And this is a particularly twattish statistic

The group’s report highlights European Commission research showing that English 15-year-olds came bottom of a table of 14 countries for competence in the main language taught in schools.

Just 9 per cent of English pupils had a basic mastery of French – the most commonly-taught language – while the average across 14 nations was 42 per cent.

Err, no.

The most commonly taught non-domestic language in England is French. The most commonly taught non-domestic language across Europe is English. 42% of European youths are proficient (to the standard that this survey requires) in English.

Admittedly, that’s still higher than the number of English people who are proficient in English but that’s all part of the long march through the institutions.

26 thoughts on “And this is a particularly twattish statistic”

  1. I’m just waiting for SMFS to come along and tell us that (pidgin) French is a British domestic language and is even the majority language in some areas that play host to our most vibrant communities.

  2. How much use is French? Not much, unless you’re going to France. Everyone these days just needs to know their native language, and English. Because, the internet.

  3. The Meissen Bison

    How much value is there for the individual in having a cultural hinterland?

    The internet doesn’t give you that.

    Knowing ‘stuff’ does.

  4. To consider yourself an educated Briton, you really should be able to speak French, read German and have a stab at a little Latin.

  5. bloke (not) in spain

    In France (or Belgium) I use my French.
    In Spain I use my Spanish
    I’ve never found much use for my French with the Spanish.
    Or my Spanish with the French.
    Or either, anywhere else in Europe.
    But I’ve operated, with some success, in 18 European & two N.African countries with English.
    ( A grounding in Latin, maybe. Half the languages in Europe are degenerate Latin, so at least gives one a clue.. Even in understanding some of the more obscure English.)

  6. I have no other language than English, (I did do O-level French at school and failed dismally), but I’ve always regretted that fact.

    The gift of tongues seems to me to be a profoundly useful one and would have helped enormously in my years as an IT professional. Though I was adequate in everything from VMS to C++, a facility to pick up these and other languages quickly might have earned me a lot more money.

    These days a decent knowledge of Italian, French and German would help considerably in my new found appreciation of classical opera since the surtitles provided fail to translate much of the nuance of the original language.

    I am though attempting, with very limited success, to learn Italian since I shall be watching Verdi in Verona next week.

  7. When reading statements like “English is the lingua franca” it’s a significant advantage not to know any Italian (or Latin).

  8. Judging by what I’ve heard over and over from non-native English speakers, all we need to do to get our kids to speak French is to exclusively show subtitled French cartoons on kids’ TV.

  9. How much use is French? Not much, unless you’re going to France. Everyone these days just needs to know their native language, and English. Because, the internet.

    It’s the social doors that languages open that does it for me. I’m currently in Vilnius, happened to meet a Lithuanian on the plane up here who lives in France and is meeting up with a load of Lithuanian and French later. So I tag along, everyone is speaking French. Fortunately, I can too, so I can join in. Knowing any langue is extremely useful socially, if you’re into traveling and meeting people.

  10. Surely Brits learn French so they can order a cold beer and a warm mademoiselle while they’re ejecting the Germans?

    OK, Brits learn French because over a hundred years ago it was the mark of an educated person to speak the lingua franca, i.e. it’s a meaningless anachronism, but don’t tell the French teachers.

  11. Meissen Bison: “How much value is there for the individual in having a cultural hinterland?”

    Depends on what value the diversity wonks place in that individual being a Special Snowflake. It could be very ‘valuable’ indeed…

  12. Computing languages are a piece of piss to learn, having a tremendously limited vocabulary and a clearly defined grammar which allows NO exceptions.

    Learning French involves memorising about 50,000 words and understanding a grammar which is different from your own, even if you ‘learned’ what grammar actually was at school (I.e. You are over 50 or were privately educated).

    Also computers don’t have impenetrable dialects or weird idioms or slang.

  13. It is strange but I can understand most conversations between other people in French, but as soon as someone talks to me I go completely blank and barely understand a single word.

  14. I once had a slightly limited but perfectly reasonable conversation in French with the man at the next table at le Gavroche in Paris.

    Finally I have cracked this foreign language thing, I thought.

    Turned out he was also British.

