How English is taught to French children

We paid 500 euros to send our perfectly bilingual daughter to the UK with her school and this is (some of) what she was taught.

She spent the week living with a non native English speaking family.

Did we get value for money?

Should we demand a refund?

Anyone for Diner in Windsor?

When I arrived in 2010, I was an English assistant in a lycee near Lyon. I spent the first month in shock and struggling to earn my students' trust, since they were used to sitting and copying endless lists of meaningless words and grammar rules instead of interacting, much less speaking. They confessed that they were terrified of trying to talk to me because their other teachers would literally yell at them for making any kind of mistake (when I witnessed it, it made me flinch and I know I would also be traumatized if I were called "stupid" and ridiculed in front of everyone that way). I tried making small talk in the hallways and then was able to get the teachers to send me smaller groups in a separate classroom for conversation sessions, and there they were able to loosen up and speak up, which was what I really cared about.

There was a huge amount of French spoken during English class, and ever since then, now that I work with adults, I hear the same story over and over: in college or lycee, we had English every week but I never talked, never practiced, I don't remember anything, I hated it, etc etc. Getting them past the previous negative experiences can sometimes be tough, but I'm lucky now to be in an environment where the adults WANT to be there and are much more willing to speak up and learn through making mistakes.

On one hand, its motivating because from a teacher's point of view, there is a lot to work on and improve. On the other hand, as a parent, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be, and worse from the child's point of view. Learning a language should be fun, because later it is a necessity.

Good luck to all the parents and kids and teens who are going through this process!

Just had to find out if things are better in and around Cambridge and are they heck. Some friends were turned down for hosting because the local buses ran into Cambridge too late for early classes in the school. My friends had made it very clear that since he goes directly past the school on his way into his office students would be dropped off and arrangements for transport home later either him or her to suit the students. So what rationale lies behind their rejection? The couple have two guest rooms in which up to four students could be comfortably put up and absolutely no problem with the 'catering'. Back to the original question - demand your money back as a matter of principal.

Andrew is very close to a very much overlooked truth. To be exact, and to begin with, in 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a new world map on which he named the lands of the western hemisphere 'America' which was a misspelling of the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. Waldseemüller published one of the Vespucci accounts, leading to criticism that Vespucci was trying to upset Christoffa Corombo's glory. Rediscovery of the Soderini Letter led to the view that the early published accounts may be fabrications. Whatever, they actually put English travellers somewhat off the Americas and on the back of Waldseemüller's map and descriptives to far more German speaking than English early settlers, particularly because of 'tensions' between Catholicism and Protestantism which is why the USA is essentially as Calvinistic as it is rather than Anglo-Catholic. German language, along with the Spanish of large parts of southern states and possibly far more French had settlement of what is now eastern Canada expanded west and south, perhaps meeting Russian Alaska, could have really sidelined English. Think of the world we might have now - difficult, I've tried and do not get there...

Emma, nail on head. J'nau jesagt, wie icke saje als Berlina... Sorry - correctly said, as I would say as a Berliner. Much of it is about the dialect and they are maintained alongside (rather than instead of) the high language and they accentuate linguistic diversity thus making learning another language (such as English) notionally far easier to begin with.

Hereabouts dialect counts more than what they want in Paris. Our teacher friend teaches our daughter 'proper French' in class but speaks dialect in company, between Andrew's rocks and hard places because the two must coexist. I go on school trips to Les Eyzies, Lascaux, etc, with his class because I did 'arch and anth' as un undergraduate an can feign knowledge but can genuinely help when we have the mock 'digs' in the education centre with a single overburdened archeologist. What I have discovered and challenged him with is that he would rather be an archaeo than a teacher but because employment is as it is in France he is wary of change. He is also a good teacher whose class enjoy lessons, thus would equally be a pity. He teaches a bit of English and asks me a few questions but does not dare conversation because how he was taught has not given him the confidence.

