[lg policy] When it comes to French business, the accent is on English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 25 22:54:39 UTC 2010

When it comes to French business, the accent is on English

By Eleanor Beardsley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor /
August 11, 2005

You still aren't likely to get a Parisian waiter's respect if your
accent isn't complètement parfait. But even a gauche monolingual
American will feel right at home these days in a French boardroom. In
a recent survey of 26 of France's largest companies, 16 gave English
as their official working language - including Renault, Danone, and
Aventis. Of these, nine have dropped French altogether. Seven put
English and French on equal footing. To some here, the trend is a slap
in the face. After all, this is a country known for its linguistic
pride, and one whose government outlaws advertising in English, and
mandates a 40 percent quota of French songs on the radio.

But even the staunchest Gaullists now recognize the need to equip
citizens with the tools to compete in a globalized economy. According
to the study by the French branch of Educational Testing Services, a
private, nonprofit educational-testing organization, English is
increasingly the "lingua franca" of French business. The report says
not being able to speak English today is the equivalent of not knowing
how to read or write 50 years ago. "If you want to do business outside
France, you have to speak English," says Eric DeLisy, whose company
distributes industrial and chemical products across Europe. Mr. DeLisy
says his 16 employees don't necessarily have to speak it well, but
they must be able to read and write at a basic level in order to
correspond with clients.

"Now just to hire a receptionist, even they've got to speak English
and that makes them more expensive to hire," he says. On a recent
afternoon, DeLisy was taking a break on the sprawling campus of Hautes
Études de Commerce (HEC), one of France's top business schools, where
he is working on an executive MBA. His class is composed of other
executives like himself, from all walks of French business. And most
speak three languages. At schools like HEC, the demand for
English-speaking managers is having a profound effect. "Ten years ago
having an all-French program and teaching in French was a matter of
principle, an offensive for promoting the French language," says
Jean-Marc de Leersnyder, professor and associate dean of HEC's
executive MBA program. "But that's a thing of the past. Even our
French students now expect classes in English."

And because HEC competes with schools in Britain and the US to lure
international students, many of its programs are now taught entirely
in English. "We have to convince Chinese and other Asian applicants
that they can come to study in France and that speaking French is not
an issue," says Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC. The tilt toward
English is not manifested just in MBA programs. A recent government
proposal to overhaul the national education system recommended that
mandatory English classes begin as early as first grade, with a second
foreign language to follow later.

Of course, not all French institutions are embracing the trend. Last
year, labor unions at General Electric Medical Systems in France
challenged in court the company's English-only manuals. They won under
a French law that mandates all foreign terms used in the workplace be
translated into French. It's courriel, not e-mail In Paris, on the
left bank of the Seine sits the gold-domed Académie française, the
venerable institution founded in 1635 to preserve the purity of the
French language. The Académie publishes a dictionary of the French
language and works with "terminology commissions" in each government
ministry to come up with a French equivalent for every new Anglo-Saxon

Académie spokesman Laurent Personne says the institution's work today
is not so much about fighting English as guarding against the
"impoverishment" of the French language.
"In a globalized world we have to work to maintain the richness of
different languages and cultures," he says. "We're not here to rename
golf terms," he says. Mr. Personne points to recent successes, such as
the words ordinateur and courriel, which replaced the English words
for "computer" and "e-mail," and are now a part of mainstream French
vocabulary. "The Germans are still saying kohmputer," he notes.

Banish 'shampooing'

Back at the HEC campus, MBA candidate André Schwab is heading to
class. Mr. Schwab is CEO of the French post office, known as La Poste.
While he reckons French mailmen won't have to speak English any time
soon, he says English is crucial to the consulting and international
divisions of La Poste. "In the past we were unable to send consulting
delegations abroad because we didn't have enough people who spoke
English," he laments. But Schwab says he doesn't see anything wrong
with protecting a language. "It's important for people to speak a full
language, otherwise it creates two sets of citizens - those who are
skilled enough to understand the new phrases and those who are not."

Personally, Scwhab says he dislikes English words ending in "ing" that
are now so prevalent in the French language, such as "shampooing" and
"marketing."  "They don't lend well to the French ear," he says. But
the all-time worst is "sourcing," he says. Schwab makes a point of
using the official French replacement, appartition. "My employees
don't know what I'm talking about when I say it," he laughs. "But if
you don't try, it will never catch on."


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