Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Save the Brits!

Even if it's improving, the French are generally not very good at foreign languages and at English in particular. That is why some companies that specialize in language training take advantage of this situation to sell their courses. One of them - Telelangue - is currently running this pretty funny ad campaign at the moment on Paris buses. It shows a "typical Englishman" (well, according to his tartan, this one is probably more Scottish than English...) with the following caption: "Stop massacring the Englishman" which, in French, also means "Stop massacring the English language". Funny.


  1. That's an interesting play on words, however I find that most French people I speak to are much better at speaking English than I am at speaking French. I only wish I had the time to work on my language skills more...

  2. LOL I love this commercial, I spoke about it few days ago with an English teacher and we found that the idea was clever.

    French are not good at langages Eric, are we exceptions? LOL modestie quand tu nous tiens...

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  4. Justine, that's the second time it beat me on the line!! Congrates!
    To be honnest, French people are not crazy about foreign languages, that's true, but one can thank the school and the way the languages are taught...

  5. Do you know how many different "billboards" they have with this ad campaign ? I have just watched the news on TV5 Monde this evening and they mentioned this campaign (further to the government announcement that high school students will be offered optional intensive seminars in English-language skills during school vacations in February and the summer)... but the example they show on the bus was a completely different
    photo. I think it was a bobby...

    See info treated by Associated Press French schools to offer more English classes ....... and the one treated by English press French education minister finally admits defeat in battle against the English language

    Voila !

  6. Guille and Justine I think you are totally right -- I only wish I had a tenth of the ability to speak French at the level that most of the French people I meet speak English. I'm always put to shame. And they have usually been more than willing to speak English to me even if they feel awkward. Eric is surely being modest, right, Guille?! Happy GF Justine!

  7. Yay! GF two days in a row! However this may be the last you see of me for a while as I start work tomorrow and don't know how busy that will keep me...

  8. I have said this before and I will say it again, a French person in Anerica would never come across as many native Americans who could speak French as a second language as I come across French who can speak English as a second language.

    There has been an ad in the Paris metro for years "Speak English,speak Wall Street English" which has always struck me as funny.
    Anyway, I find this visual funny in a clever way.

  9. Ditto PHX, my experience in France was that almost everyone I spoke to either tried to reach out to me in English - which is really appreciated when you are trying to meet your needs in a foreign language - or complemented my abysmal French! I wonder, though, are the members of the Academie Francaise beside themselves with this sort of ad campaign? Is the push to speak English a dividing issue in France? We have had divisions in my state over the use of Spanish in various locations.

  10. He looks like he could use a nice ice cream cone, too....

    ; )

  11. Correct phx-cdg, but why would an (average) native American in America learn French ?... To learn a language of a country he will probably never visit in hios entire life, or that he will probably never use in his day to day or at work ?...

  12. Love this ad, Eric. So funny!
    Loic is right in a way, but what a shame that that's the case—and how fortunate I feel that I was able to live in France and travel all over! I was going to add a link to a story that was in the NY Times this morning, but it's essentially the AP story that Loic provided. Very interesting. I'm constantly amazed and impressed by Eric's (and Guille's) grasp of English. Did you have great teachers, or a lot of opportunity to practice speaking, or are you just THAT good? We Americans have become even more isolated, I fear, in the past 8 years.

  13. But an Englishman is not a Scotsman. Which makes this a kind of ineffective ad for the product it's pushing.

  14. Wow, he looks a wreck! However, I think he is being over-dramatic. I read in the news this morning on France24 the headlines "FRANCE - EDUCATION - More English, no more Saturdays in French schools".

    Now, I think I speak okay English. However, when I was in London, I asked some women in the hotel lobby what they were watching on TV. They asked me what language was I speaking. I said English. They said, No you are not! From that day forward, I sort of gave up on English. They are just too picky.

    I'm French American. When people ask me what language I am speaking, I say, French American.