Look, since the 1990s I have worked mostly in Viet Nam but also a bit in Kampuchea and Laos. All have discarded all but residual French (in all they us 'Ga' as the word for railways station) but even in the remotest corners schools teach English and it is comprehensible and purposeful. I have Morroccan friends in England whose home language is their 'Moorish/Arabic' dialect but whose English is many times better than their French and are perfectly happy about that - as they say, they chose not to study in France because it would have given them the choice of careers in Morrocco or France only. It is a losing battle but why is a battle to begin with? Why, like so many other languages, can it not coexist and be used as a set of languages. If, as Emma says, teachers were better valued then perhaps standards and enthusiasm for language would increase, however I would say the same must be said for UK schools where French, German, Spanish and so on are not thriving as they should, given our EU membership alone... Governments want to have highly skilled and qualified people for the benefit of their countries, and quite rightly, but after years of university teaching I wonder how they imagine that can ever be acheived without bringing up the standards of education from day one on and giving the teachers the morale and incentive back to do so.

well stated Emma, the US only voted English rather than German as it's language by one vote if my lingusitics history source is correct, can you imagine the world linguistically if that had happened...! ;-)

Brian, yes second/foreign language learning should start far earlier, everyone knows that, all the studies show it, the government looked at it. It came down to a logistical nightmare of trying to give (in the UK) enough in teh way of MFL skills to primary school teachers so that they could get the ball rolling. it was clear that that would never work (this whole thread about the level of teachers' language skills points out why!) so then they thought about secondary MFL teachers going into primary schools... Seeing as they can't get enough MFL teachers in secondary schools, so having to scrap a compulsory MFL GCSE for every pupil, it would only make the situation worse to try and spread the minimal resourses still further into primary schools. We live in a far from perfect world as many of us here are more than aware. Perhaps it is rather telling that here we are, a bunch of talented linguists able to at least understand advice on and takle the current problems, but we're all living in France, having left education/teaching etc in the UK...!

ps, please excuse rambling, typos and mistakes - kids playing up behind me and OH reminding me of all the things I need to do before going off to teach my chinese students this afternoon, pont, quel pont !

I think that if schools (and the people in them and around them) valued teachers more, they'd attract a range of people who can teach and who can teach well. I think that's the essential problem. Too many good teachers leave the profession or become cynical beyond belief because of the petty bureaucracy around them. And then what are schools to do? They have to replace them with whoever applies for the job.

As for the Scandinavian countries and the Dutch/Belgian - they're not precious about language to the same degree as France and England are. They're also a lot less neurotic about not being a G8 country. England, the US and France are both so alike in that they think a) language learning is hard and b) language learning is unimportant and then secret option c) everybody should learn OUR language if they want to talk to us. We English speakers are lucky: that happens. France's national psyche about its own importance is part of the problem, I think. Language teaching is unimportant because to them, the French language (such as it is - and let's remember that dialect was the fundamental of life for a lot of non-Parisian French up until very recent times) is supreme.

In Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway etc - not only do they have their own dialect wars which makes a 'neutral' language like English much less political, but they realise they need to speak other languages to function in the world. Without the industrial and economic might of being a world leader, you NEED to be more humble and accommodating!

Lucky for England, they can sail on the coat-tails of American dominance (otherwise language learning in UK schools would be paramount) and unluckily for France, they didn't make enough of an impact in the colonies that became world-leaders so that French jostles with English. Lucky for English, too, that China - at its heart a country with many dialects and a super-imposed language like Mandarin - is quickly seeing that English is the lingua franca.

