient à féliciter le citoyen Jean-Roch Villemaire pour le geste qu’il a posé contre la candidate Barbara Charlebois, elle dont l’équipe a osé poser des affiches unilingues anglaises dans le secteur d’Aylmer, en Outaouais.
Bien qu’il s’agisse ici d’une initiative personnelle de M. Villemaire, le Réseau tient à dire qu’il se sent solidaire et fier de ce patriote. Le Réseau est convaincu qu’il a bien fait de retirer une douzaine desdites affiches unilingues anglaises.
« Je partage l’opinion de M. Villemaire lorsqu’il dit que les citoyens, quand les élites politiques abdiquent, ont la responsabilité de combattre eux-mêmes les situations injustes. Lorsqu’il y aura des centaines et des milliers de Québécois qui imiteront Jean-Roch Villemaire, la question du français sera enfin réglée au Québec », a dit M. Bourgeois.
La question du français préoccupe au plus haut point la direction et les membres du Réseau de Résistance du Québécois. « Il est clair qu’il faut faire quelque chose de signifiant pour enfin renverser la tendance à laquelle on assiste depuis quelques décennies maintenant au Québec, tendance qui établit clairement le déclin de la langue française. Et la désobéissance civile est très certainement une des possibilités que nous envisageons pour assurer la pérennité du fait français au Québec », a soutenu M. Bourgeois. En cela, Jean-Roch Villemaire vient peut-être de lancer un mouvement.
Adopté par le Sommet de Bucarest, en septembre 2006, le Vade-mecum relatif à l’usage de la langue française dans les organisations internationales est un texte de nature règlementaire qui s’impose à tous les États et gouvernements membres, associés ou observateurs de l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Si les États et gouvernements ont souhaité son existence, c’est qu’ils ont mesuré à la fois le déclin du français dans les organisations internationales et l’importance que revêt le respect du multilinguisme pour un fonctionnement efficace et démocratique. En me demandant d’assurer le suivi de la mise en oeuvre de ce texte, les chefs d’État et de gouvernement se donnaient, au-delà de la déclaration politique, une obligation supplémentaire : celle de se doter des moyens de renforcer, en toutes circonstances, la présence de la langue française au service du multilinguisme. D’ailleurs, certains de nos pays membres reconnaissent d’autres langues officielles et utilisent ainsi l’arabe, l’espagnol, le portugais ou l’anglais. Notre conception de la diversité des expressions culturelles et linguistiques ne réfute, en effet, aucune langue, mais elle s’oppose avec force à la facilité réductrice qu’offre le monolinguisme. De même, l’OIF ne considère pas que telle langue aurait, par je ne sais quelle qualité intrinsèque supposée supérieure à celles des autres langues, ou par la force du nombre ou du fait accompli, plus de légitimité à être utilisée plutôt que telle autre. Concernant les organisations internationales et les échanges entre États, nous ne succombons pas à la tentation radicale consistant à revendiquer pour chaque langue le même statut. Si cette revendication est tout à fait légitime dans une approche patrimoniale de sauvegarde et de reconnaissance des milliers de langues que compte encore notre planète, elle nous conduirait, dans le contexte des organisations internationales, au résultat inverse de celui escompté. Le Vade-mecum a été adopté voilà deux ans. Cette « jeunesse » explique sans doute pourquoi si peu de nos États et gouvernements membres ont pu, jusqu’à maintenant, se doter de réels moyens de mise en oeuvre de ses principes. Cela étant, certains sont engagés, depuis plusieurs années parfois, dans des actions de formation de leurs fonctionnaires et de leurs diplomates, avec l’appui de l’OIF, mais aussi celui de la Communauté française de Belgique, de la France et du Luxembourg pour ce qui concerne l’Union européenne. De nombreux pays dont la langue officielle est le français, singulièrement en Afrique subsaharienne, par leur pratique irréprochable, renforcent le statut de langue internationale du français. Certains de nos membres ont même pris le soin d’émettre des directives prescrivant explicitement l’usage du français, parfois aux côtés d’une autre langue officielle.
Bien que plusieurs de nos États et gouvernements membres n’aient accordé au français qu’un statut de langue étrangère, certains d’entre eux font néanmoins de remarquables efforts pour la promotion de la langue française. Les Groupes des ambassadeurs francophones s’organisent et s’emploient à faire respecter le statut du français par des interventions auprès des organisations internationales. Des diplomates agissent parfois directement, lorsqu’ils sont en situation d’exiger une traduction ou une interprétation défaillante au cours de telle ou telle réunion. Ce sont là autant de faits encourageants. Mais nous devons être plus ambitieux encore. Car je dois constater que, malgré la lettre que j’ai adressée à nos États et gouvernements membres et à la lumière des réponses reçues, aucune nouvelle circulaire, instruction ou recommandation spécifiquement dédiée au Vade-mecum, ne nous a été signalée et son existence même est souvent ignorée par des représentants des États et gouvernements sensés l’appliquer. Je déplore, par ailleurs, l’existence de contre-exemples emblématiques du comportement de certains très hauts représentants de pays francophones, qui s’expriment systématiquement en anglais, brouillant ainsi un message que le Vade-mecum cherchait pourtant à rendre clair. Je compte donc sur la mobilisation de tous nos États et gouvernements. N’oublions jamais que la langue française est le socle de notre Organisation. Et je forme le voeu que le vade-mecum soit perçu par tous comme un levier puissant permettant de faire progresser notre langue en partage, plutôt que comme un instrument de contrôle tatillon. La langue française ne pourra rayonner que par l’adhésion responsable et enthousiaste de tous ceux qui l’ont acceptée en tant qu’outil de l’expression concrète de leur solidarité, dans le respect de la diversité linguistique.
Abdou Diouf, Sécrétaire Général de la Francophonie
The decline of written accuracy in pupils' use of French verbs
Authors: Peter Metcalfe a; Diana Laurillard a; Robin Mason a
Affiliation: a The Open University,
This article presents a survey and analysis of Examiners' Reports on French written papers, looking specifically at difficulties in using verbs appropriately. It draws on evidence from second-language acquisition research to determine the nature of the problem and hypothesizes links between the decline in written accuracy and the rise in oral fluency. (25 references) (CK)
BEIRUT–There's a deal being offered on Mazda automobiles in this freneticMiddle Eastern capital, a city where little stays the same for long. "Turn me on," urges a billboard on Zalka St. in the east end of Beirut. "Zero down payment, 1.99 per cent interest. Limited quantity."
Sounds good – but what is most intriguing about this advertisement is not the nature of the offer. It is the nature of the language in which the offer is being made. The offer is being made in English – and only in English.
The same goes for much, if not most, of the brash outdoor advertising that sprouts like gaudy thickets of mercantilism along the boulevards and avenues of Beirut.
"The Chivas Life." "For Burger Lovers!" "Chicken Your Way." "Sally Hansen Line Freeze for Lips."
Never mind the absence of French – long the language of choice for cultured Lebanese – there isn't even a single Arabic character to be found on most of these signs.
"English is cool," said a Western diplomat in Beirut. "If you're hip and you're young, you speak English."
You do if you are Lebanese.
According to Christian Merville, an editorial writer at L'Orient Le Jour, Lebanon's only French-language daily newspaper, English has incontestablement (indisputably) supplanted French as the language of status in this resolutely status-conscious land. Or, as Merville, puts it: "Rambo has replaced Rimbaud."
He's referring, in the first instance, to the action hero played by American Sylvester Stallone in a series of 1980s movie thrillers and, in the second instance, to the mercurial 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud.
