What decline in spoken French?

29th November 2002 at 00:00
I must challenge Professor Gordon Millan's "analysis" of the level of his students of French ability (TESS, November 8).

I would welcome proper research into whether we need to place even greater emphasis on knowledge of structure than we do at present. However, I cannot allow his assertion that there has been a "decline in spoken French" to go unchallenged.

He claims that only 30 first-year students said that speaking French was their strong point. This was reduced to 20 by the time the Herald got to the story.

I was a first year student of French in the 1970s when a much smaller percentage of students attended university. We could conjugate any irregular verb you cared to mention.

We could translate obscure texts designed to check our knowledge of grammar. We could name any flower, tree or even wild animal. However, I doubt if even 20 of us would have said we felt confident about speaking at that stage. Residence abroad was the key a little later.

Today, I also work at a uni-versity but suspect that I am in more secondary classrooms than Professor Millan. My belief is that today's students are far more able in speaking than the first-year class of the 1970s.

Professor Millan also blames an "old guard of teachers who are not that orally proficient themselves". Presumably, they were taught in the "good old days". Maybe even some of them did French at Strathclyde.

Daniel Tierney Yarrow Gardens Lane, Glasgow

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