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Speak You Globish?

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Paris:– Monday, 25. October 2004:– The 'new' news about English being compulsory in French education is obviously too new to be widely known, much less being 'staunchly opposed' by anyone. There was a report on TV–news last week about the tentative plan to introduce English lessons earlier in the school cycle, possibly in grade two.

This is a bit like the plan, repeated about every five years, to make everybody in France computer literate. Aside from 'computer–literate' being a oxymoron, the various plans never got further than the previews of their proponents. It now looks like the combination of video games and being able to copy movies on DVDs may be the honey that attracts computers to households.

Jean–Paul Nerrière, former vice–president of IBM Europe, writing in Le Monde on Friday, suggested that the language that should be taught might be 'globish.'

In case you are unfamiliar with this, 'globish' consists of 1500 words, mostly simple to pronounce somewhat more approximately than the language of Gore Vidal, Mark Twain and Tony Blair combined. Happy enough with it are Jacques Chirac, José Bové – and – CNN Paris.

About 300,000 students in prestige schools will be asked to take English exams this year, but without an oral test. If they opt for the oral exams they will pick up a couple of extra points, worth no more than for regional languages. For the national education system, to progress professionally, speaking Basque or Breton is considered equally useful for communicating in 'Ulan Bator, Buenos Aires, Osaka or Chicago.'

Monsieur Nerrière calls for the education minister to give teachers the means to teach English, because, in the 'global village' fluent English or bilingualism is in demand.

Then he notes that, really, the only French that are liable to learn English are those with parents thatphoto, cour st andre can afford to send them abroad to learn English in countries where it is spoken. He adds that getting the French to speak a 'planetary dialect' – like 'globish' – would be useful for France.

Saturday's Le Parisien seemed to be unaware of this 'great debate.' The Paris daily devoted two pages to lamenting that spoken French is in actual danger in French companies.

The Cour du Commerce Saint–André.

Apparently it has become a major mode to speak 'globish' in certain companies; some of which are entirely French and not foreign subsidiaries. One mentioned is the insurance giant Axa, where a manager was reprimanded for substituting English for German, in a letter addressed to an Austrian.

Some unions see the trend as amounting to harassment for employees who haven't mastered 'globish.' They feel foreign in their own country. This was followed by a list of major companies in France that have adopted 'globish' wholly, partially, or not at all.

One airline pilot who flies routes to west Africa was quoted as complaining about having to speak English with other French speakers, while landing at airports. Apparently Le Parisien is unaware that English was selected as the worldwide language of air control after WWII.

A special sidebar was given to General Electric Medical Systems, located just outside Paris. This company has so 'globished' its communications that its unions are going to take it to court on behalf of employees who feel that they are being discriminated against. Le Parisien wrote that GE is pronounced 'gihi,' and asked, 'Do you speak Franglish?'

The French law in question, 'la Loi Toubon,' affects the Code du Travail, which is a very large set of work rules here. The purpose of the law is to ensure that French speakers will be allowed to speak French in the workplace. Basically it stipulates that the language of companies operating in France is French.

GE sells its medical equipment in 150 countries worldwide, and all of its service manuals are in English – even for equipment sold to French health services. Not having these user manuals in the language of the country could be risky, but GE would rather be profitable – since 149 of these countries aren't full of hungry lawyers.

Judging from Le Parisien's report, much of this penetration of 'globish' has no business purpose. It is simply a fad, forced on employees by megalomaniacs – who themselves speak English no better than Jacques Chirac or José Bové – or George W Bush.

One personal observation – when my boys were studying English in their French schools, I oftenphoto, fountain marco polo had to tell them that correcting – no matter how politely – their teachers was futile. In France, like many other countries, getting good grades is better than getting it right.

The Marco Polo fountain after its renovation.

On the street the 'rule' now is, if somebody wants to talk to you in 'globish,' it is polite to let them rattle on. They have gone to a great effort to learn it – perhaps more than you have done to learn French – and if you haven't, at least you know some of the elementary terms of 'globish' and you may end up finding a friend for life.

But if, like me, you merely speak cracked Franglish, you will be amazed how acceptable lost Parisians find this, if you actually know the way to the street they are seeking. Or seem as if you do. For thanks you'll probably get a "Bye–bye!" The world is just a big language sandwich.

Language Soup

By today Le Parisien is catching up. Shift to Brussels where a French bureaucrat working for the European Commission chaired a press conference to discuss economics, entirely in English. Asked by attending French journalists why the speech wasn't in French, the bureaucrat said, "Mon discours a été préparé en anglais et je n'ai pas de traduction en français." And then he continued in English.

Ten years ago a majority of the documents produced in Brussels were in French, but today they are 60 percent English, only 28 percent in French and a measly 3.8 percent in German, the third 'official' language.

What's happened has been the enlargement of the EC. The ten newest members are largely anglophiles, which has shifted the language balance away from the 50 percent French of the founding members. Wose – two–thirds of the 25 new European Commissioners do not speak French, or not much.


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