  15. Thanks for the link, Loic. I didn't see your post till after mine went in.

  16. Very clever ad campaign and very funny photo, Eric! I actually could "translate" it in my head before I read your explanation. Hooray! All my study may be paying off!! I'm working on learning more French, basically because I would love to be able to communicate if I ever am blessed enough to go to France, Paris in particular. But I am very impressed by people who can speak English so well, especially when it is not their first, or even second language! My hat is off to them. Thanks so much for the reminder to keep studying!

    BTW, Congrats, Justine!! GF!!

  17. PHX: "I have said this before and I will say it again, a French person in America would never come across as many native Americans who could speak French as a second language as I come across French who can speak English as a second language." I'm not sure I could say this even once!

    Umm, you can French some of the Americans all of the time, and speak to all the natives some of the time, but you would never come across all the English the second time. Didn't Abraham Lincoln said that?

  18. Uuuhhh -- wait a minute -- I thought PHX was talking about, you know, like, the Shoshone, the Navaho, the Arapaho -- you know, all them guys -- most of them don't speak French.... right???

  19. Pardon, je ne parle pas français.

    The response I usually receive, in English, is that I do speak French and very well. I know that the person responding is being very kind, and generous. It's amazing how a little polite behavior goes a long way, in any culture.

  20. LOL,Jeff,you are so right!!My comment makes a loopy sense!!!
    But in my defense, I spent the night working 10 hrs. from Buenos Aires to JFK,jumped on a plane 2 hrs. after I landed (at 6am ) and finally arrived this afternoon in PHX. I am still awake 36 hrs. later. I think.
    I didn't mention why,but that is where my perspective about the ice cream cone picture came from ,TODAY'S JETLAG.
    Carrie: How can I answer Loic seriously after your wit?

  21. The "model" in the photo is indeed a Scot--well, if I have my facts right he's an American citizen who was born in Glasgow. His name is Craig Ferguson; he hosts a popular TV show here called the Late Late Show (yes, Lois, it's a TV show, no matter what the British call it). He's funny and charming and I adore the way he speaks English. I have no idea what his French sounds like but I'll listen to him in any language.

  22. Oh I will gladly save the Brits. A few in particular. Starting with, of course, the love of my life: Gary Oldman. Then I'll save Roger Daltrey, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, David Tennant, Sean Connery, Alan Cumming, David Dixon, Simon P-wait, perhaps I should stop here before I start rambling!!!

    Funny ad, although I don't mind the massacre of the English language. I do it on a daily basis. According to linguistics it's perfectly ok. Evolution of language and all.

  23. BTW Coltrane - Since you mentioned recently my attempt to read more I realized that the only list I have of what I've read is scattered on my LiveJournal, so I compiled the list and made a little blog about it that you (ie anyone) can get to if you visit my profile. I figure I'll just keep updating that rather than add another scattered post to LJ. I wouldn't mind book discussions there either if anyone is even inclined.

  24. So I WILL find a job teaching English as a second language when I visit Paris in March.
    I just have to get around that "But you are American, not British" problem.
    Still, I can leave Texas!!
    And I hear there are many single men in Paris ;-)

  25. Yes wren, but from what I hear all the single men in Paris are disgusting nose pickers!


  26. Oh, P, is that him? His show was definitely worth watching. (Well, I'm sure it's still on.)

    I have so much admiration for people who can master a new language in adulthood. Some folks just have the knack for it. My strength came from being able to mimic the sounds, but grammar was always my massive failing. For two years, I spoke Hungarian like a caveman, if that. Now I don't know any at all. No, wait. Here's one.

    uborka = cucumber

  27. That's always a helpful word to know in any language. Never know when you're gonna want to make a salad or pickle! Thanks elaine!

    (Can you not tell we have nothing to do for the 2nd half of class?)

  28. PHX: You are a stitch. Actually, your comment made sense and is not grammatically incorrect. However...!

    I think you cabin attendants could become addicted to that weird jetlag and sleepless high. I hate it, but what do I know? I was burnt out from the bus/train/plane/train/bus just coming home from Chicago. Oh waah. Of course, closing the 96th floor bar at the Hancock Tower the night before may have had something to do with it! Not nearly as valid an excuse as flying over the ocean.