It's a play on words, but the point is clear. English – particularly American English – has muscled French aside in this Mediterranean land,whose capital was once known as le Paris du Moyen-Orient. The Paris of the Middle East.
In many ways, the sobriquet remains apt.
Despite the pummelling it has suffered during a succession of wars, Beirut continues to boast an array of continental charms, including fine restaurants, an exuberant nightlife, a sophisticated café culture, and enduring ties to a certain former imperial power whose capital is the Paris of Europe.
Increasingly, however, when les citoyens et citoyennes of Lebanon converse with the outside world – or even among themselves – they do so in English, not French.
Granted, Arabic remains the sole official tongue of the country properly known as Al-Joumhouriya al-Lubnaniya. But even Arabic is starting to buckle somewhat under the globalizing force of English.
This is Merville's view, anyway. He believes that Arabic speakers in Lebanon increasingly express themselves in an impoverished vocabulary and tired clichés.
"There's a decline in the quality of French," he said, "but there is also an extraordinary decline in Arabic."
Arabic, of course, has been spoken in these lands for millennia. French, however, arrived in the late 19th century, when Jesuit clergy in France sought to counter increasing Protestant influence in the region by dispatching legions of missionaries to the mountainous eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
Following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the territory now called Lebanon became a French protectorate, an arrangement that lasted only a quarter-century. But Parisian influence – linguistic and otherwise – endured long after Lebanon became an independent state in 1946. "Cultured Lebanese were all educated in French-speaking countries," said Ghassan Moukheiber, a Beirut lawyer.
Even families that could not afford to send their children abroad typically dispatched them to local schools where the language of instruction was French, not Arabic.
Explanations vary for the recent ascent of English.
Some observers here – oddly, these individuals tend to be native French speakers – advance the view that English is a "simpler," less challenging tongue than French.
But others note that English opens more doors nowadays than French ever could. It is the primary language of the Internet, for example, as well as the lingua franca of industrial and commercial globalization.
In Lebanon, as in much of the world, U.S. television and films are a powerful cultural force, easily exceeding the influence of their French counterparts.
At the same time, Lebanese citizens who may be contemplating an international move – as many do – are far more likely to be accepted as immigrants in English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada or the United States than they are by France.
"English," said a French-speaking diplomat, "is a lot more useful if you want to go abroad."
Still, French is far from dead in Lebanon. Especially among gatherings of well-educated folk, it is not uncommon nowadays to hear the conversation shift easily from Arabic, to English, to French, and back again. "It's a wonderful trilingual country," said the Western diplomat. "In a single sentence, you will hear all three languages."
And, although dramatic and unmistakable, the current shift toward English is not uniformly spread among all of Lebanon's four million citizens.
Fluency in French is still highly prized in the affluent Ashrafiye district of Beirut, for example, a neighbourhood mostly populated by Maronite Christians, for whom the language of Voltaire continues to imply good breeding and high economic status.
The country's large Shia Muslim community, meanwhile, is said to be the sector of Lebanese society most drawn to English, but no group in the country is immune to the economic opportunities or the cultural appeal now associated with the language of – well, of Sylvester Stallone.
Repos dans la paix, Arthur Rimbaud. Rest in peace.
TheStar.com - News - English is cool in
October 08, 2007
Enlarging the EU is good news for the English language, confirming its victory over French as the classic medium of European integration.
Adding to the woes of the French, who fear an Anglo-Saxon plot to get the top jobs in Brussels and liberalise protected markets, a new survey shows that the language of Shakespeare is more popular than that of Molière in the candidate countries for union membership.
According to the European commission's polling arm, Eurobarometer, 86% of people in the 13 countries applying to join regard English as one of the two most useful languages to speak.
German is favoured by 58% per cent, largely in central and eastern Europe, and French by a paltry 17%.(...)
"After years of armchair speculation about what the linguistic map of Europe will look like after enlargement, this survey is the answer," commission official said.
"It spells the end of a rearguard action to preserve French as the dominant working language."
English is the most-spoken foreign language in the candidate countries, scoring 16% compared with 14% for Russian, 10% for German and 4% for French.
Romania has most citizens who speak French as a second language, though there too, English is considered far more useful.
Cyprus and Malta, both former British colonies, are special cases, where 57% and 84% respectively speak English as a second language.
French dominated the European project from the 1950s until the 1980s but was set back when Finland, Austria and Sweden joined in 1995, and has suffered further from English's dominance on the internet. Today, two-thirds of commission documents are written in English.
The Joint Council for Qualifications reported a further decline of French entries in British examinations in August 2009. Of all foreign languages, French has experienced the steepest fall over the last few years:
Entries in modern foreign languages continue to decline with French down by 13,252 or 6.6 per cent (from 201,940 in 2008 to 188,688), German, down by 3,226 or 4.2 per cent (from 76,695 in 2008 to 73,469). However, entries in Spanish are stable, only down by 22 (from 67,092 in 2008 to 67,070).
Other modern languages continue their upward trend, by 1,429 or 4.5 per cent (from 31,682 in 2008 to 33,111).
RWANDA SAYS ITS SWITCH AWAY FROM FRENCH TO ENGLISH IS IRREVERSIBLE
KIGALI, Sept 15 (NNN-RNA) -- As the fallout over Rwanda's implementation of the shift from French to English as the medium of instruction in schools rages on, a top Cabinet official has made it clear that the road away from French is unstoppable.
The new Education Minister, Dr. Charles Murigande, has shut the door to any more discussion over the policy with the strongest comments ever made by a top government official. Dr. Murigande said Sunday that everything is on course for all schools to start teaching in English.
"There is no turning back to French as a language of instruction in this country," he said to an audience of journalists and stakeholders, while pounding the table. “We have switched to English forever."
The government has argued that taking up English simply reinforces Rwanda’s position in the international system. However, critics accuse the government of abandoning a constitutional stipulation which makes Rwanda a country with three languages -- English, French and Kinyarwanda.
Last week, one of the fiercest critics of government, Paul Rusesabagina -– the exiled face behind the Hollywood movie "Hotel Rwanda", also launched his strongest attacks, claiming in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programme that a "small group of between 30,000 and 40,000 people who came from Uganda" is imposing English on the whole country.
Rusesabagina has launched a campaign to ensure that Rwanda is not allowed into the British Commonwealth group of nations. Officials just brushed off these latest actions by the man accused here of seeking to acquire fame from the country’s suffering.
Rwanda has been French-speaking for ages which completely disqualifies it outrightly from the British grouping, argues Rusesabagina but supporters of Kigali have branded him as irrelevant.
For Education Minister Dr. Murigande, who is not new to very strong comments against France, the road to ending French is no room for compromise. Rwanda, he told his audience Sunday, will never go back to French "unless France re-colonises Africa".
About two years ago, Dr. Murigande, when he was Foreign Affairs Minister, told RNA in a wide ranging interview: "We were killed by the French in the name of Francophonie", referring to the grouping of French colonies.
The government is finalizing plans to build thousands of new classrooms across the country in time for the start in January of the nine-year basic education programme. Education officials also want the expansion programme to come with a phasing-in of English in all schools as the language of instruction.