France, essentially, doesn't want English to be the lingua franca - and that's an issue too. To be honest, it's a huge part of the problem as I see it. And it'd be a problem for the UK too if we weren't so lucky historically.

and that's where you've hit the nail on the head Catharine - teachers are caught between various rocks and hard places, it's why so many leave too. My OH is leaving teaching this summer too after nearly 15 years and doing the rounds of the school and seeing who is left, as many are jumping ship as it's sinking, one quickly sees that those who are capable adaptable and often the best teachers are leaving and the "hangers on" are doing just that. I was one amongst the 25% of staff that left the year I did in a rather difficult school. The whole profession needs a real lift as Emma pointed out. Whilst teachers are constantly attacked, undermined and generally denigrated from all sides it's no wonder that many of the best are leaving or do not even venture into the profession at all. The situation is bad in the UK but it is not good here in France either, the head mistress friend I talked about before, who was an English teacher but who admits she'll never talk to me in English out of shame at her level (that has nothing to do with the fact that she's an extremely dedicated and effective head teacher!), had a huge problem finding someone to replace an English teacher in her school, pleaded with me several times to take the job but eventually found someone at the last minute. Apparently the situation is getting worse and worse, especially with the changes to teacher training. My OH's cousin is a maths teacher, aunt is an english teacher, both say the same thing - it's hell out there. Now, non of that excuses bad grammar or bad teaching, but it may explain it a little. I went in to it with a stack of qualifications and enthusiasm and have been spat out the other end, or more accurately jumped ship, whilst others are trapped where they no longer really want to be. Last note - teaching privately, CCI etc is difficult but a whole lot better than classes of 30+ in a collège or lycée - this is where things really need to change to attract, again as Emma pointed out, motivated experienced professionals WHO MUST BE SUPPORTED AND FEEL VALUED IF THEY ARE TO STAY AND TEACH OUR CHILDREN CORRECTLY!

@Emma, I'm just a humble linguist/translator/languages teacher - I lapped up your praise but will try to stop my head swelling too much ;-)

I think, but stand corrected if people disagree, that language teaching tends to begin too late. I say that because I learned my 'second' language from when I learned to speak through my day carer. Neither of my parents learned more than a few words of German ever. So I was hearing German from something like 16 weeks old. I used a Ripuarian dialect, a version of Kölsch, but was taught Hochdeutsch through pre-school and the year and a half of primary school before moving to England. I continued to use it because when my father was demobilised, several other members of his unit where allocated housing in the same newly built block of flats as us. Some mothers were German and those children spoke German indoors and in their homes I continued to do so. Thus from when I left home to go to study until when I began postgrad research that I by coincidence rather than intent did within a Berlin based research group, was three or four years. During that time I used German texts which are prolific in the social sciences to my benefit.

However, having chosen to do my research in Peru I had to learn Spanish. The penny soon dropped for me that it was rather like the French and Latin I had learned for six years at school and very much like the Corsican dialect of my very 'temporary' first wife. Of course, working in migrant communities and the Andes I also had to learn Quechua of the Ancash-Huailas dialect variety.

Since then I have learned other languages including my wife's Ticinese Italian, Portuguese, Kinh (principal language of Viet Nam). My observation is that on the one hand it gets harder learning as we get older which includes harder at 22 than 2, that we also forget a certain amount of language as even now I have not recovered the French I once had and both my Englsih and German are suffering a bit.

What is different is that I have not formally studied most languages I know and whilst I have good school qualifications by some fluke I failed 'O' level English three times although I have English literature at that level and by a bit of twisting rules have 'A' level English, sure I have Latin and French at 'O' and German and German Literature at 'A' level, but nothing of a standard that enables me to teach. I did a bit in Peru, but more by bluff and bluster. I have met gifted language teachers but also plenty of people who 'boast' their superior degree who I scarce understand in conversation, dread to think what a classroom would be like. Emma, like most multi-linguists, and amongst anthropologists there is of need a fair few of us, makes heck of a lot of sense. So too does Sylvie. Andrew, well I know his commitment well enough. The problem is that there are too many people unlike you three and more like me who assume that because they speak X they can teach it. Without the nuances of language it does not work, grammar is a tough one to begin with because there is no 'perfect' language in creation. I do reviewing and editing for journals and see that as often from language 'natives' as 'foreign users' in the couple of languages I review to begin with.

