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French and English Pupils Lag on Foreign Languages

Wednesday 01 August 2012

French pupils have the worst foreign language ability in Europe - after the English!

In a major study of foreign language proficiency carried out under the auspices of the European Commission, only 14% of French pupils obtained a standard rating of ‘good’ in their use and understanding of their first foreign language, English.

They were kept from last place in the table only by the poor understanding of English pupils of their first foreign language, French, only 9% of whom had a ‘good’ rating in the survey.

Elsewhere in Europe, it was a generally far better picture, with 42% considered to be competent in their first foreign language, and 20% in their second.

The survey was carried out by the University of Cambridge, who conducted specific tests amongst over 50,000 pupils aged 14 to 16 years, in 13 countries of Europe.

Those performing best in the study were the Swedes, Dutch, Maltese, and the Irish.

Amongst the English and the French at the bottom of the table were the Belgians, Polish and Spanish.

Swedish schoolchildren came out on top with no less than 82% of them having a good standard of use and understanding of their first language, which was English.

Neil Jones, the academic in charge of the study stated that the main explanation for the poor performance of some countries was simply the lack of motivation to learn a foreign language.

He offered some excuse for English schoolchildren propping up the table. "I can understand why the English do not show up well: their language has become a necessity everywhere”.

In all 13 countries in the study, English is the main foreign language that is taught.

The author recommends that the learning of a foreign language should start at a much younger age, something which France has taken up in recent years, with even discussion of a foreign language being taught at infant school, although this has yet to be introduced.

However, it is taught in primary school, and there is every indication that over the next decade the ranking of French pupils in such a study will improve.

One of the other key recommendations of the report is that foreign languages need to become a more regular part of daily life, rather than merely an academic study.

In this regard much could be achieved by introducing sub-titles to foreign language programmes on the television, but this is something that France continues to resist, so that all such programmes are dubbed in French. Even most foreign language films on at the cinema are dubbed.

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