Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?

Here is an interesting article about this issue for those who speaks German: Zur Stellung des Deutschen als Wissenschaftssprache – Sprachkreis Deutsch I had only a short look in my break but I’ll read it later.

I highly recommend to watch this video.

About the “franglais”, the same kind of things exist in other countries as Japan with the “franponais”. It is not a French particularity. Trying to re-appropriate a foreign language becomes a part of the country’s culture itself. The language is alive and evolve along history.

As it says in the video, you can be very good in Sciences department and not in English. But now if you want to succeed you have to learn English anyway ? So what happens if you are not able to learn this language ? Maybe we are losing great ideas.

I think it is good to teach in English in some French universities, if you want students from other countries come to study. It’s the part of the global sharing. But if in the same time we have the same class in French for foreigner who have French as second language. Yes they still exist. :wink: But it has a cost…

And there are also an interesting article here > Generation monoglot

I know Missouri S&T has a foreign language requirement at least for a BS in Chemistry (It’s primarily an engineering school). They don’t tell you which to take, but they pretty much tell you to take French or German. The advanced courses in this are simply having you to read scientific literature in those languages which appears to be the main focus of having to learn them.

Do I understand it correctly that the American university system often tries to give their students rounded educations by making them do some light courses on subjects that are not directly relevant for their main subject? This might be the reason for the language requirements. It is not the case that a foreign language is useful for somebody studying any of the natural sciences in America.

(If I’m entirely honest, I suppose there is also a part of my psyche which feels profoundly uncomfortable with the way my mother tongue has been hijacked by so many millions of foreigners as a kind of global lingua franca…)

It seems you are confused? You have points in 5 languages in lingq and you dream of studying another 9 languages as stated from your ling homepage… so how can you feel uncomfortable that your mother tongue has been “hijacked”…
Surely you have hijacked 5 languages including French (I see you are fond of the French from your other commment) and dream of hijacking 9 others! When you lived in Germany as a FOREIGNER do you think the Germans were uncomfortable that you were learning German. You are hardly encouraging language learning…is this not a double standard? Choose your words wisely in your reply mon ami…


Very few european undergraduate degrees are 3 years…it´s 3 years in the UK and that´s because students have specialised from day 1 as an undergraduate. Also their school leaving system (A levels) involves focussing on only 3-4 specialised subjects so 3 years is enough for a degree there. I’m not biased as I’m not British and didn’t go through this system.

I was at a conference where I saw 2 academics argue about having to learn English or not. One guy was French, the other guy was Canadian (Native French). Both were famous scientists and the rest of the table was predominantly native English speakers sitting in silence.The Canadian has learned English as a 2nd language and had recently moved to a German university where he was told learn to teach German in 2 years. He did it and he was over 40 which was his part of his argument. Anyway, perhaps the French people could insist on each student learning French at C level prior to graduation while taking courses in English. No C level, no degree…French is still widely used predominantly as a second language in Africa, EU etc. I can’t see it going anywhere.

I watched the TED talk several times and have thought about her points all day. It is an interesting talk. Mostly it is a mixture of confusions, bad or irrelevent reasoning, a terrible understanding of what is and is not feasible in the sciences, and one very interesting point (plus a great opening joke). Here are my comments on the video.

Her argument really starts at 3:30 into the video.

“…but if you’re not a native speaker [of English], you have to pass a test. Now can it be right to reject a student on linguistic ability alone?”

This depends on the course, but in general, sure. If English is necessary for competence in a certain subject or for ability to take part in a certain course, then of course universities should select based on English ability. She obviously disagrees. Here is her first argument in favour of her opinion.

“Let me put it this way. If I met a monolingual Dutsch speaker who had the cure for cancer, would I stop him form entering my British university?”

This is irrelevant. In almost every case, students applying to study at a university as an undergraduate has nothing to immediately offer the university other than money. In general, it is only after many years of being educated by the university that they can start to do things that benefit the university and this will probably only happen if they do a PhD. The vast majority of students applying for PhD places at universities have no significant expertise to offer the university that couldn’t be learned in the first couple of months of the PhD anyway. If somebody did come with the cure for cancer, or something like that, I am sure the university would find a way to make an exception for them if they did not know English.

“What about the research, it’s all in English? The books are in English, the journals are in English, but that is a self-fullfilling profecy. It feeds the English requirement.”

This is true, and it is a good thing.

