English Proficiency Falters among French ; Study Draws Conclusions on Habits of the Best and Worst Language Learners

By Schuetze, Christopher | International Herald Tribune, November 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

English Proficiency Falters among French ; Study Draws Conclusions on Habits of the Best and Worst Language Learners


Schuetze, Christopher, International Herald Tribune


While English proficiency among European adults is generally increasing, proficiency in France is both low and declining.

Marseille's new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations opened in June, part of the city's celebration of its status as this year's European Capital of Culture.

Though the museum is European in ambition, many of its exhibits are labeled only in French: English, though firmly established as the global language of business, education and culture, is glaringly absent from most of the signage, though an English-language audio tour is available.

A study released last week suggests that this absence is symbolic of a significant trend. The study, by Education First, an international education company, found that while English proficiency among European adults is generally increasing, proficiency in France is both low and declining.

According to the third EF English Proficiency Index, released last week, France ranked 35th among 60 nations where English is not the main language. The study put the country's average English language skills in the "low proficiency" bracket, between China and the United Arab Emirates -- and last among European nations. It also found that France was one of only two European countries where proficiency had decreased over the past six years. Norway was the other; but there, proficiency remained at such a high level that the change was insignificant.

The rankings are based on the results of 750,000 online assessment tests completed last year -- some online, others by English language school applicants.

EF's English Proficiency Index, based on the test results, compared country scores with the results of a similar study carried out between 2007 and 2009, to identify trends in proficiency levels over the past six years.

"There are some countries that are still not giving the basic message that English is a necessary skill," said Kate Bell, a researcher with EF, in Paris.

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.

Unlike its smaller northern European neighbors, France dubs most American films and television shows into French. …

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