Saturday, January 23, 2010

Teaching of French Declines in US

French is taught at only 46% of American high schools, compared with 64% as recently as 1997. Instruction in other foreign languages has also declined. The reason, according to the report cited, is No Child Left Behind, which has forced many schools to concentrate their resources elsewhere. After Spanish, French is still the most widely taught foreign language in the US, however.

It's an absurd situation, really. A global power that shirks the responsibility of educating its citizens in the languages and cultures of other countries is headed for a fall.


kirkmc said...

... unless, of course, that country's language becomes a lingua franca.

But I agree with you, of course, not only because language skills are important, but the cognitive benefit of learning a foreign language is proven. Also, learning languages exposes people to other cultures, whether in that language or in their own, which is always desirable.

MYOS said...

Do you think France should subsidize French teachers in the US, like China does?

Unknown said...


satchmo said...

I didn't know that secondary language instruction in the US was declining to this degree. It's terrible news for US education and culture, and a predictable result of destructive policies. But alas, the US seems to have an abundance of self-destructive policies on all levels these days.

MCG said...

The subsidies idea is excellent. Unless I'm mistaken, France is already using it, although not nearly enough. I assume that France subsidizes the various Alliances Francaises around the world, plus the public schools in the U.S. specializing in French. I also assume that France subsidizes the private schools in the U.S. that are under the direction of the French government, and whose programs lead to the French baccalaureat, like the Lycee Francais in New York.

France itself, however, is draining its language of the special attractiveness it used to have. French was the language of diplomacy and of the arts, the language of Voltaire. Speaking French well was an accomplishment.

But if the French government treats the French language as merely another utilitarian vehicle for buying consumer products, and if it allows the teaching of French to be subjected to the leveling regulations of the EU--a Belgian accent and a Swiss accent and a Parisian accent and a Senegalese accent, and their associated grammars, are equally desirable--one might as well stick to English. Why bother learning those tricky participles just to buy a toaster?

DavidinParis said...

Pls rmbr that the most impt commtn 2day is by email. The intrnt is how we tlk nw.


MYOS said...

MCG: I disagree with you.

Learning how to purchase something in a store does not keep one from learning about a country's culture-- in fact, the "national standards" (that have been in place for about 15 years) clearly insist on teaching culture. Whether it's done or not has nothing to do with the EU or whatever, simply your kids can't all have a great teacher.

In addition, being able to purchase something in a store or ordering croissant with coffee is useful because that's about all you can do with 2 years of high school French -- the most you can hope is that the teacher will make you want to go visit another country and will have provided you with the tools to interact with locals and understand what you see.

If you're talking about French majors in college, I'd like to see what college has drastically changed its curriculum in the manner you describe.

Finally, I really don't see why a Parisian accent is "better" than a Mediterranean, Senegalese, Swiss or Canadian one!

MYOS said...

I'm aware of the Alliance française but these are private institutes. I don't know of subsidized French teachers in public schools - anyone?

Based on the NYT article, China actually pays Chinese people to teach in American public schools - the public schools provide a car, housing, health insurance, plus sometimes a stipend, and the Chinese government pays the salary. They stay 1-2 years and go back to China. Obviously, when programs are cut, this one stays since it's so cheap to maintain and thus the influence of China and of Chinese grow.

It may be a good system for France - they could send their French as a Foreign Language teachers there, or English teachers (?), for professional experience - 1 year or 2, with the same deal (car, housing, health insurance/salary paid in part by the French government.) I think first year teachers make something like 1300 euros a month (heard it on TV a couple days ago), that's under $20,000 a year, so it wouldn't be all that expensive.

Anonymous said...

Ideally, a legion of French teachers from Canada, mostly Québécois, would flood American public schools. French is an American language, not just European. Also, the Québécois/Acadien accent is more "homey" to the ears of Americans, 'sti tabernac.

I began learning French in 9th grade after Latin. Foreign language instruction wasnt available at the elementary & middle school level (in the 1980s). Many nights, I would tune in to the AM radio station and listen to the Montréal Canadiens hockey games. I never understood anything except for the names of players and teams. But it got my ear adjusted to hearing French spoken from the "source", from native-speakers.

I took courses at the Alliance française. The French was mostly Parisian. If there is one reproach to be made to the AF and the French government's approach to foreign-language teaching it is that it is elitist in scope and nature. This contrasts with the French language teaching promoted in Canada, which it is true, is bureaucratized and tied to political considerations. The strong point, however, is that the Québécois are more like Americans in their mentality. Learning about pragmatic, if not basic ordinary things like are not too below them. A class on Bombardier snow mobiles or cabanes à sucre? why not?
French teachers at the AF come across as if they're missionaries out to civilize the barbarous Americans. A total put-off, imo.

Chris P.

MCG said...

My reference was not to subsidized teachers in American public schools but to American public schools that I assume receive some form of subsidy. Do I know for sure? No, hence the word "assume." There are 25 dual-language French-English programs forming in the New York City schools right now, including the New York French-American Charter School. A report on says these programs result from the joint efforts of a number of groups, including the French Embassy.

Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D. said...

Chris P. said, "If there is one reproach to be made to the AF and the French government's approach to foreign-language teaching it is that it is elitist in scope and nature."

Chris P. was not in my intermediate-French class at the Alliance in New York three years ago. And foreign-language teaching at the Alliance is undoubtedly subsidized by the French government. The class I took--I had no choice at the intermediate level--used textbooks designed for the new EU standards. So did all of the other beginning and intermediate classes at the Alliance. There was scarcely any grammar taught, literature was never quoted or mentioned, the subject-matter was banal, and all accents were equal. One would never have known that French was the language of Voltaire.

Anonymous said...

nope I wasn't. note, however, that the term "elitist" is not meant to be value-neutral & descriptive and not pejorative when pertaining to the French government's promotion of it. The demeanor & approach of AF teachers is another thing, however...

French language instruction & promotion in Canada benefits from the luxury of having only a "market" of 25 non-French-speakers and a pool of 8 million native-born Francophones to draw from. Québec & Canadian institutions, private & public, do woefully little compared to the pro-active role of French organisations to promote language instruction in the US (& elsewhere).

For France, and thus l'Etat, its a matter of investing rare resources.
English has cornered the market on the language of daily exchange. French is promoted as the language of culture, and is rendered accesible to the leisure classes in foreign countries such as the USA. Both English & French language instruction worldwide are (implicitly) developed to meet market demands. Whereas rich & poor the world over are exposed to and learn English thanks to the leveling-playing field of a globalized economy, via trade & entertainment, French has developed by claiming for itself a niche market for the educated middle & upper-middle classes, and those who aspire to such.

Chris P.