English to French is not the best way to learn French

French-speaking students are learning French to learn English, rather than listening to it, a new study says.

The research, by Oxford University’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, suggests French speakers may be less likely to be good listeners and learners than those who speak English.

The Oxford researchers say the study, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, could be used to help improve French education, but added it was also important to look at the broader social context and “the way that these speakers’ behaviour reflects their own cultural heritage”.

“French speakers are very well known for their cultural sensitivity, and the way they express their cultural identity may therefore be more relevant to understanding their native language,” the researchers said.

“It would be useful to investigate the role of cultural sensitivity in the social context of French language learning, as well as the effects of listening styles on their learning of English.”

The study looked at nearly 500 English-speaking French speakers in the UK and France.

It found that, across the UK, the majority of French speakers said they had a very low level of cultural sensitivities, with only 10 per cent having a high level of sensitivity.

The study also found that more than half of French students, compared with around a quarter of English speakers, said they listened to their native languages at home.

It was also found some French speakers were more likely to speak more than one language, with French speakers reporting using two languages at least once a week, and some speaking more than two.

The researchers say these findings show that French language students’ natural language skills are less important than the fact that they are learning to speak a second language.

“These findings should help inform the development of effective language learning programmes, and they highlight the importance of cultural and social sensitivity in helping students to develop and retain a strong cultural identity,” they said.

They added that they hoped the findings could also inform discussions about the value of having a French accent.

“The fact that the study found that French speakers are more likely than English speakers to report a high frequency of a second or more native language may suggest that the use of a French ‘bronco’ accent is of particular importance in this context,” they wrote.