“I ask you, what happened to translation. If you think about the Islamic golden age, there was lots of translation then. They translated from Latin and Greek, into Arabic, into Persian, and then it was translated on into the Germanic languages of Europe and the Romance languages…”

The idea that scientists around the world with different first languages could work together by relying on all of their work being translated is ridiculous. Scientists communicate with each other in many ways. They communicate through carefully written peer-reviewed technical science papers, by email, by Skype and phone calls, face to face at conferences, and by giving talks at conferences. It is unreasonable to think that even a small fraction of this can be translated into even a small number of the main world languages. Even if there was a convenient way to do this, the natural sciences do not have the resources for anything like this. Who is going to pay the translators? It certainly can’t come out of the tight budgets of science departments. Who will pay the interpreters at conferences, if indeed technical science talks that can only be understood by a small number of experts can be interpreted? There are no resources in the sciences for this so it would require huge amounts of extra funding to be paid for, and this is extra funding would be better spend on hiring more scientists.

Maybe this worked in older times where there were many fewer scientists, most of whom were only able to do their work because they were already rich and therefore well funding, producing much less work. Maybe it didn’t really work then either. In the periods of history that she mentioned, science moved extremely slowly in comparison to nowadays. Real advances were few and far between. Effectively, not having one dominant language would mean that scientists around the world would not work together. Translation is not a solution.

“And I want to remind you that the giants upon whose shoulders todays intelligenciasomething stand, did not have to pass an English exam. Case in hand: Einstein.”

Well for a long time, Latin was the dominant language in the sciences, but certainly in Einstein’s time, this was not the case. However, in Einstein’s time, there were many fewer scientists, everything progressed at a much slower pace, and the work they were doing was much easier and simpler than it is now. Fortunately for all of us, the main subject Einstein contributed to was dominated by physicists from the German speaking world so the language barrier was not such a problem. As I understand it, and I could certainly be wrong, his work was mostly ignored outside the German speaking world until the English physicist Arthur Eddington wrote a book about it (don’t quote me on this though).

However, her point was not entirely dependent on the one case of Einstein, and I am sure she is right to an extent that by having the sciences dominated by one language, we lose out on some good work by people who are at low-levels of English simply because they cannot communicate their ideas. However, the benefits far outweigh the losses. If we did not have one language to communicate, we would lose much more work due to scientists not being able to communicate with each other and the people whose work we are losing now due to the dominance of English will still not be able to communicate their ideas to much of the scientific community.

“Let me tell you a story about two English scientists. They were doing an experiment to do with genetics and the forelimbs and the hind limbs of animals, but they couldn’t get the results they wanted, they really didn’t know what to do. Then along came a German scientist who realised that they were using two words for forelimb and hindlimb whereas genetics does not differentiate, and neither does German, so bingo, problem solved. If you can’t think a thought, you are stuck. But if another language can think that thought, then by cooperating, we can achieve and learn so much more.”

This story sounds very unlikely and even if it did happen in the way she presents it, which I doubt, it is irrelevant. I have never heard of any scientific breakthrough, or any result whatsoever, that was achieved as a result of a random oddity in the native language of one of the researchers. Maybe this did happen the way she says, but we are talking about an event of extreme rarity.

I don’t understand what she is trying to say with the story about her daughter and Arabic or with the story about the Kenyan boy. She did make the interesting point that the dominance of English means that the poor in other countries who cannot afford an English education are being excluded. I don’t know how true this is, but it could be. (Anyway, sorry about the essay).


“…It seems you are confused?..”

Frequently - especially when I have been hitting the jolly old Vodka :wink:

"…how can you feel uncomfortable that your mother tongue has been “hijacked”…

Because it is used (often quite badly) by countless zillions of Johnny-Fs the world over - many of whom would insist on speaking Pidgin-English with me, even if I had a far better command of their language.

“…I see you are fond of the French…”

Well okay - I admit it. I do have a soft spot for those Frog eaters. I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it.

“…When you lived in Germany as a FOREIGNER do you think the Germans were uncomfortable that you were learning German…”

Some of them certainly gave that impression. (At any rate, it required a truly Churchillian effort to elicit even so much as one teutonic squeak from between the lips of some of those monocled crewcut sausage munchers…)

“…You are hardly encouraging language learning…is this not a double standard?..”

I really don’t think it is.

“…Choose your words wisely in your reply mon ami…”

I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

In spite of their inherent awfulness I actually like those foreign b***s quite a lot, and I’d encourage every Englishman to learn their languages, drink their beer and b their women.

(I would put it more frankly than this, but I do need to choose my words with care…)


You make a lot of assumptions with the reactions of so called foreigners…perhaps you are wrong…I wonder do you notice the same things with your fellow brits. Your comments appear juvenile and xenophobic too…maybe yout think people think this is funny?

