French schools should teach in English, says report

Multiple school subjects in France should be taught in English and other ‘living languages’, to improve language acquisition, a new report presented to the education minister has said.

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Teaching other subjects in foreign languages - especially English - rather than simply keeping language learning to its own limited class time, will offer “a better mastering of foreign living languages”, said the report.

It was presented to minister Jean-Michel Blanquer yesterday.

This could include subjects such as maths, history and science.

The report concluded that language learning time had significantly reduced especially in early years - to just 90 minutes per week from CP to CM2.

This kind of learning could significantly improve acquisition at critical primary age, it said.

This is especially important, it said, as older students do not always have enough time to continue with language studies properly.

Chantal Manes, report co-author, explained: “The amount of time spent on language classes has been reduced, so using them in this way allows us to increase the time students are exposed to foreign languages.”

Some collèges and lycées (middle and high schools) have already adopted a similar system to that recommended in the report.

In Grenoble (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes), around 30 lycées have launched the “Emile project” (Enseignement de Matières par l’Intégration d’une Langue Étrangère).

This involves offering many subjects in a useful foreign language, beyond normal language classes.

One collège, Les Barrattes, in Annecy-le-Vieux (Haute-Savoie), has had a similar programme in place for five years.

Speaking to news source 20 Minutes, Principal Pierre Gilles said: “I wanted English to be the vehicle of learning, and not only the object of learning. Gradually, students forget that they are talking English in some classes.

"They are more comfortable speaking, and they are more focused in class and learn the principles better.”

Mr Gilles has also recruited an American teacher to help existing teachers with language when starting their lessons. He has said that results are promising.

He said: “By the end of collège (middle school), our students reach B1 level, which is the same as that achieved by school leavers in most European and International countries.”

Ms Manes added: “Pupils are more motivated and overcome problems very quickly, and their language results - as in other disciplines - are proof.”

Yet, introducing such a programme is not without its challenges, critics say.

Teachers must have certificates in living foreign languages and teaching in them. They must also be willing and able to deliver their subject in another language, notably English.

Claire Krepper, an English teacher and national secretary of union SE-Unsa, said: “This [language] certification is quite challenging and [teachers] who take it are often doing it outside of their work hours. It represents a significant personal investment.”

In defence of the suggestion, Ms Manes said: “Certain academies are seeking to help candidates prepare for this exam.”

She admitted: “Apart from those who have acquired a good level of English in their own studies, some teachers may not dare to do this. The idea is not to force teachers to do something they do not want to, but to suggest a possible opening.”

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