Languages on the curriculum and lost in the classroom

Last night my friend Antoine brought one of my daughters home after a day of canoeing he had arranged for several families and their children. Being French he stayed for a quick apero - three hours. We all got talking.

He was class teacher to our daughter last year, had one of his children in the class too and has another in his class this year. One of the things that was apparently on the curriculum was a couple of hours English a week. The question arose because with the beginning of this school year a few days ago teachers have been explaining what was going to happen this year. This year's teacher has told them that there 'might' be about half an hour of English per week. That is completely out of synch with the curriculum. It is not that we mind, but what we talked about last night was the fact that France is seriously shooting itself in the foot with language teaching, not just English of course. As Antoine said, teacher training offers a bit of this and that but not enough specialisation to allow for core subject teaching like languages. He does not feel he is up to teaching English and the woman whose class my daughter is in now is similar.

He added that if he was in a city school, say in Bordeaux since it is closest, then the chances of decent language teaching go up. Getting a job in a city, if he had wanted, is not that easy. I perfectly understand his point. All of the families who went out yesterday are 'half' wanting me to help. To that end I am 'half' willing and have even bought a couple of books to help me revise proper English grammar and so on. I have no language teaching experience at all and have certainly never taught young children. But it is a handful of families around one small town in a whole country.

I looked at eurostat to see how foreign language learning is in France, but had to look at all of Europe. Things are improving, but the stats given are based on secondary education and have two major flaws. They do not show the success (exam results, etc) of the languages learned, nor do they show the capacity to use them beyond school. Look yourself -

Socio-linguists are emphatic about language teaching as early as possible with unlimited possibilities to improve after the initial stages are learned. If primary school is not hitting the mark, then how can secondary possibly catch up? The irony is that Antoine's ex-wife, a secondary language teacher, is often here separately and is of Spanish origin, therefore teaches Spanish locally to a small number of pupils. She could also teach English but is employed to teach on a wider curriculum and has Spanish as part of her duties, so her language training is largely wasted.

How did this conversation arise last night. It was because of a recent BBC World News item about the enormous percentage of children in China learning English at primary school who are capable of conversation before going on to secondary school and then are beginning to learn second and even third European languages. They knock all of Europe into the long grass. France is lagging behind, but I shall not try to pretend the UK or many other countries are doing fantastically better. However, at a point in time where languages are potentially an important part of the future of our children's lives and since they are on the curriculum, what is standing in the way.

Rather that sitting on the fence twiddling thumbs, goverment should be doing something decisive. At a time when Europe has several elected heads of state who do not have other languages than their own and have spoken about their regrets, is that not a good time for reflection and changeing it?

Good point Tracy.

The Connexion, probably most of us know it. Have a copy on the kitchen table right now, but only read it from time to time.

Thanks Tracy, I'll check it out. I have also downloaded (for a fee) a copy of one of The Connexion publications on being an AE. I'm thinking ahead and trying to lay the groundwork if opportunities present themselves. They have lots of publications available. It's an English language newspaper see Does anyone subscribe to it?

Frances, the point of AE is run it alongside what you are doing now until you generate enough income to do it alone. I have lifted the point below from the website

Je suis étranger, suis-je soumis à des conditions spéciales pour être auto-entrepreneur ?

Non, les conditions sont identiques à celles des personnes de nationalité française.

Toutefois, nous vous invitons à prendre contact auprès des services de la Préfecture, afin de savoir si vous pouvez exercer une activité indépendante en France.
Check it out!

I kind of agree with Catharine and then I remember how many people have TEFL, TESOL and so on nowadays and wonder if it would ever be viable.

I would need to have a certain amount of money behind me to survive while I was setting myself up and establishing a steady income. I arrived with nothing and am still without resources. The language schools only offer a few hours a week and it varies week by week. My whole existence here is dependent upon having a government approved job. I can't take the risk. I would if I was British but without this job or another one which could garantee me a titre de sejour I am banished from the country. If I have to leave France I will never get back in, my dream will be over and I'll have no income anywhere (France or NZ).I'm putting up with an abusive work situation because of this vulnerability. I'm trying to hang on so I can get French nationality. Then I'll be able to work at whatever I choose here, wherever I want (if I'm not too old by then, I'll be past retirement age). I don't think you Britons really appreciate just how hard it is for a non-EU person to enter and stay. I feel like I live on a knife-edge all the time, wondering if my boss will find money to pay me, employ me another year on my CDD, will the French governement agree.... it's stressful. 3-5 more years to go.