“…so called foreigners…”

Come to think of it, it is rather a rum thing to call foreigners foreign. Let’s call them, I dunno, “lizards”…

“…Your comments appear juvenile and xenophobic too…”

Oh yes, I’m very juvenile. And quite xenophobic too. And did I mention that I’m also a drug dealing car thief? (Boom-boom.)

“…maybe yout think people think this is funny?..”

Maybe I do - who knows? There’s just no accounting for taste is there? (And if you ask me, that’s the only really funny thing about funniness.)


Hey, don’t mind me - I’m not normally an Arschloch, it’s just when the magic nectar is flowing :wink:

ad Colin: I responded to your question on interpreting in the other thread.

English as a lingua franca already is a fact. What I experience on a daily basis in my job is that poor English is extremely counterproductive. So, yes, knowing English and communicating in it can have advantages but you need a certain level to actually benefit from it professionally.

And that is what people forget about today. You need time to learn how to speak and write good English, I’m not talking about perfection here (nobody is perfect in my opinion and I don’t consider “nobody” a name ;-)).

There are not half as many people who can actually converse in English at a professional level as is sometimes suggested. Yes, people can get their basic message across but that is not always enough.

In Germany and Austria we now have an increasing number of doctors who don’t speak enough German to really explain things to their patients. These doctors are experts in their fields but due to their lack of linguistic skills they make mistakes (misunderstanding responses of their patients) which sometimes turned out to be fatal for their patients.

The same can and actually does happen with English. It is one thing to be able to order a pizza in English and another one to be able to describe to a patient what is going to happen with him in a chemotherapy. You may argue that you don’t always understand what doctors tell you in your mother tongue but when a doctor needs you to provide him with information he is going to base his medical decisions on, he’d better understand exactly what you are telling him.

I have a client where English is the “lingua franca” within the group. Austrians communicate with Italian, English, French, Spanish etc. colleagues in English. In many cases their written English is so poor that the national units of the group have decided to have the documents translated back into their native tongue.

I do believe that a “lingua franca” has its advantages, but I don’t think “pidgin English” should be the standard to settle for. However, in my experience this is exactly what happens. And by “pidgin English” I mean a kind of English which is distorted to the extent that it mostly becomes incomprehensible (I’m not referring to the linguistic term of “pidgin languages” here).

ad Jay (alias Medium CORE): I don’t think you are an Arschloch but sometimes you seem to make an effort to come across as one :wink:

As for your comment on how English is hijacked by foreigners, well, this is what happens when people start out imposing their language on others (see imperialism for more information ;-)). It is only a matter of time then till people get back at you with their version of the “invader’s language”.

Seriously, I think the main problem is that people don’t seem to think that it is worth making an effort to learn a language to a level which goes beyond speaking in infinitive constructions. I experience that all the time in my line of business as well.

The general assumption appears to be that as long as the person I talk to understands what I’m saying there is no need for me to try and speak correctly. The problem with this attitude is that you might not really know anymore if you are understood if you can’t comprehend the answers you are given. It is all along the lines of “ah, yeah, I know what you mean…” without actually having a clue of what the other person is saying.

There is a lot of laziness and carelessness involved, in some instances probably also a certain lack of respect (that’s what I feel if people have been living in a specific country for decades and just don’t seem to have any intention whatsoever to make an effort to learn the local language).

Of course, it all depends on what your goal is. If you plan a trip to a country where you’d like to be able to have some small talk, then 3 months may be enough for you to get where you want to be.

Other than that I’d prefer if people realized that learning a language takes time, lots of work and commitment. Even if you were to achieve a rather high level within half a year or a year, you’d still have to invest a lot of time to make sure you maintain your level.

Language learning should be and can be a lot of fun, but it comes at a price. Nowadays, people think “paying a price” is something “indecent” or “improper” to do. But the bottom line is you get what you pay for (and the payment here is your commitment).

We all make mistakes, I’m not asking people to be perfect (I’m not even “perfect” in my native tongue) but I think that too many people settle for too low a level. I very much enjoy talking to foreigners in German and as long as people make an effort to converse with me in German, I’ll do the same. I just don’t enjoy talking to people who are too lazy to learn enough German to make themselves understood. In this case a “lingua franca” like English might come in handy indeed, as long as both of us are capable of conversing in it at an appropriate level and that level basically depends on what we are aiming at.

A good example of what I mean are people on this site who actually ask questions like “What does “car” mean?”. If you don’t even bother to look up a word in a dictionary, how can you expect people to take the time to respond to your questions?

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy helping people but they need to be serious about what they are doing.