Science subjects are already being taught in English and universities have all switched all instruction to English. - NNN-RNA
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU enlargement is pushing German ahead of French on the European language ladder, with non-indigenous languages such as Russian and Turkish also on the rise, a new European Commission study has shown. The number of German speakers and English speakers jumped 6 percent each between 2001 and 2005, hitting 14 percent and 38 percent respectively, while the rate of French speakers rose just 3 points to 14 percent. "With the enlargement of the European Union, the balance between French and German is slowly changing. Clearly more citizens in the new member states master German, while their skills in French and Spanish are scarce," the report stated. Almost two thirds of Europeans feel English is the most important foreign language for adults and children to learn. But support for learning French as a foreign language dived from 40 percent to 25 percent in the past five years, while support for German slipped just 1 point to 22 percent. France is fiercely protective of its linguistic heritage, with the Paris-based Academie Francaise sending out ambassadors to eastern Europe to promote French studies and awarding prizes to foreign francophones. The academie also enforces the so-called "loi Toubon" of 1994 against the usage of foreign terms in French public sector texts, providing French options for new words, such as "courriel" instead of "email." "We are aware of international trends, but we want to show that French is able to express reality equally well," academie lexicographer Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini told EUobserver. "There is a danger that the value of French could be forgotten in the language of international science and finance." Exotic tongues on the rise The new study also put Russian on the map as the joint-fourth most popular language in the EU, equal with Spanish on 6 percent. The Russian jump comes mainly from the Baltic States, with about one fifth of Latvians and Estonians citing Russian as their mother tongue while half of all Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians cite Russian as the most important foreign language to learn. Eight percent of Germans quoted non-indigenous languages, mostly Turkish, as their maternal language, with EU candidate Bulgaria also recording 8 percent Turkish mother tongue speakers. Non-indigenous mother tongues account for 5 percent of the British population and 3 percent of the French, with Indian languages and Arabic dominant. The report did not cover Chinese, but European Commission language policy director Jacques Delmoly predicted a "boom" in EU Chinese language learning in the next few years due to China's economic growth. Model Europeans The typical European speaking multiple languages is likely to be young, well-educated and working in a managerial-type position, the study says. The model polyglot is likely to have been born outside his country of residence and to live in a small member state that has more than one official language, such as Belgium, or in a country that has strong ties with neighbours, such as Slovenia. Anglophone and southern European countries came bottom of the class, with 66 percent of the Irish and 62 percent of Brits saying they do not speak any foreign language, while over 55 percent of Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards said the same. The commission itself recently came under fire for shedding Spanish, Italian and French translators in order to take on staff from new member states. With 21 official EU languages and 60 other regional and non-indigenous tongues present in Europe, Tuesday's (21 February) commission press briefing on multilingualism was conducted in English, German and French only. The study said 55 percent of EU citizens believe all EU communication should be handled in just one language, but ducked the sensitive question of "which one?
Spanish Prime Minister announces plans to develop English education in SpainCourtesy of Edward J. Cunningham
larger | smaller
By h.b. - Feb 19, 2008 - 2:41 PM
Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero - Photo EFE
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero set a ten year target for students to dominate what the Spanish often refer to as 'the language of Shakespeare'
The Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has unveiled ambitious new plans for the teaching of English in Spain. He has given an undertaking that 15% of total classes given in Spanish schools will be in English within four years, with the intention that children who pass through the Spanish education system will be bilingual and dominate the language in ten years.
For the plan to be put into action some 12,000 native English teachers are to be employed, together with a further 8,000 native teachers assistants. 20,000 Spanish teachers of English will meanwhile be given a month’s course in an English speaking country.
Speaking at an institute in Fuenlabrada, Madrid, the Prime Minister said that Spain needed the move to complete economically, and that Spanish youngsters would benefit by being able to compete professionally.
‘There are families who can easily pay for their children to travel or study abroad’, he said, ‘but our priority is for those who cannot’.
May 15, 2009: While the French Army has recognized the importance of smart bombs and missiles, they found themselves poorly prepared to make the best use of these weapons when they sent troops to Afghanistan. They had several problems. First, they did not have enough FACs (Forward Air Controllers, teams trained to call in warplanes and smart bombs), and those FACs they had often lacked good enough English to deal with the non-French pilots. NATO pilots, like international commercial aviation pilots, use English as a standard language (for working with ground controllers and each other). Unlike pilots, the French FACs don't practice their English regularly, and have problems communicating with non-French pilots. Another problem was that the French FACs didn't have the Rover terminal (which allows U.S., and most NATO, FACs to see what pilots see via their targeting pods).
Many of these French problems arise from France having left the NATO military organization back in the 1960s. France remained in NATO, but its armed forces did not participate in training and standardization efforts with other NATO troops. There were some problems with this back in 1990, when France sent troops to join the effort to throw Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. But in 1991 the solution was to place the French division out on the western flank, where they did not have to worry about interoperability with other NATO forces. In Afghanistan, everyone shares the same pool of warplanes and helicopters, and many other forms of support as well. Interoperability is essential. Decades of NATO efforts to develop interoperability standards for basic things like communications, air and artillery support, supply and medical evacuation, have paid off. Not perfect, but not a lot of costly confusion either. The French now have to play catch up after decades on their own.
Hat tip: O. Mayer
WHAT WOULD you think was the biggest thing to hit human culture, worldwide, in the past quarter century? To the anthropologist of modern Man, what change would head the list? The explosion of air travel? No, most of those alive today will never fly. HIV-Aids? No, just one of many terrible scourges our species has faced: diarrhoea and malaria still kill more. The collapse of communism and rise of the global free market? The internet? These point the way, but still reach only a minority.
The answer stares us in the face. Like much that does so, it is widely overlooked. But it struck me forcibly in Africa this week (and I bet it will have struck Gordon Brown) as I sat in the back row of the Grade 1 class at Digum Complete Elementary School, by the side of a dirt road nearly 1,000 kilometres north of Addis Ababa in the Tigra region of Ethiopia.
This country, you will recall, was for many centuries a remote and independent African kingdom whose only colonial experience was as an Italian possession for a short period before the Second World War. The British never came here much. Ethiopia is in nobody’s “sphere of influence”.
My class at Digum school were aged between five and seven: 44 boys and girls, some barefoot, some decently dressed, many in rags; some fit and healthy, some with sores or burns, or eye problems. Few would ever have been to Addis Ababa. None had seen another country and few ever will. None will ever have been in a lift or seen an escalator. Some will not have entered a two-storey building. Most will never have made a telephone call and some will never have seen one taking place: a fascinated crowd gathered as I made a satellite call from our campsite to The Times. None will ever have had a television, though some of their parents will have owned a radio and all of them will have listened to one.
The children were divided into a morning shift and an afternoon shift. Thus did their impressive headmaster, Mr Getachew, and his 30 staff, manage to run a school of 1,644 children housed in six long single-storey cabins scattered over an acre of dust.
I had arranged my visit quite by chance. Our guide thought we would be welcome, and we were. Every child stood as we entered a class. “George Bush and Mr Tony Blair will never visit our school,” said the Grade 8 teacher, Mr Hailay, “so you are our most important foreign visitors.” He should invite Mr Brown.
The Grade 1 classroom where I sat had no teaching aids at all, save tiny wooden benches and single-plank desks, dog-eared newspaper-covered exercise books, a blackboard, and a keen and patient young teacher, Mr Hadush. Discipline was absolute.
“Let us sing, children” said Mr Hadush. “Come to the front Abraham.” A tiny boy marched confidently up, all the others rapt. “This is the way I wash my face, wash my face, wash my face,” shrieked Abraham, making face-washing motions with his hand. “This is the way we wash our face,” shrieked all 44 tots, in an ear-splitting chant, “Early in the morning!”
