PARIS (Herald de Paris) – What is an under developed country? We partly locate one based on the weakness or bias of the educational system. Is learning a foreign language considered as education? Probably. But most of the French don’t know how to speak proper English. Are we an underdeveloped country? Most surely.
The news website Rue 89 published four days ago an article called “Tricks to hide that you don’t speak English to your colleagues”. The title alone means a lot. The French population is divided into two unequal categories: the happy few who can, and those who can’t ? the sad majority. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says the Bible. Rue 89’s editor was probably inspired by this quote. But what her article really implies is that it’s normal, fun, and above all acceptable that you don’t speak English.
It’s easier and so very French to stigmatize those who have a higher education than the norm. Having a full and solid résumé is something just as shameful as a high income.
I grew up partly in the States. When I was in school in France, some kids disliked my ability to speak a foreign language. But those who hated me the most, sadly, were the teachers. Very few language educators can actually speak English. Oh, they know Shakespeare by heart. But they don’t talk in the language they dedicated their lives to. In the worst cases, they even struggle to keep up with their best students.
So how do you pretend you’re French? Well, just mispronounce everything. Chirp gaily like a confident little bird. Aim for the strongest accent, the most shocking grammar incoherencies, and the most inventive vocabulary.
And Rue 89 actually gives a series of advice to pretend you’re a French person who pretends to speak English. The first one, excess of useless locutions you can say all the time like, “you know,” and, “I mean” Then, you should make your interlocutor talk a lot. Don’t forget to flatter him, so he feels important and forgets to listen to you. And last ? but not least ? ask as soon as possible, “could you send me an email?” to make sure you aren’t exchanging vocal information.
That’s the importance the French give to the mastering of English. Rue 89’s readers are upper middle class, yet they don’t seem to feel concerned with the danger of not speaking English in a globalized world. Not to mention that a lack of language skills may mean a job lost.