That was one of the headlines of the France 2 evening news tonight (check minute 25) and the title of an article in Le Monde.
Why do the French have so much trouble with English? According to the woman who wrote the article in Le Monde, the French may have a genetic blockage when it comes to learning English. I won't go into the ways in which that is a ridiculous statement.
France 2 interviewed a few people who gave reasons that I definitely agree with: the program in primaire doesn't use effective methods, namely that it doesn't start early enough (which I don't really agree with, I think it's more a matter of insufficient class time), but she also mentions the lack of native English speakers teaching English in primaire, that the teachers themselves aren't good enough in English (oh boy do I agree with that! 2/20 on your habilitation does not mean you can teach English!), and the fact that the French are nervous about being judged by others when they speak English (absolutely agree!). I read some comments that offer good explanations too: shows are always dubbed in French so you can't hear the accent and learn pronounciation, not enough time speaking in class, not enough class time period.
To all of this I would add the fact that the English curriculum itself is pretty terrible. Elementary students have only an hour and a half of English a week, and we all know that kids forget everything right away and especially over the two month long summer vacation. At the end of elementary school they are supposed to have acquired level A1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Language. I won't go into the whole list of skills they have to learn, you can look it up online, but suffice it to say it's waaayyyyy too much for the amount of time they actually have in English class. You have to spend so much time reviewing things they've already learned and forgotten that it's difficult to learn very many new things. Most of them end up getting a solid base in the very basics of English, and some kids really excel and learn everything you throw at them, but most of them don't get up to the level that the government thinks they do each year, and I assume it's the same in secondaire.
My main recommendations to improve their English skills: stop dubbing the TV shows and movies, get teachers with higher English levels into primaire classes, make English in primaire exclusively oral (maybe introduce some reading and phonics in CM2, otherwise work on them intensively in 6eme), either change the primaire curriculum entirely so that A1 is no longer necessary at the end of CM2 or add class time to English in order to achieve A1. Since I don't know much about English in secondaire, I can't offer many specific recommendations except to have the kids speak more in class and to use more entertaining teaching tools (games and songs never get boring!). I heard universally from teachers and former students and their parents that in college the kids rarely have the opportunity to speak and just sit there writing and reading.
What do you guys think? Why do the French have so much trouble learning English? What can be done to improve their results?