There is no piped water in Digum — just a well with a hand-pump, down by the dried up river.
“This is the way I put on my clothes, put on my clothes, put on my clothes,” shrieked Abraham delightedly, doing the motions. “This is the way we put on our clothes.” Yelled the class, full of excitement at learning and at showing off their learning, “Early in the morning.” Some of them barely had any clothes.
Mr Hadush called a little girl, who looked about five, to the blackboard and handed her a stump of chalk. She wrote out the English alphabet perfectly on the blackboard. Ethiopia’s native script, which she also knew, is composed of the bewildering symbols of Amharic.
The spread of English across the globe is a seismic event in our species’ history. It is one of the biggest things to happen to mankind since the dawn of language. Speech is fundamental not just to communication but to the process of thought itself. No single language has ever before approached universality. English is now doing so. No other language has ever advanced as far, as fast, as ours. This is the first time in history that it has been possible to denote one language as predominant.
Within the lifetimes of Times readers, every other serious contender for that status has been eliminated. French is dying outside France. “Francophone” Africa is turning to English. Portuguese Africa is abandoning Portuguese. German made a small, temporary advance across emergent Eastern Europe but elsewhere outside Germany it is dead. Russian, which we once thought we would all have to learn, is finished. The Japanese are learning English, and developing their own pet variant. China will resist, but Mandarin and Cantonese are not advancing beyond their native speakers. More of the world’s new Muslims are learning English than Arabic. Spanish alone is raising its status and reach — but among Americans, who have English already. India is making an industry out of English speaking, as call-centres daily remind us. A quarter century ago, as the dismemberment of our Empire neared completion, we might have thought that the predominance of our language had passed its zenith. It was only dawn.
It is imponderable what may be the consequences of the advance of this linguistic tide. Within a few generations and for the first time in the story of Homo sapiens, most of our species may be able to communicate in a single language.
The advantage lent to us British by our fluency (and that of the Americans) in this world language should not be exaggerated. The number of native English speakers may not grow much; our relative influence may decline. They know little of us in Ethiopia. Yet all over that country street signs and business billboards are appearing in English, beneath the Amharic. English is cool. The very lettering confers status.
At Digum school I also sat through a Grade 8 class of 56 students. Here in the top form boys and girls aged between 10 and 20 were being coached by the excellent Mr Hailay. He was teaching the uses of “just”, “already” , “up to now”, “yet”, “ever” and “never”, and, astonishingly, most of them had a pretty good grasp. Over the shoulder of the boy in front I read his battered computer-printout English textbook, instructing the reader in the correct tenses to use in reported speech. I asked Mr Hailay if I might ask his pupils a few questions.
Did they want to learn English? Yes, replied everyone. Why? “It is the language of the world, and I want to know the world,” replied one boy.
I asked what other languages they would acquire if they could. Spanish, Chinese and Arabic were cited in reply, but none had any plans to learn these. To my surprise, one of the boys asked me afterwards what language I spoke — was I Italian, he wondered? I saw that knowledge of English was not regarded as an indication of nationality, but as a possession, a philosopher’s stone: one which anyone could get. At Digum they were struggling to get it.
English, I realised, as I left the school while the children chanted “I was a pilot, a pilot was I,” isn’t really ours any more. We are losing ownership of international English. Internet English is already looking unfamiliar. Africans rely heavily on the present continuous, and manage perfectly well. Different parts of the globe will develop their own pidgins.
There will be no point in fighting this or regretting it. We should just take pride in what we have started. It gives us no mastery and nor should it, but it gives us a link. All the world will have an open gate into our story, our culture, our ideas, our literature, our poetry and our song. And we into theirs.
La langue française perd du terrain à Montréal, et l'économie se dégrade, constatent une majorité des Montréalais interrogés dans le cadre d'un sondage Léger Marketing-Le Journal de Montréal.
Trois Montréalais sur cinq trouvent que l'état de la langue Française dans leur ville se détériore.
L'opinion des Montréalais rejoint donc les conclusions de plusieurs rapports -et d'une récente enquête du Journal de Montréal -qui démontrent que l'utilisation du français recule à Montréal, particulièrement dans les commerces du centre-ville.
Le gouvernement a lancé plus tôt cet hiver une vaste campagne pour promouvoir l'usage du français dans les commerces montréalais.
A new Quebec-funded ad campaign that encourages people to speak more French is getting bad reviews from some English-speaking Montrealers.
The $1.5-million "Bonjour" campaign urges Quebecers to greet each other in French.
The radio version tells listeners that "Bonjour is the best beginning" for every conversation.
Montrealers don't need to hear that, especially when the province has bigger problems at hand, said Ted Duskes, who runs a technology equipment business.
"Don't spend all these kinds of money when you don't have the money to spend," he told CBC News. "You have people lining up in the halls in the emergency rooms, and you haven't got nurses. It's frustrating."
The campaign comes after months of public debate over the vitality of French in Montreal.
Recent provincial studies suggest French is losing favour as the main language of commerce on the island of Montreal, especially among small businesses.
The majority of Quebec francophones feel the French language is threatened in Quebec, but the ad campaign misses the mark, said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies.
"In terms of outcomes, in terms of the degree to which non-francophones are going to say 'bonjour' more, or use more French in retail outlets of downtown Montreal, I doubt this will have any meaningful impact," he said.
Government officials wouldn't comment on the campaign.
But Quebec's Office de la langue francaise, the province's language watchdog, said it expects similar campaigns to be rolled out soon.
There are surely as many good English-language bookstores in Paris as in all but a handful of cities in the United States. Whatever that may tell us about relative cultural priorities, it's also an indication of the American (and British) presence in Paris, the importance of American literature to literate Parisians and the large number of Americans visiting and living there.
I discovered 10 bookstores in Paris that specialize, more or less - a few exclusively - in English-language books, four on the Right Bank and six on the Left. One can visit them all in a long day's walk. For a city of its size, compared to New York or London, Paris is readily accessible by foot.
A useful place to start our walking tour would be on the Right Bank, on the Rue de Rivoli where, at Rue Cambon, one finds W. H. Smith (subtitle: The English Bookstore), a larger, more glamorous version of the stationery shops in the notable British chain. The Paris Smith's is a place to get English newspapers and The New York Times, best sellers and a wide range of English paperbacks - Penguin, Pan, Methuen, Virago. There is an imitation English tea shop on the second floor. The books, which are mostly imported from England (Penguin has a terrific list of American titles), cost about half again as much as they do in London, which means they cost about the same as paperbacks in the United States. W. H. Smith is similar to American chains like B. Dalton, a good place to pick up a recent book of no great obscurity but hardly a hangout for book lovers. Still, for a mass market store, Smith's stocks a large number of interesting paperbacks, including American titles generally unavailable in the States. The Louvre is a few minutes' walk from Smith's, though perhaps too great a distraction on this particular tour.
Walking east on the Rue de Rivoli, two blocks or so from W. H. Smith, one comes to the oldest and most elegant English-language bookstore in Paris, the Librairie Galignani. If W. H. Smith has the feel of an upscale Dalton, Galignani is reminiscent of Scribner or Rizzoli in New York. Galignani, lined with dark wood shelves and with a skylight overhead, is easy to move around in, well-stocked, a mix of shelves and tables displaying few if any best sellers. Unlike the chains, it is a store for which books are objects of respect and affection. Galignani has a good selection of poetry and a small though impressive selection of art books. Its prices are generally comparable to Smith's. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful. Browsing is encouraged. Originated in 1805, and at the present address since 1856, Galignani carries 15,000 volumes in English and 15,000 in French. It is a favorite among American writers living in Paris and a place to visit for those who love bookstores as esthetic objects in themselves.
