torstai 8. kesäkuuta 2017

Why The French Don't Speak English

I'm home feeling sick with this weird illness that makes you feel exactly like you got fever...except that you don't. Anyways, this means that I have plenty of free time to reflect on the big questions of the Universe. More particularly on such things as the French and their relationship with the English language. Why, exactly,  the French do not speak English? Why do you have to feel as a foreigner that you are not allowed to speak it?

Now someone yells from the crowd, "But in France we speak French!!"  Yes, but is it not ridiculous to choose rather not to communicate with someone until they have mastered your native language instead of reaching out in an other one to open means of interaction? 

Let's be clear here though. I absolutely think that those who live permanently in a country should demonstrate efforts of learning the official language. However, It should not be frowned upon to speak other languages in a public place if all persons included in the conversation agree. I have slowly but surely learnt ever since the beginning that it is unnatural to speak other language than French. Usually I find this out when I am out in public with my husband. I never speak English with anybody else than him, but still people like to comment on how we should speak French as my husband is a native and we are in his country. Once at the end of an argument over the warranty of our broken vacuum cleaner the clerk yelled, "At least I don't speak foreign languages!!" As the conversation had been very fast paced and technical, my hubby had translated some of the main points to me in English. In grocery stores people jump 20 centimetres in the air when they hear us chatting behind them in the queue. This is rather strange behaviour from people who have all studied English about 10 years at school and the country has anyway a big population of immigrants from all over the world. The languages also have lots of similarities in the vocabulary. Coming from Finland and speaking Finnish as a native language the "our languages are too different"-argument doesn't persuade.

So what is it all about, really?

They are scared shitless.

I have been discussing with several French about their and their fellow countrymens' relationship with English and upon presenting my theory, the reaction has often been delight for someone understanding them. They are not assholes, they are just scared. They are scared because most French have been traumatised by the language already at school. It turns out that many French English teachers are extremely strict and easily frustrated. So, the students tried, but each failure and the insults of the teacher made them feel worse and believe English is impossible. What happens usually, when you can't do something? You diminish its value. Math is difficult? Whatever, it's stupid anyway. Can't remember anything of History? It's anyway just for the uncool nerds! This is what happened to the English language as generations of the French were humiliated trying to learn it. For the people of such an old country, it was easy to adopt the attitude, "Anyway, why should we make efforts for anybody who comes here? In France we speak French!"

As they say in Star Wars, "Fear leads to the dark side." Fear creates a base for many unsightly attitudes and behavioral models to grow on. The fear of being made a fool of lives strong in the guts of many French. As wild animals cornered, they slash out and end up giving the impression of nationalistic arses. So in the end, a skill that could be fun and useful is seen as a mere threat. Something that cannot coexist with le français.

The change should happen at the root of the problem: the schools. The students should be encouraged to speak English despite of their little flaws of pronunciation or grammar. It takes time to change attitudes that have been already passed down during generations. However, there are already some small improvements. Many tv-channels and cinemas offer movies in both French and original versions, which will demystify the language as people get more often in touch with it in their daily lives. Baby steps, baby steps...

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