Language Games: Should French Unis Teach in English?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/22/2013 03:25:00 PM
I have long been fascinated with the France's Academie Francaise, a body intended to guard the French language from the barbarisms of other, uncouth languages. The erstwhile linguistic barbarians have changed over the centuries: whereas the Academic Francaise was developed as a bulwark to Spanish, nowadays it's English, of course, that needs to be guarded. Recently, French higher education minister Genevieve Fioraso caused an uproar by suggesting that more courses need to be offered in English to attract international students. To this the traditionalists were of course up in arms. However, this reaction neglects the fact that several elite institutions alike the Sciences Po already provide instruction in English:
Elite French business schools, and Grandes Ecoles such as the Institute of Political Studies also known as Sciences-Po, have been teaching in English for the last 15 years. Why, she asks, shouldn't other less prestigious universities follow suit?
The crux of the counterargument goes like this: if part of the attraction of studying in France is learning French, why dilute this by offering second-rate English-language instruction? Another is the ever-popular idea that speaking French lends the speaker a different worldview from that of English speakers, making (surprise!) French education incommensurate with English education:
Teaching English is very different, they argue, from teaching in English. They support the teaching of foreign languages, and suggest starting it even earlier - in nursery schools - but they oppose the teaching of subjects such as mathematics, history and literature in any language but French.
Antoine Compagnon, a distinguished French scholar who taught at Columbia University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, maintained in a public letter that it would be better to teach foreign students French than tolerate "Globish" (the primitive English of non-English-speakers) and the dumbing down of teaching that would inevitably follow.

Foreign students who choose France over Britain, Compagnon says, are not only choosing the French lifestyle but also its culture and language. Teaching them Proust in English, in France, would be a travesty.
French MP Pouria Amirshahi, who represents French expats in North and West Africa, backed him up. "The signal given out to those everywhere who learn French abroad and in francophone countries throughout the world is not reassuring," told The Daily Telegraph.

It looks as though, in France, if you want to teach students in English, you have to do it quietly like the elite universities which never asked permission but never boasted about it either.
I believe that some market research is truly in order to enlighten this debate:
  1. Do international students come to France purposely to study in French?
  2. How many more international students can France realistically hope to attract if it had more course offerings at the university level in English?
Both questions are certainly worth investigating.if France is serious about addressing the needs and wants of international students.Either way, it's better to proceed from a position of knowledge than from one of ignorace in addressing these language games.