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Copernicus Goes to France

Copernicus goes to France

(Actually, North London)

Here’s a question for your students: what is the most widely learned foreign language in the world after English?

Despite a big recent increase in the number of people studying Chinese, the answer is French. According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, there are 120 million French students and 500,000 French teachers in the world today.

Here’s another question: the five biggest French cities are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse and Nice – which city is ranked sixth?

For the answer we go to Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who has a great story about the time he met Alain Juppé, a former French prime minister and the current mayor of Bordeaux. Monsieur Juppé said that he represented 239,517 people in Bordeaux, and therefore he had the honour of representing the ninth biggest city in France. “I got the ball back very firmly over the net,” recalls Mr Johnson, “because I said there were 250,000 French men and women in London, and therefore I was the mayor of the sixth biggest French city on earth. I can’t remember exactly what he said then.”

And here’s a final question: what does English sound like when spoken by a native French-speaker?

The aim of this Copernicus column is to help give students exposure to different sounds of non-native English. This month we bring you Arsène Wenger, a studious French football manager known as “Le Professeur”. Wenger has coached in France, Japan and England, where he has been the manager of Arsenal, a football club in north London, since 1996.

One of the distinctive features of French English is the sound of some vowels. A notable example in the following video – which is a BRILLIANT talk about language that Wenger gave to a group of schoolchildren a few years ago – is the “oo” in “football”. (Native English-speakers pronounce it /ʊ/, whereas Wenger pronounces it /uː/.)



(1) Comprehension questions (all from the first three minutes)

(a) How many languages does Arsène Wenger speak? What are they?

(b) Once you’ve learned one foreign language, is it easier or more difficult to learn the next one? What examples does he give?

(c) Why did he decide to learn English? And where did he go to learn it?

(2) Spot the mistake

Don’t worry about making mistakes – everyone makes them 🙂 What very common English mistake does Wenger make between 2:55 and 3:45? (Hint: this is a question about ‘make’ and ‘do’!)

(3) Speaking activity

Can you re-tell, in your own words, Wenger’s funny story about when he first started coaching in Japan? (It runs from 5:10 to 6:05.)

… When I went to Japan, at the start, of course, I couldn’t coach in Japanese at all, and I decided to coach in English. They gave me an English translator, and we started to lose the first five, six games… That shows you what language means.

One day, the chairman said, “Please can you come and meet me.” I thought OK, no problem, and I expected the sack. To lose five, six games in a club, this usually means bye-bye.

And I went in there and the chairman told me, “I’ve taken a very big decision.” I said, “Yes, I understand.” He said, “I will sack the translator.”

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