Walking north on the Rue des Pyramides, turning left on Avenue de l'Opera, one comes to the huge, mass market bookstore, Brentano, which appropriately has a golden facade. On entering the store, customers are confronted by records, key chains and souvenirs, as if the absence of books were a selling point. If W. H. Smith is a bit of England on the Continent, Brentano might be perceived as its American counterpart, a bookshop seemingly embarrassed to display books. In the back, however, is a winding blind alley of paperbacks, a first-rate collection hidden away like a secret vice. Brentano's thousands of books in English include a travel shelf comparable to Smith's and a considerably more extensive children's books section. (The other shops on this tour are less rewarding than Smith and Brentano for visitors seeking maps and travel guides in English.) Although disguised as an upscale tourist bazaar, Brentano is, in fact, a fairly substantial store of its kind. Prices are about the same as Smith's and slightly higher than the least expensive of the Left Bank bookstores. Brentano is a short walk from the American Express offices and the Paris Opera.
The one other English-language bookstore on the Right Bank, Librairie Albion, is an anomalous presence. It is a store you are not likely to stumble on unless thoroughly lost. The way to find it is to take Avenue de l'Opera south to Rue de Rivoli, walk east for about 12 blocks along Rivoli until it becomes Rue St. Antoine and then ask directions to Rue Charles V, a street with no other shops but Librairie Albion. From a distance, Albion looks something like an English pub. The front door was locked when my companion and I arrived and an employee let us in through the back. Although Albion exists to serve the University of Paris, which is nearby, stocking French, German and Spanish texts in addition to English, it is a real bookstore - a place of books - cramped, charming, incomplete, eccentric, the expression of a personality. If you are after a particular volume, Brentano and Smith are more likely to have it, but if you are willing to discover what you might want, Albion is a sweet place to browse.
Crossing the Seine to the Left Bank at
Pont Marie and working one's way past Notre Dame, the walker comes to the Rue de la Bucherie and Shakespeare and Company, namesake and self-styled spiritual heir to the legendary Sylvia Beach bookstore of the expatriate 1920's. Shakespeare has stalls in front selling used books, starting at about 60 cents. There may be books of interest among the long forgotten popular novels, mysteries and outdated anthologies, of interest to someone - there are always browsers on display - but I found virtually none. The crowded interior, an olio of old and new books, seems somewhat more promising, though chaos seems to be the shop's reigning principle of organization. Run by George Whitman, a theatrically bohemian septuagenarian with an avowed sense of mission, the store regularly sponsors readings, offers free shelter to young writers (and potential writers) in its apartments upstairs and invites selected visitors to browse in its private library, reputedly totaling 50,000 volumes.
It is, in its own way, a service bookstore, a haven to the errant literary spirit, a place to rub shoulders with literary ghosts. Most of the writers in Paris I talked to thought Shakespeare and Company, for all its good intentions, was of negligible use. Originally called Mistral (one of the celebratory articles I was shown called it Mistrial), Mr. Whitman's shop changed its name to Shakespeare and Company in 1964 to make connection with the original in which, legend says, James Joyce wrote ''Ulysses.'' The 13-room house that Shakespeare occupies, a beautiful building in bohemian disrepair, was, in one of its lives, a monastery and in another an Arab grocery. Today it is a kind of shrine in the guise of a bookstore.
Moving south on Rue St. Jacques, crossing the Boulevard St. Michel, then turning left on Rue des Ecoles, one arrives at Attica, in the Sorbonne district, a former avant-garde bookstore domesticated by the needs of survival. French intellectuals are particularly interested in new American fiction and Attica reflects that interest. There are more books from American publishers here and more small-press books than in the Right Bank supermarkets. Visitors who remember with great affection the haphazard and highly personal collection at Attica's original store will be somewhat disappointed by the relative impersonality of its present quarters. What started out as an obsession of the owner, Stephan Levy, has metamorphosed into a better than average English-language paperback bookstore, a good example of what you might find in an American university town. The difference is that English is not the primary language of Paris. Browsing is welcome. Prices are reasonable. Next on the tour is the Librairie Internationale on the Boulevard St. Germain. To get there, one backtracks on the Rue des Ecoles to Boulevard St. Michel, turns right toward Boulevard Saint Germain, going by the enormous Chez Gibert (a good place to buy inexpensive maps and travel guides - in French), and arrives after a five-minute walk. The elegant Librairie Internationale, which has a high-tech look, specializes in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish books, the English texts making up 40 percent of the stock. The place has achieved a certain notoriety among some writers. Two American poets were evicted from Internationale for having taken books off the shelves to look at the texts. A visit to the shop readily conjures the scene. The manager, a former finance specialist, presides over the store like a grim schoolmaster. Although Internationale has an impressive stock of almost 50,000 books, it is a place without definition or focus or passion. The shop has books on economics (in English) and philosophy that are probably not available elsewhere in Paris. It is, clearly, not a place to browse.
One continues on the Boulevard St. Germain, turning left on the Rue de Rennes, and arrives after about a half-mile at the main branch of the department store FNAC. Among its seemingly endless stock of French books are a half-dozen English-language shelves, broken up into the rubrics: Policiers, Science Fiction and Literature. It is an efficiency bookstore without pretensions, an amusing place to browse and shop. Moreover, it is air-conditioned; it was the only bookstore I visited with the air-conditioning switched on. The selection is smaller than at Smith or Brentano, but in a sampling I took the prices were two to five percent cheaper. FNAC is a part of a chain that sells electronic and photographic equipment and develops film overnight.
Going right on the Rue de Vaugirard, taking the occasion to cross the Jardin du Luxembourg - a particularly pleasant walk - to the Boulevard St. Michel, the stroller turns south and comes to the Nouveau Quartier Latin, a large, sprawling store that, like Attica, serves the students and faculty at the Sorbonne. The Nouveau also distributes English-language texts to most of the other bookstores. An inelegant, spacious shop of some 50,000 volumes, it is particularly good for hardcover cinema books and for coffee-table books on American popular culture. It is neither mass market, like Smith and Brentano, nor literary, like Attica, but something in between, a solid middlebrow way station, an Americanized French-English language bookstore. The service is low key and helpful. Browsing is acceptable and prices are somewhat lower than those of the Right Bank shops.
The last stop on our tour is the cafe-bookstore on the Rue Princesse, a side street off Boulevard St. Germain, a place called the Village Voice, which provides a center for much of the American literary activity in Paris. On my visit, I was shown three recently established literary periodicals, ''Frank,'' ''Paris Exiles'' and ''Moving Letter,'' containing work primarily of American writers living in the city. A reading given by the contributors to ''Paris Exiles'' while I was there - Village Voice sponsors six to eight readings a month - drew a crowd that overflowed the store. The owner and proprietor, Odile Hellier, a translator, has made Village Voice into the kind of place Shakespeare and Company merely imagines itself to be. Although small, the cafe-store has an impressively varied collection of large and small press publications. It carries The Village Voice (no relation) and The New York Times Book Review. In existence less than three years, Village Voice best exemplifies the new literary vitality among Americans in Paris. Alone among English-language bookstores there, it also carries European literature in translation.
It is a telling paradox that the United States is a source of some of the most exciting serious literature available in France. Largely this is thanks to English paperbacks, the intermediary in what is a fairly complex cultural transaction. A further reason to visit this beautiful city - as if one needed one - is to discover the vitality of one's own culture when separated from it by over 3,000 miles and hundreds of years of tradition.
