Monday, November 11, 2013

English Proficiency Falling in France

From the Times:
According to Ms. Bell, the level of English proficiency among French adults suffers both from inadequate teaching at high school level and the reality that — despite fears of French culture’s being overwhelmed by American pop culture, very little English is actually used in everyday life.
...
France’s secondary school system, which has only recently started testing English oral skills as part of the Baccalaureate, is a major reason for poor language skills, she said.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wait, that was a test designed by an English tutoring private school...
so any claims seem suspect to me.
Second, by definition, adults don't really reflect current secondary school teaching - unless the person they interviewed that teaching teens oral proficiency and listening skills (part of the reform implemented in the past few years) actually decreases proficiency among adults.
Finally, what about the Spanish-speaking markets, or the French-speaking markets? Or, for that matter, the importance of cpeaking German (France's #1 economic partner, I believe)?
This report makes very little sense.

bernard said...

"France’s secondary school system, which has only recently started testing English oral skills"

What sort of unreliable source is this? I had an English oral exam at the baccalaureat about 40 (forty) years ago. Not that the teacher testing me knew much English, but that would be another conversation.

Anonymous said...

The source is a for-profit tutoring company whose main product is English lessons.
So...

MCG said...

If you want to know why the level of English proficiency in France is so low, read Laurel Zuckerman's hilarious account of the training of English teachers in France, Sorbonne Confidential. A friend who recently retired from teaching in the program at the Sorbonne says the book is entirely accurate. Also funny. http://www.amazon.com/Sorbonne-Confidential-Laurel-Zuckerman/dp/06152528

Passerby said...

I work in the French speaking part of Switzerland. In my job, I speak in English all day long. I'm fluent, with a descent accent, although not as good as I'd wish.

New colleagues once we get more acquainted, will ask me at some point whether I'm Swiss. When I answer, that I'm French, I usually get a surprised reaction: "Really?!? Where did you learn to speak English like that?"


The first time that someone made this comment it took a minute to understand the meaning. I just didn't see the link between my nationality and English proficiency. Now, I have heard it many times, from both Swiss and foreigners. Even a French colleagues.


This is just anecdotal evidence, but I think that it illustrates how the level of English proficiency in France is perceived in the world.

Sophie said...

I had an English oral exam au Bac almost thirty years ago. Seems like a strange assertion...

bernard said...

2 witnesses. The NYT is not what it used to be. We will live to regret Elaine Sciolino(?)...

Passerby said...

@Bernard and Sophie: the exam must have changed in the meantime, because about 20 years ago, the bac exam (séries générales) for English as a primary foreign language was a written test only.
The oral exam was only a retake exam (rattrapage) for students who nearly failed their bac.

The only took oral exams that I took were for secondary and tertiary foreign languages (and French!)

My 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Judging by a friend's son experience at maternelle, there must have been a period when you could gain qualification without the capacity to communicate verbally. An anecdote, for sure, but one that stunned me.

Passerby said...

@Anonymous: I don't know the specifics about your friend's experience at a maternelle. I imagine that the teacher basically spoke no English.

It's possible (and likely) that the person got the baccalauréat with poor verbal skills. First because one could get a low grade in English, and make it up with a good grade in Maths or History. Or simply if there was no oral at the time one took the exam. Or both...

However, it's also possible that the person simply never studied English. In my days one could (and I assume still can) pass the bac without taking English.
Most people choose English, but some don't. A friend of mine had her "bac" with Russian as first foreign language and Spanish as secondary foreign language. Another took German.

Passerby said...

Sorry for the double post.

Out of curiosity I was looking for the proportion of bacheliers with English as first foreign language.

I didn't find it, but I came across the 2012 baccalauréat rules for foreign languages (http://www.education.gouv.fr/cid60617/baccalaureat-2012.html#Langues_vivantes).

You can read the details, but in a nutshell:
- Last year, taking a first foreign language test was mandatory, but could be any of the 22 available languages
- First foreign language was tested using a written exam only. Except for candidates of STG & ST2S series of the "bac pro" (21% of total bac candidates), which took both written and oral exams.

However in 2013 the rules changed: "En séries générales et technologiques (hors TMD et hôtellerie), les nouvelles épreuves de langues vivantes (LV1 et LV2) comportent désormais une évaluation orale organisée dans le cadre normal de la formation et une évaluation écrite ponctuelle terminale."

My understanding is that now there is an oral examination, but not via an exam, only through teachers' evaluation of their students.
Wow! It looks like someone in the Education Nationale made a bold reform...

Anonymous said...

"very little English is actually used in everyday life"

What a bizarre thing to say. What did the NYT journalist expect?

Mélanie

Anonymous said...

Up until 2005 English teachers didn't have any listening or speaking exam in English. Their ability to speak and understand spoken English was tested through the ability to transcribe a text with the phonetic alphabet (I am not kidding you). However all English programs in universities included long hours repeating sentences into a microphone in a language lab.
And I bet many non-Anglophones will say the bad results come from the fact the French syllabi have changed to include more listening comprehension, speaking, etc, and less grammar.... :)