Thursday, January 18, 2007

English vs. French

I've been following a discussion between the local government in Stuttgart and the parents in my state (theoretically Germany is a union of states just like the USA, we've got 15 union states that form our country). The government wants to make sure that the pupils in the Gymnasium (in Germany that's the highest form of secondary school, although the English meaning of the word is closer to the original Greek meaning than the German one) in Baden-Wuerttemberg (that's my state) learn French as their first foreign language (it's normal for pupils in the Gymnasium to learn two foreign languages). The parents are set against it and want to keep English as the first foreign languages - and I have to agree with them.

I can understand the background of the decision the local government has made. We're close to France here (the south-western part of Germany) and so it's just a matter of perhaps an hour to drive there for shopping or other reasons (and especially on Sundays, when most shops in Germany are closed, a lot of people drive to France for shopping). It's not bad to think that people might profit from learning French.

But first of all the area of France we're closest to (and usually go shopping in) is Alsace, a slip of land continually pulled back and forth between France and Germany ever since the Middle Ages. As a result of this history, the people living there have developed their own language, Alsatian. It is a mixture between French and German that's easy enough to understand (for Germans, I'm not completely sure how well the French understand it). Most people from Alsace also understand German quite well (it's the same with the Netherlands, actually, but that's another topic).

So the real 'reason' why pupils should learn French first (and only those who in most cases will take it as their second foreign language later on anyway; the number of pupils today taking Latin is very, very, very, very small) doesn't work out well. In addition pupils from the 'lower' branches of secondary school in Germany won't learn French in my state, they'll learn English just as always.

The most important language for anyone on this planet to learn these days isn't French (it has been, in Europe, once upon a time), it's English. Whether you want to become a scientist or a businessman, you'll need it. If you want to do anything with computers, you'll need it. Wherever on this planet you go for your holidays, the people you mostly have to deal with in most cases will speak English.

I have learned French in school (and part of it was dreadful, for even though the language as a such is beautiful, the grammar is not) and I still can understand most of it, basically, but English is not just easier to learn, it's also more useful.

I fear that Baden-Wuerttemberg (which has, in the past, been quite high up in education, even with PISA) will give it's future students (as only pupils going through Gymnasium are allowed to go to university in Germany) many problems to overcome, because they'll have to compete with students from states where English is the first foreign language.

Stuttgart doesn't want to back down. The parents don't want to either, from what I have gathered over the news. I personally think that it's those who have not been asked (the pupils) who will suffer for it. Stuttgart (or rather the local government there) has the power, of course, but parents have quite strong means of counteracting it these days (lawsuits, mostly).

I'll be following the discussion, even though I don't have anything to with it as I have neither children nor am I in school any longer.

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