The Hari Putar Dialogues - 21
(The Guardian; 2 September; Paris: The main teaching union in France has criticized the education minister's plans to offer free English classes in the school holidays next year. Xavier Darcos announced the plans on Monday, insisting that speaking fluent English was the key to success. The Snes-FSU union leader Roland Hubert said Mr Darcos should be concentrating on what happens during school time.)
Putar: According to a report carried in The Guardian today, teachers in France are upset about the French education minister's announcement that he plans to offer free English classes during the school holidays next year.
Hari: I've read that story, putar. The truth is that the French are very chauvinistic about their language, aren't they?
Putar: The teachers are also upset because the Minister has said that the language of international business today is English and it is a handicap to speak poor English. The secret of success is speaking better English.
Hari: The traditionalists are upset but the Minister is not wrong. All over the world people have started learning English. The German's have started DW TV in English a while ago and the Chinese too have CCTV 9 now, which is in English. These countries realize that English is important if they want their message to reach wider audiences.
Putar: The French Minister has pointed out while "well-off families pay for study sessions abroad, I'm offering them to everyone right here".
Hari: The Minister's logic may be perfectly right, but French people don't like to hear that their language is in decline globally speaking. As it is the French are upset about the dominance of Anglo Saxon culture, American fast food and Hollywood.
Putar: They say that if an Indian is in France and he asks a Frenchman for directions in Hindi, the Frenchman will try to help him,
Hari: But if he asks in English?
Putar: The Frenchman may understand him better, but he will be ignored.
Hari: Two years ago, the then President, Jacques Chirac, famously stormed out of an EU summit when a fellow Frenchman began making his speech in English. Mr Chirac said he was 'deeply shocked' that a Frenchman would choose to address the summit in English.
Putar: But times have changed. The new French President Sarkozy has a different attitude. President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to back the Education Minister's plan. He has already infuriated traditionalists by suggesting that the French should no longer insist on speaking their own language at international negotiations.
Hari: It's not only the French President, but his wife, the pop star Carla Bruni-Sarkozy too who realizes the importance of English.
Putar: Why do you say that?
Hari: She has released her latest album in English.
Putar: That makes sense. If you sing in English you can be heard by a much wider audience than if you sing in French.
Hari: In 1994, the French parliament passed a law obliging music-orientated French radio stations to increase their French-language programming to at least 40% of their output.
Putar: A law like that would promote singers who sing in French, but if the French singers really want to reach out to a global audience, they would need to prepare an English version of the song as well. American pop stars like Ricki Martin have sung songs in a Spanish as well as English version.
Hari: It's an irony that France has the presidency of an expanded EU this year, but the expansion of the EU has reduced the importance of the French language in Europe.
Putar: Why is that?
Hari: French used to be the lingua franca for most EU business earlier. Now with the expansion of the EU to 27 member states, things have changed. The majority of countries within the EU prefer English to French.
Putar: The French President does admit however that his own English needs a little work. He once made a speech to businessmen in English, telling them they would all be welcome to invest in "Frence".
Hari: The famous L'Acad'mie Fran'aise (French Academy), set up in 1635 to protect the purity of French, has not commented on the Minister's remarks but is clearly annoyed. The Academy has hit out at the increasing usage of 'Franglais' words such as 'le weekend' and 'le parking'.
Putar: I'm sure English has crept into many world languages. Many people in India now speak what is called Hinglish, a mixture of English and Hindi.
Hari: There is also Singlish, an English based creole spoken and written colloquially in Singapore.
Putar: The French Academy is also against what it calls the 'Americanisation' of French life. They support the huge subsidies that favor the French film industry.
Hari: The French cinema may be artistic but has relatively little viewership, globally speaking.
Putar: Bollywood is more successful. It is very popular in Africa and the Middle East.
Hari: There are Bollywood films that are watched in countries by people who don't even understand the language and sometimes the videos don't even have subtitles in the local language. Recently, some Africans were interviewed and asked why they liked to watch Bollywood films that didn't have subtitles or dubbing when they didn't even understand the language.
Putar: And what did they say?
Hari: They said that, 'Oh, the acting is so good you don't need to know the language!'
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, putar?
Putar: Many Indian films are as good or bad as their Hollywood counterparts. Indian actors are also as good or better than their Hollywood counterparts.
Hari: That's true, putar.
Putar: But these films, the Africans spoke of, where the acting is so good that you don't need the language to tell you what is happening, do you think that the actors have acted so well that you don't need to know the script?
Hari: I'm not so sure, putar.
Putar: Or do you think that in those films the acting was so bad (overacting) that the viewers don't need to know the language?
Hari: I don't know, putar.