ALL children in France from the age of five will be learning a foreign language within two years.
Education minister Jack Lang last week announced the acceleration of a rolling programme that will start language teaching at nursery school, and introduce a second compulsory language at the start of secondary.
Mr Lang told a conference of education officials and experts that language teaching would be extended to include all pupils in their final nursery year from autumn 2002, rather than 2005 as originally proposed last June.
At present, 94 per cent of state pupils and 79 per cent of private pupils learn a language in their last year.
All newly-recruited primary teachers will have to be competent in language teaching. As part of his crash programme, the minister has instructed teacher-training colleges to introduce courses speialising in languages, and from 2003 primary-level trainees will have to take compulsory language exams as part of their diplomas.
But France is already facing difficulties finding enough qualified language teachers to cover present primary classes. Solutions include off-duty secondary teachers taking classes, authorities setting up peripatetic teaching teams, and importing trainee French language teachers from abroad.
Mr Lang is also anxious to encourage diversity in the languages pupils learn - in other words, to combat the dominance of English, which is taught in nine out of every 10 language classes.
Last month, he said if he were a dictator, he "would ban English at primary school".
Children could still learn English when they entered secondary school, where studying two languages will become compulsory in 2005, he said.