  15. @”Dave
    July 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    Judging by what I’ve heard over and over from non-native English speakers, all we need to do to get our kids to speak French is to exclusively show subtitled French cartoons on kids’ TV.”
    I once spoke to a Dane about that and he told me that they speak English better than German and German better than French because English TV is better than German and German TV better than French.

    Unfortunately there might not be enough foreign language TV we want to and under decency laws are able to watch.

  16. I’m still working on that learning Japanese via watching Anime with subtitle. 20 years on, and still not even close to conversational proficient.

  17. As someone in their forties who went to a comp my English grammar is very weak. What I know seems to have been absorbed through a form of osmosis.

    I’m struggling to learn Portugease and feel I need to go back to learn English (again?). Can anyone recommend a strategy for this, should I just go and buy Keystage 1 to whatever English language?

  18. I remember reading about a Russian who learned English almost exclusively from watching Steptoe and Son. Not sure if is true but very funny nevertheless.

  19. Also computers don’t have impenetrable dialects or weird idioms or slang.

    They dont come weirder than this.

  20. The Meissen Bison

    Peter – forget modern text books for learning languages. Find out what would have been used for ‘A’ level in the 1960’s and try to get hold of that. Like Whitmarsh for French and Russon for German. Grammar, vocab, execises.

  21. Bloke in Costa Rica

    French was never the lingua franca anyway. If you were a Mediterranean trader from the Middle Ages to the 19th C. then you spoke actual lingua franca, but it was a mish-mash of Frankish, Italian, Occitan, Berber and so on. If you wanted to make a living, you needed to speak it. English serves today as the most widespread bridge language in history, therefore it’s commercially astute to learn it. Ever wondered why every Scandinavian band you’ve ever heard of sings in English? Because if they didn’t you’d never have heard of them.

    There’s a strong selection bias in favour of multiple languages on this blog, anyway, as well over 50% of the regular commenters seem to be Bloke in [not-Britain], including our esteemed host. Even if you count the availability of cheap international travel, the average person in the UK is likely to derive significantly less utility from a second language than the likes of us. I’m essentially bilingual in Spanish, I can read French to a high level (although my spoken French is very rusty) and I can get by reading Italian, Portuguese and German. Would this do me any good in the UK? Maybe, but probably not. In that situation it would be nice to have, but insisting on learning foreign languages is ignoring opportunity cost.

  22. The Meissen Bison

    If we never leave the English speaking world, we can on a functional level get by very nicely with English.

    However, being monoglot amongst folk who speak other languages certainly puts one at a disadvantage both socially and also in terms of one’s ability to conduct commercial negotiations.

    Just as important is the cultural aspect.

    In much the same way that much of western figurative art relies on an appreciation and understanding of Christianity, an appreciation of our own literature and history is surely broadened by a study of language and languages.

    It’s the general utilitarian approach to everything that makes people so ineffably dreary and one-dimensional.

  23. @Runcie Balspune
    >They dont come weirder than this.

    Brainfuck is only a joke.

    Try APL, it’s serious. It doesn’t count as an impenetrable dialect, it’s an impenetrable language. With its own alphabet. Did my head in. I used it with keyboards that had no letters, only the APL symbols. Reasonable enough, as you could remember the QWERTY positions.

    There are any number that aren’t a joke. Creating useful languages is fun. But creating useful and beautiful languages is hard.

  24. I remember being invited to a professional dinner years ago, and I wasn’t sure whether I should hire a dinner jacket. When I asked what others were doing, one of them said “I’m hiring one, I don’t want to be the bloke that turns up without one”.

    When I joined this French bureaucracy that sometimes masquerades as an oil company, I found that of the internationally mobile staff members damned near everyone spoke at least two languages, often three, and sometimes four. With my not knowing French, my knowledge of Russian gained me enough credibility in the few years before I got a grip on French. It wasn’t so much the utility of a foreign language in conducting business, or even social conversations, it was more the fact that in the company of people who have put in thousands of hours of effort to learn a language, you don’t want to be the only person who hasn’t.

    Although the point made on this blog earlier about language selection being the most difficult aspect of a Brit learning a foreign language is very valid.

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