However, as I have already said, the language course trips are 'business' and have any of us ever heard of a business with a conscience? Therein a big problem, discuss that and suggest a solution if you can face the frustration that comes with it.

Totally agree about the teaching abilities being key. That goes for everything from the piano to Latin.

And don't even get me started on teaching in the UK - I spent my life complaining to the school when we lived there...

Ah so true Emma, a head teacher in the UK once said to me at interview "I couldn't give a monkeys about your french masters and your perfect french, if you can't teach the kids you'll be useless to me!" He was of course absolutely right and we worked very well together and I did teach some extremely difficult kids in that school!

as for the last line, well I have been known to teach french people english teaching all the grammar in french, especially in companies where people can't handle the immersion method, already have good english but need the finer points explained exactly in their mother tongue. that's some of the teaching I've enjoyed the most, very demanding but rewarding. I'm now on my way out of teaching for the reasons you give, perhaps it's a waste of linguistics/languages/teaching skills but I need a break, it's not all about long holidays and a few hours a week as you know only too well! à + ;-)

PS, I can't compete with you on the languages, mine are just French and Italian (Exeter) and maîtrise français langue étrangère (Aix-en-provence) and PGCE (Lancaster). Still have the intention of tackling Spanish and Occitan when I get the time...!

Andrew - completely agree with everything you've said - especially about the fact that it is sometimes nice to have someone in your own language teach you about a different one, simply because they understand the bear-traps and the errors that people make. I also agree about the teacher being the important bit, not the linguist. The same is true with all subjects. A brilliant whatever might not teach you well. As an ex-deputy in English schools, my best appointment had a third in English - my worst appointment had a first from Oxford! And it's the same case here. Also, I have a few English-speaking children who ask me to teach them French - French being my sixth language! - I explain that they'd be better with a French French teacher, but they want someone who knows why they have problems with gender and who can explain what the groupe nominale is - rather than the expectation that French children 'just know'. And, by the way, I spend as much time teaching accidental French to French childen when teaching English - they make as many spelling and grammatical errors as English children do in English. And yes, there are as many French teachers of maths and science - even French - who make errors with their French. Unfortunately, not every teacher has a full command of their own language.

Catharine, I know you don't want to hear stories about England, but I once watched a job interview lesson for an English post (so I kind of hoped that they'd have prepared and picked something they really knew about) - she was a 2:1 English graduate from a red-brick University and she taught a group of 11 year olds that less and fewer were interchangeable. Needless to say, she didn't get the job.

It's sad that teaching is such an unattractive position in life that it doesn't attract the enthusiasts, the experts and the exciting professionals that it needs.

Unfortunately, the rare beasts like Andrew who are not only fluent in French but have a good English degree - probably in linguistics! - and who are also excellent teachers - are few and far between.

I think you should be paid for going on school trips Sylvie. The nights in the bus must be truly horrific. You have my utmost admiration! x

There is a point being sidelined here. OK, we can see that this is a superb little earner in the UK. I seem to remember that it is the same the other way round. Children going to 'improve' their nigh on non-existent French, Spanish or whatever and coming home after becoming (better) acquainted with wine and various other things one might not have expected. There is also an important point about education and its intent, which is something those of us who have taught undergraduates have often needed to think about. The question there is whether education is giving children the basis upon which to build. Underlying that is the question of whether the teachers can deliver what government policy states is intended and tus whethet teachers are well enough prepared. I have known lots of teachers in my time, from my school contemporaries through to people we have met here. To a greater extent I think their intent is good but for perhaps the last two decades I have personally felt their motivation and morale has suffered. They are not badly paid, but also should probably be better paid, and it is very easy as one hears here about all the time they have off and their 'easy' working conditions and so on. French university teachers are basically poorly paid and given they are of the same order as those who teach teachers is there the encouragement for people to go into education at that level? I suspect not.