The following is a postscript, a separate tour, a rundown of French-language bookstores of passing interest to the visitor. The Librairie Dupuis on the corner of Rue St. Jacques and Boulevard St. Germain is a shop devoted solely to cartoon books, a hot item in Paris. Some are wonderfully inventive while others seem merely excuses for avoiding the written word. There are two fairly good movie bookstores, Le Minotaure on Rue Beaux Arts (near Rue de Seine) and City Lights, Rue de la Gaite. For chess enthusiasts, the Librairie St. Germain on the boulevard is a place given over to chess books and texts dealing with games of strategy. According to ''Passion,'' the English-language magazine of Paris, Librairie Ulysse on the Ile St. Louis is the best travel bookstore in the city. And for bookstore aficionados I recommend a visit to La Hune or Le Divan, both on the Boulevard St. Germain, to see what a serious French bookshop is like. For the book lover, a browse through the beautiful Hune is a two-star meal. La Hune has a large, perhaps complete, collection of French art magazines and literary journals. I had the feeling, browsing in the hospitable store, that there is not a book on its shelves or tables that is not of some interest to the serious reader. A reader's guide Right Bank W. H. Smith (English Bookstore), 248 Rue de Rivoli (1st arrondissement). Telephone: 220.127.116.11. Metro: Concorde. Hours: 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday.
Librairie Galignani, 224 Rue de Rivoli (1st arrondissement; 18.104.22.168. Metro: Concorde. Hours: 9:30 to 6:30; closed Monday.
Brentano, 37 Avenue de l'Opera, (2d arrondissement); 22.214.171.124. Metro: Pyramides or Opera. Hours: 10 to 7 daily.
Librairie Albion, 13 Rue Charles V (4th arrondissement); 126.96.36.199. Metro: St. Paul or Pont Marie. Hours: 9:30 to 7:30 Sunday to Friday; 10 to 6 Saturday. Left Bank Librairie Internationale, 141 Boulevard St. Germain (6th arrondissement); 188.8.131.52. Metro: St. Germain-des-Pres-Mabillon. Hours: 10 A.M. to 1 P.M., 2 to 7 P.M. Tuesday to Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
Village Voice, 6 Rue Princesse (6th arrondissement); 184.108.40.206. Metro: St. Germain-des-Pres-Mabillon. Hours: 11 A.M. to 8 P.M. Tuesday to Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
Librairie Attica, 34 Rue des Ecoles (5th arrondissement); 43.26.09.53. Metro: Maubert Mutualite. Hours: 2 to 7 P.M. Monday; 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. Tuesday to Friday; 10 A.M. to 1 P.M., 2 to 7 P.M. Saturday; closed Sunday.
Shakespeare and Company, 37 Rue de la Bucherie (5th arrondissement); no telephone. Metro: St. Michel. Hours: Open every day, noon to midnight, approximately.
FNAC, 136 Rue de Rennes (6th arrondissement); 220.127.116.11. Metro: Montparnasse. Hours: 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday.
Nouveau Quartier Latin, 78 Boulevard St.Michel, near Rue Auguste-Comte (6th arrondissement); 18.104.22.168. Metro: Port-Royal or Luxembourg. Hours: 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday.
“I just love Montreal”, I overheard a lady tell her friend in Avenue Video in Montréal. “I’d live here if I spoke French.”
“I don’t speak French”, scoffed a passerby. “Don’t worry about that.”
English is getting stronger in Montreal. I’m not the one saying it. The Montreal Gazette is saying it. There’s just no way around the numbers. Québec’s English-speaking population rose by 5.5% between 2001 and 2006 according to StatsCan.
How did this happen?
“The easy answer to the question of why young anglos aren’t leaving Quebec like they did a generation ago”, writes David Johnston, “is that they speak better French, and aren’t being chased away by political uncertainty.”
You will all remember that the “political uncertainty” started in the 1950’s and 1960’s when francophones started asking why they were paid less than any other nationality in Québec, why no francophones held any management position in Canada’s banking and finance industry and why they were forbidden to use their language to speak to each on the shop floor.
English-Canada’s business elite responded by moving the country’s entire financial sector and 800 000 jobs from Montreal to Ontario where discrimination against French-speakers was allowed.
But a more important reason, according to the Montreal edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, is that it’s getting easier and easier for English-speakers to live and work in Montreal because there has been a “cultural shift” that has made English “acceptable” in the workplace.
“By the 1990s”, continues our man, “speaking English had become more acceptable in Quebec as firms came to see the need to improve the capacity of their workforces to operate in English. This created new opportunities for anglophones.”
As if English had ever disappeared from the Québec workplace! As if the French-speaking majority of Québec that had been forced to work in English for 250 years suddenly found itself unable to communicate with the outside world in the international language of business after bill 101 gave them the right to work in French!
The failure of Bill 101
When I was a truck driver satellites communications between French-speaking drivers and French-speaking dispatchers had to be in English so the English-speaking security team in Toronto could understand what was going on.
In 2005 the Metro chain of grocery stores bought A&P Canada and Christian Haub, the CEO and chairman of the board of A&P got a seat on the Québec company’s board. Thirteen Francophones and one Anglo. Guess what language the board meeting are in now?
Yep. Even when the French businessmen win, they lose.
That’s the way the modern workplace functions. It is entirely structured around the needs of the less qualified people. French-speakers in Québec, and all non-English speaking people around the world, are required to acquire additional language skills so that unilingual Anglos won’t have to.
Québec briefly tried to change that with the Charter of the French language, but the truth is that the rules that were supposed to protect the right of Québec workers to work in their language are broken. They don’t work anymore.
They were designed for businesses that could be contained in a building, to make sure that the 15th floor would communicate in French with the 6th and 2nd floor, all the way down to the shop floor.
But businesses don’t work like that anymore. Management is in Toronto, accounting’s in Alberta and IT is in Bangalore. Toronto’s and New York’s business culture is once again being imposed on the workers of Québec, and the entire world, actually.
Québec’s workforce has always been the most multilingual in Canada, and probably one of the most linguistically versatile in the World. Québec’s business culture did not change, it’s the world’s business structure that changed.
And once again, after only a brief interruption, unilingual Anglos can come back to work in Montreal.
And just in time, as the stellar generation of brilliant financial minds that left Montreal a generation ago have now managed to completely scrap Ontario’s economy and is now ready to come back home.
La récente réforme du système scolaire italien a fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Les projecteurs se sont cependant dirigés davantage vers l’école primaire que vers les nouveautés importantes introduites dans le secondaire, qui mettent en danger l’apprentissage d’une deuxième langue vivante
Pour les élèves italiens, l’heure des inscriptions a sonné. La date limite a été cette année repoussée au 28 février. Ce délai est particulièrement important pour l’inscription dans les collèges car la mise en place de la réforme Gelmini, initialement annoncée pour septembre 2010, aurait été anticipée à la rentrée 2009. Or, les nouveaux formulaires d’inscription ne sont disponibles que depuis le 16 janvier 2009…
Pour bien comprendre les tenants et les aboutissants de la réforme, il faut revenir en arrière au mois de mars 2003, quand Letizia Moratti, ministre du gouvernement Berlusconi, propose une réforme du système scolaire. Au nom de la "loi des trois i", anglais (inglese), informatique et entreprise (impresa), on assiste alors à l’introduction de l’anglais, seule langue autorisée, dans le primaire (alors qu’il était jusque-là théoriquement possible d’y enseigner le français ou une autre langue). En sixième en revanche l’étude d’une deuxième langue (français, allemand ou espagnol) devient obligatoire (et non plus optionnelle, comme elle était proposée dans certains établissements). La réforme respectait donc pleinement les directives européennes en matière d’enseignement des langues étrangères. Cependant, deux ans plus tard, l’article 25 du décret du 17 octobre 2005 relatif à l’enseignement secondaire prévoyait "la possibilité, au niveau du collège, pour les familles qui en feront la demande, d’utiliser, pour l’apprentissage de la langue mentionnée ci-dessus (c’est-à-dire l’anglais, n.d.a), le nombre d’heures consacré à l’apprentissage de la deuxième langue communautaire."