  29. Pronounced OO-borka, with the stress on the first syllable. Impress all your Hungarian friends. ;^)

    I just remembered one more.

    malna = raspberry

    That'll keep you fed for about a month in summer. Unless I think of something else (without cheating), you're on your own for the rest of the year.

  30. Hilarious! I am visiting Paris in January and hope to take photos of a few signs like these :)

  31. Did somebody mention "linguistics," and not "linguini"? It's about time. I was just talking today with my composition students about how technology is affecting our English lexicon. Take for instance, a computer "mouse" (please take mine!). If you went to your local computer store and wanted to purchase several of these clicker devices, what would you ask for? "Mice" you reply, as you employ your good grammar and turn the singular into its plural form. You might get a strange look at first as the techie considers sending you to PetSmart for some little rodents. Thus, would you also not be tempted (if for a moment) to ask for "several computer mouses"? Our language (as Soosha reminds us) is evolving and sometimes our grammar absolutes don't always hold. (BTW...I do love my Grammarother and my Great-grammarother too!)

    On another note, some interesting odditie and tidbits about English (the language not the Brits):

    1. (For PHX-CDG) "Stewardesses" is the longest word that can be typed only with the left hand.
    2. "THEREIN" is a seven-letter word that contains 13 words spelled using consecutive letters: the, he, her, er, here, I, there, ere, rein, re, in, therein, (and) herein.
    3. (For you drummers out there, ahem!) "Rhythms" is the longest English word without the vowels--a,e,i,o,u.
    4. (To "WOW MOM & DAD")Longest single-word palindromes (for Alexa and her sister): deified, racecar, repaper, reviver, (and) rotator.
    5. Number oddity: "One thousand" contains the letter "A," but none of the words from "one" to "nine hundred ninety nine" has an "A."

    I applaud Eric and Guille's abilities to navigate through the English language. But, if you can master this tongue twister, you will rule the land of the English-speakers far and wide. (The most difficult tongue twister in THE WORLD): "The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick." MON DIEU!!!

  32. Oooh Coltrane, your vast intelligence is making my heart skip a beat! That and your linguistics talk! Aside from my "The Twilight Zone" class, linguistics was my favorite course during the short time I attended UMSL! Language, english, and literature fascinate me. Wait, so to do history and science. And Brits. Though not a subject I ever had the pleasure of studying at school, unfortunately!

  33. I massacre the English language and I'm English! so really no excuse. I put it down to being born in Kent, where we have a sort of Thames Estuary/country mix(!!!!!) depending on what part of Kent you come from. When abroad I've often been mistaken for being Australian! Anyway, I agree, the French should be commended on their command of the English language. There's more chance of meeting a French person in France that can speak English than vice-versa.

  34. Eric, I can actually say that at Alstom University we really DO use Telelangue as one way to train employees in English. However, they don't all come from France, but from all around the world, so I'm not sure that your comment is only specific to the French. I can tell you that it is one of the most sought after trainings we offer!

  35. I love the creativity in the ad. But the one that PHX mentions for Wall Street English always gets me thinking.

    Every time I see that one in the metro, I think to myself, "Self, what could they possibly mean by Wall Street English? What do they teach? How to say, 'stocks', 'bonds', 'insider trading', 'hedge funds'?"

  36. Mon Dieu!! Is it Roast Beef or ROST BEEF!!

    I agree with Michael. I used to see that ad on the Metro for "Wall Street English" and wonder if they taught them to say.."Two toasted corn muffins and a Coffee Half and sugar on the side" or "Three frankfurters all the way around, Extra Kraut"!! LOL!!

  37. Lois..too funnny! I am an American of French descent[French Father, French/Swedish Mother]and when I mess up my syntax etc...I always say.."Well, English wasn't my first language but I have made great improvements"! LOL!! Or I tell them I can't speak English and I can't speak French...but I can make great attempts at both! LOL!!

