[lg policy] Oh Mon Dieu! English Invades French Workplace

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 19 14:54:48 UTC 2012

Oh Mon Dieu! English Invades French Workplace

Getting ahead these days in the land of Baudelaire and Balzac means
mastering the language of Shakespeare – or at least, Zuckerberg. No
longer just a plus, strong English is often required for both entry
level and top manager slots. But it's brought both stress and

By Laurance N’Kaoua
LES ECHOS/Worldcrunch

PARIS - Employment agency Manpower is advertising for an Accounts
Manager: “English – fluent.” Logica, a business and management
consultancy, needs a support technician: “English – fluent.” Health
and Security services organization International SOS is recruiting a
client support specialist: “English – bilingual.” These
advertisements, published by the Management Recruitment Agency (Apec),
prove what everyone already knows: in business, speaking English is
“un must!”

And with good reason: whether the company is trying to establish a
foothold in local markets, collaborating with international
researchers, selling its products outside of France or employing a
foreign manager, English is the need-to-know language.

This is hardly brand new, of course, but the centrality of English in
the work world is reaching a whole new level. At SGS, a multinational
organization based in 140 countries, all communication from its Swiss
headquarters is in English. At Alcatel-Lucent, “We work only in
English. The meetings are all in English and when it comes to emails,
I hesitate to write in French because they will undoubtedly have to be
read by people outside the country as well. And yet, we’re based in
Paris!,” says one of the managers at this multinational company where
100 different nationalities come together.

Even during the all-important annual review, the minutes of the
meeting, as well as each employee’s objectives, are immortalized in
the language of Shakespeare.


Small and medium-sized businesses are no exception. “Our consultants
frequently do business abroad with India, China or other foreign
countries. Every other project is carried out in English,” says Pierre
de Rauglaudre, associate director at Acial, a computing company of 120
people specializing in quality-testing software. The same applies to
the 500 collaborators at insurance broker Verlingue, which has bought
a brokering house across the channel in Britain.

“For this Anglo-Saxon project, the majority of our 440 associates have
had to improve their English in order to be able to follow meetings,
attend videoconferences and exchange emails,” says Stéphanie Guilbaud,
human resource director at Verlingue. “If technical competence is
equal, it is English that makes the difference at every level.”

And this English-mania is affecting more and more people. In the wake
of the Fukushima disaster, technicians from French energy company
Areva had to quickly liaise with the Japanese. “It is not enough for a
manager to be able to speak English with a client,” says Marc Verger,
CEO of the prodigious training provider Berlitz France. “The demand
[for English] must be met at every level of the company, right down to
the switchboard operator.”

And whilst progress is being made, the overall level of English in
France varies significantly from one employer to another. At the end
of 2010, a mystery shopping survey carried out by GoFluent on the 120
companies registered on the French stock exchange highlighted the
problems: grammatical errors, limited vocabulary, strong accents… so
many failings that service providers are striving to resolve. In 2012,
according to consulting company Place de la Formation, English remains
the most popular training option paid for by employers with 12.8% of

A source of stress

However, it remains to be said that results are not always
forthcoming. Trade unions are sounding the alarm. In March, the
CFE-CGC union organized a conference on All Things English in
Business. “Some employees feel this imposition of English excludes
them,” says the union's boss Bernard Salengroof.

In 2009, almost 50% of managers admitted they were uncomfortable when
faced with a foreign language at work. Stress, loss of confidence,
lack of time for training, reduction in performance, concentration
difficulties – these problems are widespread. “Working in a language
that is not your mother tongue causes increased fatigue,” adds
Jean-Pierre Lamonnier, a representative at CFE-CGC. And then there is
the fear of ridicule...

Not-for-profit health organization ASA Assistances, which helps people
back to work after illness, has been looking into the problem. “We
have discovered suffering and unsuspected consequences, like the fact
that some internal candidates don’t dare to apply for certain posts
when faced with managers who overestimated their linguistic
abilities,” said Catherine Henaff, former Director of HR at ASA
Assistances. Since then, she has put in place an internal commission
of language observation, while her anti-stress measures also take into
account language issues.

Respecting the law

Despite some positive action, problems prevail. “When cost-cutting
starts to affect the training budget, some employees end up in
no-man’s land,” says Jean-François Laborde, a CFE-CGC union officer at
PSA Peugeot Citroën in Vélizy, on the outskirts of Paris. And yet he
believes that the methods used to measure employees’ abilities and
evaluate the requirements for the position do not seem to be
appropriate. “People on the ground don’t need academic English; they
understand each other thanks to the technology. But we need to be
careful that academic English doesn’t become the deciding factor for
promotions, to the detriment of technical and managerial abilities.”

But don’t forget French! The Toubon law, introduced in 1994, was
designed to regulate the use of French in France – and it is strict.
Every official internal document (job contract, company rules and
regulations, etc…) must be written in French, as well as all the
documentation necessary for employees to carry out the task they have
been assigned. The logic behind this requirement is that all employees
should be able to fully understand the safety information and
instructions in order to be able to properly weigh their rights and

A computing company discovered this the hard way last summer: furious
at being fired for not having achieved the objectives he was given, a
former top manager claimed that he couldn’t be expected to achieve
those objectives because they were presented to him in English. The
Cour de Cassation, the highest court of appeal in France, upheld his
claim. Zut alors!

Read the original article in French.


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