France has a bit of an international reputation for being very protective of its language – but how easy is it to move here if your French is still at the very beginner level?

How much French will I need for my daily life in France? Well, it very much depends on your personal circumstances, but also where you are. In famous tourist locations such as the French Riviera or Paris, English is widely spoken.

But don’t expect everyone to speak English, especially in areas off the beaten tourist path. France regularly comes out towards the lower end of levels in English-language competency in countries around Europe , and older people may not speak any English at all.

Starting a conversation with a French person in English and assuming they understand you is considered absolutely rude. So, if your French is poor, look up a phrase that can express what you are looking for. If the person you are talking to does speak English they will generally be happy to switch languages and help you out.

Starting any interaction with the courtesy of a bonjour (or bonsoir if it’s evening) is important if you don’t want to come across as rude.

Depending on where you are, it’s possible to stay together with other English speakers, although we would suggest that’s less fun and less interesting than trying to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Why the French are improving (a little) at speaking English

The French had the reputation of being the worst English speakers in western Europe; they have improved a little and left Spain and Italy behind.

The annual rankings of English competency have been published by a renowned language school in the world with France languishing at 31st place in the world.

But this is an improvement over last year when France ranked at number 35. In the meantime, the country has overtaken Spain (35th place) and Italy (36th place), so the French no longer hold the title of “Worst English Speakers” in Western Europe.

At the top of the table is the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Norway, and Denmark while hanging out at the bottom are Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya.

Within France itself, the highest number of English speakers are in the greater Paris Île-de-France region. The Hauts-de-France region recorded the lowest number of English speakers while across the entire country more French men speak English than women.

But what do the figures tell us about the French attitude to speaking English?

When discussing the French proficiency in English, three things usually surface – schooling, dubbing, and the Académie française.

The French school system is often criticized as overly strict and formal, giving language students little opportunity for casual conversation and leaving them lacking confidence in their efforts to speak another language.

In contrast to many other countries where English or American TV shows are widely shown with subtitles, in France almost all foreign content is dubbed. This means that French people get far less casual exposure to English than in countries like Sweden.

“In other countries, for example Sweden, where the language is not spoken around the world, translations from English are not available so easily so people have more exposure to English.”

Then, of course, there’s the Académie Française. It is ever-alert to any incoming English words slipping into everyday use and devotes considerable effort to coming up with French alternatives to avoid the French language becoming “polluted” with Anglicisms.



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