  38. Alexa, I'm just THAT good. LOL.I never had good teachers but always loved English. There's no secret: movies and books in English, one month and a half in India (it incredibly improved my English), some foreign boyfriends and friends (it helps too!) and most of all...PDP! Seriously, I learnt more in one year here than in 4 years at the University.

    Soosha "I don't mind the massacre of the English language. I do it on a daily basis. According to linguistics it's perfectly ok. Evolution of language and all." LOOOOL It's such a good excuse!! I guess that everybody do that all the time. French included of course.

    Coltrane, I like linguistics, your comment was so interesting! I know some French oddities too. But it's probably too hard for me to explain them in English!
    "The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick." ??? Forget me!
    Mr Benaut gave us an exercise to do last weekend, just to improve our "th" pronunciation: "I thought that I would think". Already too HARD for my French accent!

    As a French, I totally understand that American don't NEED to speak French. Why on earth do they need to speak a language spoken in some countries in Europe and some countries in Africa?...Just for their Quebeckers neighbours? It's probably more intelligent to learn Spanish when you live in the US.

    The "Wall Street English" ad makes me crazy, I find it lame, square and quite silly. What does it really mean? You will be able to sell shares but not to quietly speak with your American colleagues?

  39. I'm doubting that's really Craig Ferguson. I magnified the picture and it doesn't seem quite right. Petrea, do you have some inside knowledge? I'm a major fan of Craig's. I've heard him speaking what is supposed to be French and I think it really is, but he can mimic accents so well, he could be fooling me.
    I have the impression that Wall Street English is the name of a company that teaches English. Like Berlitz, or those kind. I'm pulling that from an ancient memory, so no guarantees there, either.
    Lee in Calif.

  40. Very good. I think probably Britain can top you in the 'Non-Speaking of Foreign Languages' Award though.

    Yes, this chap would have to be British, with his tartan fabric thrown nonchalantly over his shoulder! I am English. I like to keep the differentiation too.

  41. Very witty campaign. We Brits are very lazy when it comes to speaking another's language. Also we tend to massacre our own lanuguage aswell. I oten find that people who speak English as their second language, do so much more logically than we do.

    A question for you. Is there still a campaign to replace words like email internet, the amglosized version with the French version in France? I know your happy hour covered this, but many of my french friends use the English version.

  42. sister and I have always found the French easy to communicate with in English. Americans have to be some of the laziest when it comes to learning another language.

  43. Eric

    I think that there's far more of a risk of us English tourists massacring the French language than vice versa!

    Of course, if you work for Microsoft you'll think that 'US English' is the prime language as it always seems to appear above proper English in the option menus.

  44. Oh no, now not only are the french going to correct my french, but my english as well!

  45. Lee in Calif: I don't have inside information, I was just sure it was Ferguson because it looks like him. Am I wrong? It happened before, once, back in the 80s...

  46. Misplaced Parisian a dit...

    Americans are hardly lazy. And they do learn (and invent) languages all the time, without which you would not have been able to type into this comment string such a gross and ignorant generalization. Are you British by any chance?

  47. Coltrain:as a lefty and a FLIGHT ATTENDANT, found your factoid( did you catch that word, Guille?)interesting.
    To everyone who commented on the Wall St. English ad: YES! We do feel each other's pain.
    Last night, while trying to stay awake so I could have a decent bedtime, I watched the movie, Gigi, which takes place in the early 1900's.I had already been on PDP, so I almost fell over when Gigi's aunt said "I suppose we must learn English, the English refuse to learn French". Well,to be fair, times HAVE changed.
    Luigi: I hate to say it, but as an American, I agree with Misplaced. In my observations,I do think we are lazy when it comes to learning languages.

  48. Wall Street English
    Lesson 1
    "Can we make money doing that?"

    Lesson 2
    "Can we escape jail making money doing that?"

    Lesson 3
    "Oh, #&^@. Where is my passport?"

    Lesson 4
    "Wait, I have a friend n the White House staff!"

  49. So much better than the 'Do you speak Wall Street English' ads in the metro! Strange to have the tartan there though. Whilst on the subject of the Scottish and Paris, I noticed a Robert Burns poem displayed in one of the metro carriages a week ago, but written in French.

