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Macron backs French language courses and English language tests

In a dramatic example of the change of its traditional position on English language learning, the French government has signed a four-year contract with awarding body LanguageCert to deliver over 600,000 English tests to undergraduates at the country’s state-owned universities and Institutes of science and technology.

Unlike most of the rest of Europe, France has previously declined to prioritise the teaching of English over other European languages, with many schools choosing Spanish or German as the first foreign language taught and some students leaving school having been taught no English at all.

In a typically pragmatic decision, President Emmanuel Macron has adopted the policy of promoting the learning of English as the language of business, while ramping up his support for the teaching of French and for the French-speaking populations of la Francophonie.

In the first week of December, he announced that French language schools would become an official ‘protected sector’, awarding them tax exemptions and fiscal support to help them survive the pandemic. Weeks later, on 23 December, the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation signed a deal with LanguageCert, part of the PeopleCert group, following a thorough tendering process.

The move will see every student in France and its overseas territories take the LinguaCert Test of English (LTE) as part of their undergraduate studies, with the government picking up the test fees. Before they graduate, students will be tested in three skills: listening, reading and writing, using either a paper-based test or in a computer-adaptive format. Each student will receive a certificate showing their level on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), but undergraduates’ attainment on the test will not affect their degree results.

Some French teachers have pushed back against the initiative, complaining about the use of an international test produced by a private company rather than a French state exam. The exam board has responded by offering a package of teacher support, including webinars and free study materials. LanguageCert’s Frederic Borne told the Gazette: “We are committed to helping the teachers.”

Pushback from the public and the French press has been muted, with some observers suggesting that Britain’s final exit from the European Union has dampened the political objections to learning the language of a competing European power. “English has become neutralised by Brexit,” one source told the Gazette.

Image courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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