L’article 25 : une épée de Damoclès
Silvia Diegoli est professeur de français au lycée de Carignano, dans les environs de Turin. Elle est présidente de la section turinoise de l’ANILF (photo ANILF)
"C’est l’existence de cet article, suspendu sur nos têtes comme une épée de Damoclès, qui est à l’origine de la création, le 22 décembre 2005 à Cuneo, de l’Associazione Nazionale per l’Insegnamento della Lingua Francese", explique Silvia Diegoli. Au fil des réunions, grâce au travail d’information effectué sur Internet et au bouche à oreille entre collègues, ce petit groupe de professeurs s’est élargi. C’est ainsi qu’il devint nécessaire de créer, le 14 mars 2006, une section turinoise de l’ANILF. Aujourd’hui, l’ANILF compte une centaine de membres au sein de ses deux sections, Cuneo et Turin. C’est l’ANILF qui rencontre en juillet 2007 Giuseppe Fioroni, ministre de l’Education du gouvernement Prodi. Une rencontre rassurante : "Nous avons obtenu la promesse que l’article 25, "congelé" jusqu’en 2009, serait aboli à cette date-là", poursuit Silvia Diegoli. Seulement voilà : la chute du gouvernement Prodi en 2008 change les données du problème et Mariastella Gelmini, dans sa réforme, reprend et applique le texte de l’article 25. Concrètement donc, en septembre 2009, les élèves des collèges auront le choix entre deux possibilités : étudier une deuxième langue étrangère (rappelons que l’anglais première langue est obligatoire pour tous) ou opter pour une section d’"anglais renforcé".
Contre le modèle unique
Pour Silvia Diegoli, ce n’est certes pas l’apprentissage obligatoire de l’anglais en première langue qu’il faut remettre en question. "En revanche, nous considérons que le monolinguisme est une tentative d’imposition d’un modèle culturel unique qui va à l’encontre des besoins de notre temps. Face à cet indéniable appauvrissement culturel, il faut bien voir que ce qui est vraiment grave, c’est que nos élèves présents et futurs vont se trouver dans une position inférieure par rapport aux jeunes européens qui, pour la plupart, connaissent deux sinon trois langues européennes. Alors, pourquoi ne pas proposer cet anglais renforcé comme une option, tout en gardant la deuxième langue pour tous ?" Par ailleurs l’ANILF, qui ne doute pas du succès que risque de rencontrer la section d’anglais renforcé telle qu’elle est proposée aujourd’hui, se bat pour que le français bénéficie du statut de deuxième langue officielle du Piémont en raison de la proximité géographique de la région avec la France. Dans ce combat, l’ANILF devrait pouvoir compter sur un allié important : la Région Piémont, par l’intermédiaire de madame Pentenero, chargée des dossiers relatifs à l’éducation. L’Union européenne, qui a toujours prôné "la maîtrise de plusieurs langues par le plus grand nombre", pourrait également venir à la rescousse…
During my time in Rwanda, I have had the pleasure of connecting with the organization of my roommates Amir and Anna, called “Miracle Corners of the World” (MCW). This is an international network that empowers youth to become positive agents of change, to improve their lives and contribute to their communities. MCW serves youth through leadership training, community development, oral healthcare, and partner initiative programs.
In Rwanda, MCW has begun building a community center inspired by the ideas of youth throughout the Bugesera District, several kilometers south of the capital city of Kigali. This center will house an ICT center for learning computer skills, a classroom for language instruction, and a preschool, among other facilities.
This project will be particularly important in facilitating Rwanda’s switch from Francophone to Anglophone, which occurred officially only several weeks ago at the end of 2008. In fact, Miracle Corners Rwanda hopes to build the first public library in the entire country, focusing on making English-language books available to the community.
"Kubaka" in Kinyarwanda means "Construction." This film tells the story of the groundbreaking ceremony for the center, highlighting some of the ways MCW has been working with the community, and celebrating the opportunities for education, networking, and socialization that have been and will be "constructed."
click to watch two related videos
'By 2025 the number of English–speaking Chinese is likely to exceed the number of native English speakers in the rest of the world'.
So said Gordon Brown, the U.K. finance minister, during a recent trip to China.
If we won't learn Chinese then the Chinese will simply do the heavy lifting and learn English. It's as simple as that and it's happening.
The Financial Times is well aware of who's going to be ruling the planet in decades to come and is doing its level best to tell us, in our own language, how it's going to happen.
The Times article that follows, by Andrew Yeh, appeared on April 13, 2005. It speaks for itself.
New Dawn in a Shared Language
Many more Chinese are learning English to further their opportunities, driving the market for education
On a typical weekday morning, Gao Long retreats to a snow-covered park among the grey buildings of Beijing Normal University to practise English by herself.
Several other students do the same.
Some sit on benches mumbling over books while others saunter to and fro in sub-zero temperatures while reading aloud.
They come to work on their spoken English and escape the cramped dormitories they share with many roommates.
"You don't disturb anybody in the park because everyone is reading out loud," said Ms Gao, a bespectacled college undergraduate.
"You have to rely on yourself - others can only give you a form or teach you certain ways but it's still up to you in the end."
Ms Gao spends her time here reading passages from her heavily marked English text, stopping every now and again to perfect her pronunciation of tricky words such as "pesticide".
As the weather warms up, she says, even more students from the college will come to the park to practise.
There are countless Chinese youths with the same curiosity and drive as Ms Gao for mastering the English language.
In a country imbued with the values of self-improvement, learning English is often viewed as one of the surest ways to improve one's career opportunities.
And these attitudes are expected to yield significant demand for education-related products and services in the years ahead.
China is a country that has historically placed great value on education. Yet its current fanaticism for learning English is unique.
"It's a phenomenon," said Zhou Chenggang, a former BBC correspondent who is now vice-president of New Oriental, a private Beijing-based company that runs a network of English teaching services around the country.
"The biggest motivation is that they know it will help their lives."
In China today, the keenest students of English tend to be those cramming for foreign exams, with the aim of going abroad and winning scholarships.
To do well on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a test of verbal, quantitative and analytical skills, for instance, a Chinese student must be familiar with up to 20,000 words.
And someone taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) needs to learn around 7,500 words, Mr Zhou estimates.
Students in the capital, where the country's best universities are located, are known for reading and watching everything they can get their hands on.
This hunger for learning is expected to generate huge growth in the market for English education products, which includes teaching services, textbooks, test preparation manuals, dictionaries and information technology products and services.
The demand for classroom instruction has been increasing, too, though spending power in many Chinese cities remains limited.
New Oriental estimated its total enrolment was 750,000 last year, up from 450,000 in 2003.
And the demographic range of students is widening.
