Language-learning in France and Ireland, and free speech in Tunisia

In France, the  government is proposing that children start learning English at age three. It’s high time, they argue, that French educators face up to the fact that learning English gives you — and your country — an edge.

Good idea,  say French intellectuals. But why English? According to French linguist, Claude Hagège, the proposal is “totally pointless, if not ridiculous.”

Now, before you write off Hagège as a good-for-nothing naysayer, consider this: he’s one of France best-known promoters of language-learning. He strongly supports the idea of people learning several languages if they can. But for Hagège, language is power– and speaking English is “not quite innocent.”  From his perspective (and, I suspect, he is far from alone) it’s more important to resist the rise of English than it is to expose French youth to it, at least as a first foreign language. In his words, speaking English is “a guilty act because it is the language of very wealthy, industrialized countries. And I think any person who has a minimum of sense of justice cannot accept that because this means domination by the countries whose mother tongue this language is.”

It may be because of attitudes like this that French schools will continue to lag behind school systems elsewhere in Europe, when it comes to teaching English.

In Ireland, mandatory Irish learning in schools became an issue in the recent parliamentary elections.  OK, so it didn’t sway voters as much as the economy did. But the party that won, Fine Gael, has promised to consider dropping Irish as a must-learn subject at school.  In the old days — or at least when my dad went to school — learning Irish was considered act of patriotism in a new country eager to establish its national identity.  It didn’t work. Despite massive government support, the vast majority of Irish people forgot most of the Irish they had been forced to learn. Fine Gael’s proposal, while upsetting the old guard and some native Irish speakers, struck a chord with some voters and commentators.  Why not learn languages that are more widely  spoken, like Spanish, French or Chinese — languages that  might help young people get a leg up?

In Tunisia, journalists are getting used to their new freedoms; some are clinging to the old ways.  The pod has a report from Tunis on how some news organizations are adapting quickly to their new freedoms, while others can’t figure out quite how to express themselves without a censor to frame reality for them.

Also,  we have  an interview with Anglo-Middle Eastern singer Natacha Atlas. Atlas isn’t known for her political or social stances. But recently she began singing about free speech in Egypt, and beyond.

Listen in iTunes or here.

Photos: Wikicommons

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Language-learning in France and Ireland, and free speech in Tunisia

  1. My former teacher colleagues in France (where I taught English for 3 years, to kids as young as CE1) bemoan the fact that they’re now forced to become trained at English instructors with no additional pay. It seems that the number of native English speakers is being cut down, although I’m not sure at what level. And I imagine that a bit of that unfair-pay argument really stems from the same line of thought as Hagège puts forth.

    Thanks for the heads up and other related bits from around the world…

  2. michelle

    Hello my name is Michelle Nezam and I go to Northern Virginia Community College. This semester I’m taking an intercultural communications class for my major requires it and it interesters me because of my professor. In the pod cast of Language- learning in Europe, and free speech in Tunisia I agreed with almost everything. About the government in France wanting for children to start learning English at age 3 is very beneficial to most people for their future. The younger you are the most faster and better you learn the language. everyone agrees that English is the most dominate language in the world today and even though most French men do not like the idea of it, its essential for people to no several langue’s so on one specific langue is spoken world wide. Kids leaning very Basic English like colors and body parts can help them in the work force for their footer. Also very young children at the age of 3 also pick up their first language better when learning a second. “Its essential to speak English” says the students mothers. I feel like every country should be encouraging student to learn different languages at a very young age.
    In Ireland they want to stop the required Irish learning class in schools. Its optional to improve Irish should not be forced its good experience to learn more about your langue but it’s like “being a foreign exchange student in your own country”. I think it’s necessary to learn your own language and have a class just like in the United state we have English that helps us with grammar and writing. This should be a mandatory class.
    Tunisia just got their freedom of speech, this that was block from the internet and TV is now less monitored by the government. Journalist are now writing about the problems in there government. I think it’s important for very country to have freedom of speech so everyone is informed about everything that goes on in his or her country. Freedom and respect is what can keep a goerbnemt running and for the people they govern to follow them. This is one of my favorite pod cats because I agree with the thought behind the information.

  3. Pingback: The vocoder, the linguistic robot and the Dead Rabbit | the world in words

  4. Fariza Madieva

    Coming to the schools of France I would like to say that the English language in our world today is the dominant. If you know English it will help communicate with others in any country nowadays because people have made English dominant. It is better if we learn languages when we are small because we adapt thing faster and learn thing faster. Since English language is very important these days I think they should make English mandatory in other countries too!
    About the Irish school I would like to say that actually I am against Irish government not making it mandatory becuase I think that everybody should know their primary language. That way they can distinguish habits of their own nationality. If Irish then know your Irish languages first, and then try to learn another language!

    NVCC Student
    CST 229-01

  5. Since kids have the ability to learn better and faster, then it is just fine to help learn more. I think it is a great step to take for our children and introduce them with another language. Specially, English which is the universal language. The sooner the better. Yes, children have the right to be bilingual. I just don’t understand, why in Ireland people willingly want to lose the chance of being bilingual. So what, if Irish has not been spoken by any other countries. At least it is a language that has been spoken for many years. In Tunisia, people are holding to their old way which is absolutely fine. No matter how big or small the change is, an individual has to be mentally and physically ready to accept the change. It takes time and patience to adapt new things.

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