The Spanish surprised me by their modest appetite for traveling internationally. On average, they enjoyed staying in their own country, and anybody having seen more than three different countries is considered truly international-minded. The French are different. Their country is directly connected to no less than nine countries, and they take pride in jumping across borders to measure the degree of civilisation on the other side.
The French may not be known for having fabulous skills in other languages than their own. Some see that as a barrier, others take it for a challenge. For those who want to learn foreign languages, living abroad is considered the only option. Stephane (33) tells that the French education in foreign languages is poor and does not prepare for anything. `The average amount of English spoken by French pupils during seven years of secondary school is no higher than 12 minutes. What we learn is all theory and grammar, nothing about using the language in practice`, he says.
`I went to Ireland to learn how to speak English properly`
English is not even the only language French people learn in school. Depending on their choice, they often learn Spanish as well, which following personal preference can be replaced or complemented by German. Especially German is held high in esteem, because of how
different it is from French. Because of the little attention paid to using the language in real life, getting rid of the heavy French accent ranks low in priority. In this case, it`s not only the teachers who are to blame, but also the pupils themselves. They will laugh at anybody trying to adopt a proper accent, motivating each other to fit the few words they say strictly within the typical French way of speaking.
Charlotte (21, photo) is one out of the many young people who wanted to escape the tradition of unilingualism, or anything close to that. She left to Ireland for one year, to work, learn the language and travel around in a foreign country. Charlotte ended up working in a classy champagne bar in Dublin, together with two Polish people. `I really had the impression that the Irish are fond of the French, maybe even of foreigners in general. The Irish have very very welcoming and hospitable and I had many good experience with them, hitchhiking around the country and simply meeting a lot of international people. It helped me improve my English and will for sure help me when I start looking for jobs`, she says.
Clarisse (24) has also traveled quite a bit. When she was younger, her parents took her across Europe in a camper van. Sweden, Finland, Croatia, and many other countries along the way. She crossed Corsica and R?union by foot and would now like to do a long distance walk across the entire South American continent. I wonder if she is rich herself or has particularly rich parents, but she explains none of that applies: `My parents are both postmen, they just planned our travels in a smart way, avoiding big cities and expensive places.`
Recent trips took her to Iceland for a few weeks and to the Canadian province Qu?bec for 6 months. Iceland for holidays, Qu?bec to do an internship in chemical biology and to simply experience living in another country for a while. She would have liked to do it in an English-speaking region of Canada, but happened to find one in Qu?bec. Her level of English is nevertheless exceptional compared to the average French person.
Canada and Ireland are not the only destinations the French select for gaining international experience. Anabelle (23) lived in Spain for a while as a part of her studies. She started out studying Spanish, but changed to International Business afterwards. She expects to travel a fair bit by finding a job that allows her to travel, but has already been to Sweden, Greece and a number of English city. Anabelle tells me that French international travel has even taken such tremendous dimensions, that many people forget to discover their own country which nonetheless combines a huge wealth of different landscapes. `Beaches, castles, regional gastronomy ? French has got it all but some people overlook all that because they are so keen on discovering new territories.
As a teenager, Anabelle has also participated in exchange programs with Germany. She explains that international partnerships between cities (jumelages), often create opportunities for pupils of secondary school to do short-term exchanges at an early age. A typical exchange moves a whole class abroad for up to ten days, followed or preceded by a similar return visit. Germany is particularly popular for jumelages. Anybody traveling France by car will notice these intercity bonds since at the border of every city indicating the city partnerships.
Kevin (24) does not speak English and claims he has not traveled a lot. His list nevertheless includes England, Spain and Morocco. Elodie (25) has been to England, Austria and Spain. She speaks a little English and is happy to practice it during her job as a nurse in a busy tourist area on the French coast. Kevin (22) tells me about the former French colonies and territories, some of which are make very popular holiday destinations. Many French have visited or want to visit la R?union, next to Madagascar, or Senegal.
The list continues with many people set for New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada for learning English, Thailand, South Africa, Djibouti and Namibia for discovering. Some destinations attract a lot of French people for a specific reason. Amsterdam for smoking joints, Spain for the all-night parties, Senegal for the colours and, according to some, every English-speaking country but England to practice English.
Learning languages is a favourite excuse for traveling, helped by the fact that French employers are fond of hiring people who speak English or another foreign language. It many not even actually needed for the job, it just looks good. David (29) cares to specify that the required level is not very high anyway. Speaking English requires nothing more than having a grasp of what it is about. `You may be asked to write a letter, but you will have it checked by some external translator anyway`, he says.
Altogether, French like things that make a good impression. Foreign languages only matter when you are looking for truly international jobs. Otherwise, you might as well say that you speak four languages fluently and have traveled a lot ? hardly anybody cares to check anyway, they will simply be proud to know you.
photo | Link
to this article