There was a time, not so long ago, when anyone with a proper education spoke French. Diplomacy and business were conducted in French. Knowledge was spread in French. Travelers made their way in French, and, of course, lovers traded sweet nothings in French.
Viewed from France, the trouble with modern times is that many of those activities are now conducted in English, even by the French. In a country that cares so much about its language it maintains a whole ministry to promote it, that alone is enough to stir passionate debate in Paris — in French, naturally.
But there is more.
Higher Education Minister Genevieve Fioraso this past week introduced a bill that would allow French universities to teach more courses in English, even when English is not the subject. The goal, she explained, is to attract more students from countries such as Brazil, China and India where English is widely taught but French is reserved largely for literature lovers.
“Ten years ago, we were third in welcoming foreign students, but today we are fifth,” she said in a Q&A in the magazine Nouvel Observateur. “Why have we lost so much attraction? Because Germany has put in place an English program that has passed us by. We must make up the gap.”