@Robert: “…I do believe that a “lingua franca” has its advantages, but I don’t think “pidgin English” should be the standard to settle for. However, in my experience this is exactly what happens. And by “pidgin English” I mean a kind of English which is distorted to the extent that it mostly becomes incomprehensible (I’m not referring to the linguistic term of “pidgin languages” here)…”

I strongly agree - and this is exactly what I was getting at in my earlier post.

I had quite a lot of experience of people in Germany who pretty much insisted on speaking English - even if it was far from clear whether all of them were very good at it.

I don’t want to exaggerate the point, but as a native speaker it did slightly annoy me when people did this. It is perhaps not easy for a native speaker of another language to grasp what this is like. But to imagine the reverse scenario, we might consider the situation if a German speaker came to England and continually had the following kind of experience:

German person: “Excuse me, could you tell me which ticket option is the best value? I want to travel to London today, and I’ll be returning either tomorrow or the next day.”

Ticket clerk: “Doo London geyhen, ja? Dayn diesuh Ticket for doo - Funzig Pond kosten”

German person: “Er, thanks. And could you tell me which platform the train leaves from?”

Ticket clerk: "Doo in gros Toor geyhen. Geyraduhaws geyhen. nummuh fir gleys.

…and so on…ad infinitum…

After a while, that might just get to be mildly annoying, right? :-0

ad Jay: This is exactly how I interpreted your comment when I read it and I agree with you.

Similar things happened to me in China. Even though most people were more than happy to talk to me in Chinese, I met some people who insisted on talking to me in English even though they only knew a few standard sentences. If I tried to talk to them about something else, they would just “change the subject” to make sure whatever they thought we were talking about fitted their vocabulary.

I have not had many experiences like this so far, but I find them kind of annoying too.

Personally, I would never dream of responding to someone in English if I am addressed in German and I understand what the person says. Quite on the contrary, I very much appreciate the effort of any foreigner trying to speak my native tongue. But if it turns out he or she is incomprehensible in German, we might have to switch to English.

@Robert: “…Personally, I would never dream of responding to someone in English if I am addressed in German and I understand what the person says. Quite on the contrary, I very much appreciate the effort of any foreigner trying to speak my native tongue…”

You know, when I think about it, that is very much in line with my experience - it is a kind of paradox that those people who have an extremely high level in English (and I would certainly include you in that category) are often the people who are most willing to speak other languages.

(That is perhaps true of the internet too.)

I plan still to write something else on this thread about the feasibility of using translation and interpretation in the sciences, but I am all tapped out. I typed way too much stuff today. Not only was I being childish on the other thread, I was also continually exchanging emails in English with an Austrian colleague and a Brazillian colleague about work stuff. I am so glad that they have learned English to such a level that I am able to communicate directly with them. They must be pretty happy too that they can communicate with each other using the same language they use to communicate with me. My Austrian colleague doesn’t know any Portuguese and my Brazilian colleague certainly doesn’t know any German. My Brazillian colleague must also be pretty happy that the language she has learned that allows her to communicate with me and her Austrian colleague also allows her to communicate with her Russian and French colleagues (of which she has a few). Her Russian colleagues must be pretty happy that the language they learned that allows them to communicate with their Brazilian colleague also allows them to communicate with their Japanese and German colleagues. I won’t go on any more. I am just glad that I can communicate with you guys, my LingQ colleagues.

@Colin: “…I was also continually exchanging emails in English with an Austrian colleague and a Brazillian colleague about work stuff…”

If a bunch of spaced-out loons from the lab want to communicate their weird bearded fu**ery in English that’s 100% okay by me.

I’m more concerned about mainstream society adopting some kind of dumbed-down version of English as the official language of globalism. In fact, if this thing goes too much further I may well start using Middle English with foreigners (sorry, I mean with “lizards”) just as a form of one-man protest…

I have always thought it a good approach: tell them what you are going to tell them and then do it.

To telle yow al the condicioun,
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne,
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.

A few centuries later we might have said:

He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softnesses of love.

Fare thee well, kind stranger!

“…and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy…”

Fair sex is all well and good, but how about great sex?? :smiley:

Sire, you don’t deserve a rose for this, although it raised a huge grin.

I’m a french young woman and I was interested in answering this conversation.Concerning the topic of discussion, of course english is more and more present , especially in my country. And it’s so easy to use because we can hear it on the TV ( ads , films …), usual words are often used (expressions like “I’m ok”, “cool” and so many others)and sometimes replace the french ones. But anyway I don’t think that we’ll ever forget our language, its particularities,it’s part of our culture.
And we are not “frog eaters” , stop with this stereotype, personnaly I don’t like frogs!!
If ever one of you would like to exchange in french and in the same way prove that it’s an important language, go and have a a look at my site. I propose communication through SKYPE in french and english:

hope to see you soon!