Olivier Chiche-Portiche, head of promotion at France’s higher education agency Campus France rightly puts the country’s regular “will we, won’t we” with the English language into perspective (PIE Chat, July 26).
France indeed boasts numerous HE courses delivered in English in both the private and public sectors. And the wish to attract the best foreign students for prestigious courses, particularly in science, technology and medicine, is dominated rather by France’s desire to spread its global influence economically and politically than by the need to find additional revenue streams. This brings enormous financial and other advantages for foreign students.
French is one of only two languages taught and spoken on every continent (guess which is the other!) but as a nation we are often reluctant to insist on the language’s key international role, despite the odd headline-catching quote and also the substantial state support for promoting both language and culture worldwide in a variety of forms.
Paradoxically this is coupled with a reluctance to aid a more effective spread of French by supporting the very active internal FLE (French as a foreign language) market which provides the linguistic underpinning essential for a wider use of the language.
For sure, the state introduced a British-Council style accreditation scheme in 2007 and some 90 training centres (public, private, associative etc) are now recognised out of the 300-plus in the hexagon.
Accredited centres can join Campus France and are now in principle prioritised for visa applications and official language contracts proposed by the France state and international bodies.
But Chiche-Portiche gives the game away by emphasising that Campus France’s support is aimed mainly at its membership of mainly public institutions amongst which figure comparatively few specialist language centres. As he says: ‘The network has some schools of French” (writer’s emphasis).
But let’s face it, even students following courses delivered in English need to live (and love) in the local language and fluency is also vital for getting the top level work placements in French companies essential to complete most degree courses.
There is, however, a general reluctance amongst the public structures supporting French education to accept the essential basic input of language schools in the process. This is grounded firstly in the national predisposition towards all that is public as opposed to private, even/especially when the latter proves more effective, but also in the intellectual snobbery of the educational establishment.
The embarrassing truth that French actually needs to be taught in a practical hands-on way (just like English!) as opposed to being absorbed subliminally via literature, cinema etc (France’s much vaunted “cultural difference”) creates a dual approach difficult to reconcile.
Luckily the private sector has not been quietly waiting for official backing, as PIE readers must know. Of which more anon. In the meantime, vive la France, vive le français!
Director, French in Normandy