Higher Education Minister Genevieve Fioraso this past week introduced a bill that would allow French universities to teach more courses in English, even when English is not the subject. The goal, she explained, is to attract more students from such countries as Brazil, China and India, where English is widely taught, but French is reserved largely for literature lovers.
“Ten years ago, we were third in welcoming foreign students, but today we are fifth,” she said in a Q&A in the magazine Nouvel Observateur. “Why have we lost so much attraction? Because Germany has put in place an English program that has passed us by. We must make up the gap.”
Yet it has sparked cultural and nationalist outrage — not only from Paris intellectuals but also from several dozen members of Parliament, opposition as well as Socialist, who insist that learning French should be part of any foreign student’s experience in France.
From Jacques Attali:
“Not only would such a reform be contrary to the Constitution (which provides in its Article 2 ‘the language of the Republic is French’), but you cannot image an idea that is stupider, more counterproductive, more dangerous and more contrary to the interest of France,” he intoned in a blog.
There is more here. On one hand, on-line education makes fluency in English more important for plugging into dominant networks. On the other hand, technologies of easier subtitling and dubbing may keep other languages in contention. Still, I predict the former effect will win out, just as the internet has boosted English more generally, with or without Google Translate. The internet has indeed done a good deal to preserve, record, and ultimately transmit true minority languages, Nahuatl being one example of many, but it has not elevated them into general media of instruction.