Paris, Oct. 22: English should be made compulsory for all French schoolchildren, according to an official report which appeared yesterday to howls of outrage from politicians and teaching unions.
Claude Th'lot, the president of France's Higher Council of School Assessment, said pupils should learn English automatically, as they do with French and mathematics.
But his conclusion that children should leave school having mastered English as 'a language of international communication', was sufficient to cause indignation in a country that is troubled by its waning influence in the world.
Th'lot's findings fly in the face of the views of President Jacques Chirac, who said recently that nothing would be worse for humanity than for it to be limited to one language ' by which he meant English.
Officials suggested that other views needed to be heard before a decision was taken.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and his education minister Fran'ois Fillon were said to support Th'lot's conclusions, part of a report on the future of French schools.
Jacques Myard, an MP from the ruling UMP party, said English would be displaced as the world's most-spoken language because of growing competition from Spanish and Chinese. 'If we must make a language compulsory, it should be Arabic,' he said.
However, Th'lot's report noted that standards of English in French schools are poor and worsening.
Jean-Paul Nerri're, an education expert, pointed out that the international language of today is a rudimentary dialect which he calls 'globish', comprising no more than 1,500 words but 'used more and more by the 88 per cent of the world population who are not English-speaking'.
A cartoon in Le Monde made a similar point. 'If they force us to do English, then we'll speak only in French,' one student says defiantly. 'Yeah', his friend replies.
Le Monde found opposition to Th'lot from unions, French nationalists, champions of the Francophone world and even 'Anglicists' who fear children will be taught only 'airport English'.
The paper's own view was that 'the imperialism of Anglo-American' would provoke less irritation if EU education ministers agreed that all children in member states should learn two foreign languages.