Mr Zhou of New Oriental says that in the 1990s nearly all students learning English were preparing for specific foreign exams - such as GRE, TOEFL and the International English Language Testing System - to give them a chance to study abroad or raise their prospects of a job at a multinational company.
These days those studying the language include children, older people and those with a general interest.
English texts are now the fastest growing sector in China's book education market and account for up to 8 per cent of the retail book market, according to Xin Guangwei, a publishing industry researcher and author of Publishing in China.
Numerous foreign education and publishing companies have been positioning themselves to cash in.
Their success, however, will be determined by the extent to which they can access the market and how well they can outperform and co-operate with Chinese publishing houses.
There is considerable Sino-foreign co-operation in the market for learning English. Oxford University Press and The Commercial Press, one of China's oldest publishing houses, together produce a bilingual English-Chinese pocket dictionary.
Oxford University is also involved in producing English coursework materials for China's classrooms.
Gunawan Hadi, Asia vice-president of McGraw-Hill Education, says his company has been working with Chinese publishers to develop English texts and reference materials.
He adds that the company's China revenues have grown steadily in the past five years.
Other foreign publishers such as Pearson Education and Cambridge University Press have also been trying to target the country's English enthusiasts.
Gordon Brown, the UK finance minister, said during a recent trip to China that Britain's education exports were now the fastest growing export earner, having nearly doubled in five years to £10.3bn ($19.5bn) - equivalent to about 1 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
Mr Brown said that education exports would be vital to the UK economy - possibly reaching £20bn a year in 15 years time - and that China is expected to be the primary driver of growth.
Many believe that China already has the world's largest number of people learning English.
"In 20 years time, the number of English speakers in China is likely to exceed the number of speakers of English as a first language in all the rest of the world," Mr Brown said during a speech in Beijing.
"I believe this is a huge opportunity."
Those on the crest of the wave of learning are endlessly creative about study methods.
Jessy Zhao, a 23-year-old from China's western Xinjiang region who is now studying for a Masters in education at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, covered her dormitory room wall with memos with English words she wanted to remember.
"There was a movie that I really liked a lot when I started to learn English, so I tape recorded the conversation and repeated it again and again just for fun," said Ms Zhao.
Students can be particularly obsessive about memorising vocabulary. Maggie Cheng, a student of English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, recalls how someone from her home town was given two Oxford dictionaries by her family as study aids.
She ended up using one as a reference guide and the other for memorising.
"She would read a page and then rip a page - for a sense of accomplishment, I guess," Ms Cheng says.
There are many study aids available to Chinese students.
Aside from the internet and English books sold in stores, outdated foreign newspapers and magazines are often for sale at a discount from street vendors and underground hawkers.
Ms Gao of Beijing Normal University has been studiously flipping through issues of Time magazine because the "stories are real rather than a sham", she writes in an e-mail.
"I read every book I can, I'm very interested," explains Ms Gao, who spends long hours in the library.
"I think books help broaden our modes of thinking and knowledge."
Cost and Complications Take Some of the Appeal Out of Studying Overseas
Despite China's fascination with the west, the number of Chinese students heading overseas has been declining in recent years, while those returning have been on the rise.
More than 114,600 students went abroad to study last year, down from 125,000 in 2002, according to statistics from China's education ministry.
And in the last five years, the number of Chinese returning from overseas stints has been increasing, exceeding 25,000 last year.
Many students are choosing to stay at home to avoid the cumbersome visa procedures associated with foreign travel and the heavy financial cost of studying abroad - in marked contrast to the trend of the 1990s.
UK universities in particular have witnessed a significant drop in the number of postgraduate applications from China, as well as other Asian countries.
But for many students, the returns they seek can only be met by leaving China, where the job market for young professionals is tight.
English language skills, coupled with scarce expertise in a technical area, are seen as a combination for success.
"I regard [learning English] as a key to open the door to another world in which there are different cultures and people I want to understand," says Annan Yang, a 23-year-old from Hangzhou, near Shanghai, who is studying for a PhD in biology at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
"It's a tool like a computer to get information," she explains.
"Especially in science, if I want to know the development of a field, I must know English because the best magazines are in English."
Gao Long, a student at Beijing Normal University, says she wants to go to the US since it represents fairness and better opportunities.
A book she is now reading describes an American town where life is "in harmony with its surroundings".
"It's an open country," says the 16-year-old.
"In China, many jobs are based more on background. In America, people pay more attention to your ability."
The Tunisian Ministry of Education and Training signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the British Council in London Tuesday, to prepare for a huge project aimed at English language teaching reform in all state primary and secondary schools in Tunisia. The MoU signing ceremony was attended by Hatem Ben Salem, the Tunisian Minister of Education and Training; and Lord Kinnock, Chair of the British Council and former Leader of the Labour Party.
The project, known as 'English for the Future', seeks to design and introduce new English language materials and course books for primary and secondary education in order to produce output standards that are within the Common European Framework for Languages, and to equip learners of English with better vocational language abilities.
During the ceremony, Lord Kinnock stressed the Council's commitment to Tunisia.
"Our commitment to Tunisia, to education specifically, and within that to English language teaching and training is very very strong indeed and we would like to do much more of it," noted Lord Kinnock.
The English language is not only vital for employability, but "the fact is: an international language can be a medium of tolerance and comprehension," Lord Kinnock said.
The Tunisian Minister underscored his country's focus on improving education.
"Since its independence, Tunisia has decided not to invest in arms but to invest instead in education," said Ben Salem.
"The budget for the Ministry of Education is one fifth of the whole state budget," he added.
However, the Tunisian education system had mainly invested to enable people to have access to education, noted Ben Salem, adding that now is the time "to go further and work more on quality, not only in education but also in vocational training."
Tunisia, which boasts of around 2,200,000 students in primary and secondary schools, has the burden of 100, 000 high diploma holders who are unemployed, prompting more focus on vocational training, where mastering the English language is key.
"Now there is a target; to have students go to vocational training," said Ben Salem, adding that learners would not benefit by finding jobs in Tunisia only, but also by being employed in Arab Gulf States.
"Ministers in the Gulf are asking for experts from Tunisia who are skilled in English," noted Ben Salem.
The project also aims to focus on training Tunisian teachers of English to reach a certain level of expertise, especially since there has been an increase in the number of English language teachers and students.
"The Tunisian President Ben Ali had decided to impose teaching English for sixth year primary school children, which was revolutionary in Tunisia where people are accustomed to French. So the new teachers will need more training," explained Ben Salem.
The project initiative will begin by assessing the current situation of English language teaching in Tunisia before planning to set out a clear feasible strategy.
But the Tunisian Minister is optimistic that the project's success will make it a positive model for neighbouring countries.
Preparations for the project have already begun.
"Just over a year ago we had a three person scoping mission - distinguished consultants from the UK - who worked with a team from the Ministry and looked at the whole situation of English language teaching, root and branch," said Peter Skelton, British Council Director.
"The team produced a very weighty report," said Skelton, which will be the basis for work on the way forward, adding that the project could last as long as 8 years "as it is one of the biggest investments the British Council has made anywhere."
"It is being launched in Tunisia as a pilot not only for the Near East and North Africa region but for the rest of the world," explained Skelton, to see "what can be done using the British Council's new products and services."
"The absolute key in this is sustainability," stressed Skelton.
When asked about the significance of this project in comparison to previous British Council initiatives in Tunisia, Skelton said the Council "was involved with one off projects, good at the time but did not have a lasting impact. Now we're looking at long term impact and sustainability."