The many errors Andrew points out are legion. Arlette, my first trouble and strife, was with a bunch of us walking to a rock concert in Hyde Park from near Tottenham Court Road. We rested near Marble Arch and she commented on how much her 'veals' hurt and several of us remember that to this day. Her calfs (which for legs are calfs not calves and many English speakers get that wrong) were meant but it was what she had been taught at school in her Corsican secondary school. I have argued with French friends about adopted English words and expressions and how they are pronounced, but so often they learned from a teacher who insisted it was 'x' and so it remains that despite what I might say. But then way back when in the early 70s when I needed extra money and taught at Markham College in Lima, Peru where Spanish is used for sending out bills only basically, there were Peruvian teachers who allowed themselves some howlers of the type Andrew is describing and my teacher sister-in-law in Italian Switzerland has dropped some superb English and French goolies at times. Nobody can be perfect, well few people as a rule, but some of the mistakes are totally unforgivable. Those are systemic, they set the scene for reception and acceptance of totally naff language teaching being delivered without fair critique on these trips. Howlers are universal. The worst though are the means by which accomodation is arranged, badly vetted, monitored and remedied and some of the trips are a tad more than dodgy. I have seen people in charge of these tours screaming at porters at Kings College because they were not allowed in on days when there were events like conferences and royal visits and good notice had been given the college was closed on that day. These 'guides' are not that well paid and do it on a script rather than knowledge in most cases, so why should they do all the homework to know when a college is closed - one might argue?

James asked an interesting question, it has broadened out interestingly as well and Catharine is making some even more additionally interesting critical comments. OK, let's get back to what the basis of the whole thing is - it has become a business that is largely rip off because it is expected that we all learn languages in the modern world BUT is education itself up to the standard to achieve that end and is that not where we should be looking at all levels? That begins with our children's schools and extends through to the language schools and what is probably key to all of that is whethet there are inspectorates up to the standard to evaluate whether or not what is intended is what is indeed delivered?

Hmm - dross as in rubbish. How else would you like to describe it? Perhaps it would have been interesting to have posted the teacher's work without highlights and made it a "SPOT THE MISTAKE" game?

I am sure that nobody who tries to speak a foreign language would make the mistake of thinking that it is easy to talk like a native! However, I don't think it is unreasonable to have the expectation that foreign language teachers of any language, in any country, will get things right!

Also - I am taking into account how I would feel in these circumstances. If I had paid €500 for one of my children to got to UK I would be unimpressed with this paperwork. Having a non-native speaking host family would not improve matters!

Equally - my teenagers know that "publicly" correcting their English teacher is not necessarily the best thing to do! It can't be easy for the teacher to have a class member who speaks the language more fluently than they do and in our experience some teachers handle that much better than others!

oh and just to contribute another language gem - I used to teach professional degree students, me at the IUT and another english teacher in a partner establishment, the students were on a commercialisation de produits de terroir degree so food and local produce are key - one student started talking about veals meaning (calves) being reared in such and such a way, when I pointed out the difference between veal and a calf they were all surprised because the other teacher (french) had taught them that and one student went on to use it in her final presentation as she just couldn't get it out of her head despite my repeated explanations! the other teacher had also told them that there was no word for ananas in english because it didn't exist there...!

just having a quickie as I type... cup of tea that is, nice one MC, not even a grammar error either! Catharine, I do realise how annoying the situation must be, I've got it all to come in a few years, i just hope mine will be speaking a little english by then! ps, I wish I could say the typo was deliberate! pps was I winning or whining... and you know me well enough by now to know that I really am just pulling your leg there Catharine ;-)

The first textbook I was shown (in Switzerland), involved one monkey inviting another for a "quickie". My colleagues claimed it was a cup of tea....

And ps - joking about winning!