May 26, 2024

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Do the French speak English badly?

Do the French speak English badly?

Statistics from the latest international rankings of the state of English in 112 different countries confirm it: the French are not the best at practicing Shakespeare's language. But they are not bad! Moliere's country is within the European average, and ranks 25th internationally

But where does the idea that the French don't speak English come from?

To mark International English Language Day on April 23, we asked Londoners and French expats in London for their views.

A very recognizable French accent

The French are known for sharp accents. A quirk that does not escape English speakers: “I can recognize a Frenchman who walks into my shop by saying “hello” to me,” laughs the shopkeeper of a cafe on Liverpool Street. “The French accent is so recognizable that unless you've been a foreigner in an English-speaking country for years, it's hard to get away from it,” says Melanie, a young French student in London for 3 years.

Teaching English in France is often criticized

Lack of class time, sometimes inappropriate teaching methods, emphasis on grammar detrimental to oral expression… The French education system is often singled out for its shortcomings in teaching English. “I learned more in two months of daily English lessons in London than I did in 10 years of weekly lessons in France. The big difference here is that we talk a lot throughout the course. In high school in Paris, my English lessons were only writing or reading,” explains Romain, a French student who came to learn English at an institution in London.

Are there French among the French?

The French expatriate community in London is very large. It is easy to meet French speakers on every street corner. Many groups on social networks have been created to facilitate meetings between foreigners, sometimes to the detriment of those with locals. “My first instinct when I came to London was to turn to the French community. It's reassuring and easy to start a conversation. Meeting new people when you're alone in a new country is already stressful! But yes, it's not the best way to improve your English,” said a French expat in London for 6 months. Leo says.

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A gap between generations

In France, significant disparities concern the level of English by generations, education levels and regions. Younger generations and higher education graduates tend to speak English better than their elders and less educated counterparts. “40 years ago, English was not taught in kindergarten or primary schools. In college I wanted to learn a new language. But not everyone is like that. In my school, I had to choose both English and German from 6th grade. I chose German, which means I don't have a solid foundation in English,” says Valérie, a French national in her fifties.

Among the French youth, the level of English is high and has become more and more necessary. “More and more young people today want to travel or work abroad. So fluency in English is essential! I love to travel the world, so it's reassuring to know that I can ask for help in English if something happens to me! Of course it was this desire to travel that inspired me to work on my English,” shares Charlene, a young French woman.

Don't forget that learning a language is a long and demanding process. Don't be discouraged if progress isn't immediate. The key is to be motivated and persistent. As the British say: Carry on!