I don’t speak French I learned it in school for two years as it was compulsory, but I didn’t really get on with it. I was good at it, but at the time I was of the opinion that my time would be better spent learning German, because I liked it better. So I didn’t take it through to GSCE level, and now my French repertoire consists of some words and phrases, most of which are at best useless in everyday life, and at worst, complete nonsense. A couple of months ago, I decided that I would give it another go, and bought a grammar book and textbook, with the aim of teaching myself.
I was therefore interested to read that the French government, which has always done its best to keep French French, has now decided that public universities should start doing as the elite universities do, and offer some courses in English (mainly in the technical, business, and scientific fields), to make France a more attractive destination for international students. This has been met with opposition from people fearing that English will take over completely and render French a dead language, or at least an insignificant one. The supporters of the bill are quick to point out that English words have been creeping into French despite the government’s best efforts, and taking on meanings bestowed upon them by French speakers (‘Baby-foot’ – table football, apparently). The rise of social media and computer technology has also lead to an increase in English words being imported into French. They also maintain that it wouldn’t be all courses that were taught in English, just a select few which would benefit students seeking jobs internationally; students of French or history or art will still be taught in French, and language evolution is inevitable.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Quebec’s proposed French language laws are seeking to ensure – by somewhat extreme means – that Canadian French will never be a dead language. Now, I have a vested interest in Quebec – a close friend of mine lives there, and when I am rich I intend to spend as much time there as possible. However, despite Montreal being bilingual, the thought of me going there having not learned any French is terrifying. The language laws are looking to make French the only official language of the previously bilingual province, which means reducing English provisions in schools, hospitals and government institutions. The regulations don’t just cover official institutions, though – one restaurant was targeted by the ‘language police’ for having ‘pasta’ listed on the menu (though this was admitted to have been an overreaction), and the general feeling is that the government is marginalising first language English residents of Quebec and making them feel unwelcome in their own province.
I think one of the underlying problems of the issues on both sides of the Atlantic, is that English speakers have a reputation for adopting the ‘everyone speaks English’ attitude towards language learning, and become complacent about and sometimes indifferent to other languages. Quebec is surrounded by English speaking provinces and seems to be worried that no one living there will learn French by choice, so instead of seeking to raise a nation of fluent bilinguals, choice is being removed. France, on the other hand recognises that more people worldwide learn English than French, is worried that people will stop studying there because of the lack of choice, and so is offering more, which could open many people’s eyes to French language and culture during their stay, even if they study in English.
Despite the fact that English is commonly used as a lingua-franca and so can be used to communicate your needs, learning other languages broadens your horizons, brings you closer to other people, helps you learn about other cultures or even clinch that business deal abroad.
At Lingua Translations, we offer everyone the choice to communicate with people in their native language, whether it’s English, French or even British Sign Language – for us, all languages are significant languages, and with our contacts worldwide we have a linguist for every occasion!
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