Frances - can't you register as an AE and then hire yourself out to language schools etc.? All my clients including the Chamber of Commerce are happy for me to bill them directly?

it's about time the French took responsibility for creating their own messes and actually DOING soemthing about it but say anything like that ot them and all you get is the 'shrug'. So i say to them if you don't like it get mobilised, get off your bums and change it? How? they pathetically murmur. Put pressure on your government, make a big noisy fuss, stop whingeing at dinner parties and make the changes, that's how things move in other countries. keep going until it's done, take back your power. I'm getting fedup with the passivity of the French. They created their own problems and let them fester for so long and now they feel helpless. Bullshit. When are they going to take the responsibility for their own silliness (this goes for other countries too). France is squandering what it was and destroying what it could be! Er, that was the rant of the day.

Gripe accepted. Just before I gripingly go to collect my two from their school, I agree about the mess entirely. However, this post started talking to a teacher who is honest about it too. It is the top of the ladder where the blame rests. Those are people who are highly likely to have enjoyed top quality, high level provate education including first class language teaching. Somehow Hollande slithered through without or was lousy at it. But we often hear about X off to negotiate with Y in German, S meeting T in English, etc. But what about the rest of them?

I am with you but my temptation is despite many years studying children but never having taught them, indeed only university - so adults, to offer English and/or German in our social circle. That would be without money, favours or anything else. They have curricula in school but who follows it? This is from a government who finds you have forgotten a cent of tax payment and 20 years in the Bastille! It's my real question, what the Hell is wrong with them? What planet are they on?

Here am I a fully trained primary teacher with many years of experience AND a TESOL qualification for teaching English to the French but as I understand it I cannot teach English in France as I am not an EU citizen. Language schools (private etc) won't hire me without a working visa and I can't get one of those without a job. Doors closed on me all over Paris and usually didn't even open. Lots of interest in my Business English skills but- no- you are not an Eu citizen so bugger off.

If a French school (primary or lycee) wants a true expert who is qualified and enthusiastic they will need to get past the red tape and silly policies and give me a decent salary. More than happy to consider a fulltime position teaching any French kid who wants the edge over the others in terms of English acquisition. Do their parents want this? Do the schools want this? Funny way of showing it then. It amazes me how the French shoot themselves in the foot constantly with their policies. Government policies seem to be at the root of this but only the French have the power to change this. I feel immensely frustrated that I spent a fortune getting this qualification (in France, came all the way from NZ and took out a bank loan to do it because I was so interested in France) only to discover it was all for nothing. OK gripe of the day finished.

It is absolute madness. The distinctions, such as in your examples of 'whom' and irregular verbs, that get in the way of basics and the amount of time they get worries me. In primary, the national quota for modern languages (other than French) is just 54 hours. Many children do not get even part of that. Schools are allowed to modify their curricula and where my daughters are the director when they started had three hours a week for the top three classes for which a qualified English speaker went in. He retired, the first cutback his replacement made was the English speaker went. It is not a prejudice, it is simply what her budgets allow.

Like you, I am worried for the other children. Mine are bilingual, one is beginning to be tri- and eventually quadrilingual. She stayed with family in Switzerland and realised her two teenage cousins both speak Italian (their first language in Tessin), French, German and English. The older one even exceptionally knows some Rumantsch, so she is impressed and wants to run with that. Her classmates have little chance. That concerns me. I wonder where France believes future generations will fit in the global picture?

Our son is at collège, in a class "bilangue", meaning they are learning English and Spanish from 6ème. There are certain things I don't totally agree with in their teaching English (you are not allowed to use "whom", as it's only been taught later) but I think it's ok. It was a total shock to him that he had to really study the English irregular verbs, which for me (being German) is absolutely normal.

Our daughter has just started collège this last week, not in the bilingual class though (she thinks speaking three languages is enough). I am slightly worried for her classmates from primary school, as in the last year they didn't do ANY English tuition AT ALL. She'll be fine, I'm sure, but I really don't know how the others from her school will be getting on, being now in the same class with other pupils who might have had some English in their last year of primary school.