A Language So Useful, It Is No Longer Useful

It is now my 10th day here in France. From the food, to the people, thus far, everything has been wonderful. I have tried a variety of cheeses and traditional meals since I have arrived and I look forward to trying many more- especially since there are many departments in France that all are well known for different meals and traditions. Yet, through observation, one thing that does not necessarily vary is the level of English achieved by French people of all ages. I find that most French people speak English incredibly well. Thus, I often have to make it a point that I want to speak French. In fact, signs everywhere are not only in French, but they are in English too. These signs are not only in the airport, but in the Metro and in restaurants. You can even request English menus in some cafes or bars.

     While speaking with my host mother, she made an interesting point. She is a high school teacher, thus, she sees how much of an impact the languages that students choose to study have on their success. In French high schools, students, although they must choose a general field of study, must study two foreign languages (just as we have general core requirements).

     From her point of view, studying both English and Spanish have become the norm. Yet, this norm has created a massive pool of students who struggle to stand out from one another- especially because they have all been learning English- some since they were very young. In fact, so many students study English that, in the eyes of employers, even being highly proficient in English does not hold the same value as it has in the past. Employers in France now desire employees who are familiar and have studied languages such as: Italian, Russian, and German- especially since Franco-German relations have been strengthened through collaborative work on politics and business.

     Therefore, what has not only been made clear to me, but in fact, surprised me (as it is something I had never thought about) is that English, which, yes, is undoubtedly a useful language, has become so common that it is almost expected that people have at least a basic level of the language. This, in turn, caused a lack of people to take interest in studying languages such as German, Italian, Russian, and even Arabic, (if given the opportunity) which now makes employers seek out candidates who do have a background with these languages. Thus, to even have some sort of impact with English or Spanish, you must be a native speaker. Otherwise you will fall into an endless sea of equally qualified candidates striving to obtain the same position you desire.

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2 Responses to A Language So Useful, It Is No Longer Useful

  1. Aunt Karen January 28, 2017 at 1:21 am #

    Interesting observation, Casey. As a first grade teacher, I’m curious…do you know if students begin their study of English in the primary grades, or even earlier (in the home)? I wonder if young children are read bedtime stories in English, fostering fluency in a second language from the get-go.

    • cedonahue January 30, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

      Of course, it depends on the family, but for the most part, in comparison to the United States, yes children start learning a language at a very young age. It is mandatory for students around the age of 12 (6th grade) to actually start taking English courses in school. Around the age of 10 (4th grade), some schools provide students with about an hour of basic English each day via songs, stories etc.. but it is not intense. My host mother described it to me as a way to “initiate the English learning process.” The rest, is up to the family. In the city I live in, there is an after school club where children of all ages can participate in activities such as painting/drawing but the activity director speaks to them in English. Additionally, some families may hire a babysitter or tutor to spend time with their children while only speaking in English. Overall, even children have a pretty good understanding of English. Though it depends on when the family wants them to start learning the language, even starting to learn a language at 10 or 12yrs old is a lot younger than us trying to do it our first year in high school!

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