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Still a need to parler the talk

I HAVE had this screenplay idea for years. NASA finally makes contact with alien life forms only to discover that the bug-eyed boys from Alpha Centauri are French-speaking. In fact, it turns out that the reason that there has been so little interplanetary tourism to Earth is because ours is the only planet in this galaxy where French is not the majority language.

Which brings us back, of course, to the naivety of Hollywood moguls - and women like Estelle Morris - who believe that in the brave new world of global communication one will always get by in English. Travel to the remotest mountain range on earth and you will never be more than a few yards away from a Cola bottle and some Yeti telling you to "Have A Nice Day".

Well, having just come back from Quebec, I can assure Uncle Sam, and Aunty Estelle, that foreign languages do still need to be learned. Parisians may have conceded "le weekend" and "l'internet" but not the Quebecois.

They are even inventing new words to stop the supposedly ineluctable progress of English. Looking for somewhere to check my emails, I had to master a new Quebecois word "courriel" which comes from "courrier" (mail). There is even a Quebecois word for hot-dog now. The old schoolboy joke about "chien chaud" has come true.

I mention all this because although I only scraped an O-level in that peculiarly pedantic schoolboy form of French which takes two minutes to buy a stamp once one has greeted the M'sieu and excusez-moi'd a few times, I recognise that my turgid franglais did help me order food, ask directions and generally not cause an international incident.

It is a fallacy to believe that all languages are converging. English and American continue to diverge, and French and Quebecois are getting further apart. The ability to speak other languages is becoming no less necessaire now we have joined the age of courriel.

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