  50. A Robert Burns poem in French. That is fascinating. We Americans still don't understand "Auld Lang Syne" as it's written! In French, it would be like trying to read Finnegan's Wake!

  51. It's not just Americans who are lazy. Most of my daughter's friend's parents don't speak English and not one of them is taking an ESL (English as a Second Language) class, nor do any of them have the children helping them learn even basic words. I know because I've asked the kids.

    But I don't think "lazy" is the right word for it. "Fear" sounds better to me - as in fear of looking under-educated, fear of failing, and fear of rejection.

    My French-speaking mother-in-law is scared to do simple things like order a pizza over the phone, and always looks to me for verification after she's said anything in English to a stranger.


    I can't believe I missed sharing a EIFFEL TOWER sunset over drinks with Michael and Eric. Thanks for covering for me Guille!

  52. Petrea, Craig Ferguson, yes, I agree. He is dreamy.

    Tonton_flaneur, "Well, English wasn't my first language but I have made great improvements"! ..."I can't speak English and I can't speak French...but I can make great attempts at both" Those are GREAT -- I'm going to use those. LOL

    Suzy (eiffel tower!!!) My French-speaking mother-in-law is scared too. She won't attempt to learn another language.

    I do patent and trademark drawings for people and companies all over the world. They correspond with me in English. I was talking to an Engineer in Paris and he said that English is the technical/sciences language of the world. I said, "All this time I thought those people were trying to be polite?" LOL

  53. Hey hey Ham, you spotted the perfect link it seems...

    Jeff, I laughed out lout reading your interpretation of the Wall Street English.

    But I agree with all those who know this language company, I find it stupid to claim to speak the "Wall Street English". I guess for a French, it means "Business English".

  54. As with other intriguing topics on PDP, your posts really made me think. Reading them, I realized I felt ashamed (and lazy) at the top about not speaking a foreign language as well as foreigners speak mine. But,there's no reason to beat myself (or others) up.

    I don't think its as simple as lazy (or afraid). I'm grateful for people who reached out to me, but,I also met people who clearly disliked me approaching them and I never spoke English at first with anyone or just asked them to speak English to me. There are kind, unkind, lazy, ambitious, generous, not generous in any group. Are Americans in the same boat as Europeans in terms of need to interact in foreign languages (not just English)? Don't Europeans hear and read foreign languages every day in a way that doesn't happen in the US? Don't English speakers use a language that, whether or not one thinks it should be, is in fact already spoken in realms like Lois' job.

    I think Suzy's right about fear - I've met many people from all over who've lived for years in the US and can't speak English. Sometimes they're afraid to and sometimes they actually don't need to.

    Language acquisition also gets much harder with age and everyone has different abilities. Some of these things affect how I speak French and I'm sure have affected how well the people I spoke with spoke English. And I'm sure there's probably lots more to this.
    But, I've already gone on way too long! Sorry!!

  55. ah, interesting topic. Well, I massacre both languages with equal passion, so there. And when I go to France, I get "arrete de faire ton Jean-Claude Van Damme (spell?)" Right. As if I could. After all, I've been living in the States longer than he has. So there.

  56. Hilarious! I love it. Maybe this is Agincourt-wishful thinking?

    It's a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht the nicht.

  57. Why on earth do they have a SCOT for an ad on learning the bluidy Sassenach tongue?

    And of course there are Aboriginal peoples of the Americas (here in Québec) who speak fluent French. Just as there are Aboriginals who speak Spanish, or Portuguese.

    And did you know that Inuktittut (the language of the Inuit) is taught at "Langues-O" in Paris?

  58. A battered Englishmen draped in tartan; the Scots would like that

  59. Maybe they're not good at English, but English-speakers in general aren't good at other languages, either! French is especially hard since you have sounds we don't naturally make. I'm fortunate enough to be able to make the French "r" sound, but most people I know can't. And I'm still sure I slaughter your beautiful language. It's not for lack of trying, however, because I really do want to sound authentic. Maybe if I'd spent more than a week in France...