Survey: Flemish young people less motivated to learn French | Education

The general motivation of Flemish secondary school students to learn French is about seven out of ten. This is apparent from the master’s thesis of Linguistics and Literature student Charlotte Kinable (23). To do this, she had more than 2,300 seniors fill in an online questionnaire. “French is just too complicated.”

Flemish final-year students score a seven out of ten for general motivation to learn French, but their attitude towards the language has the lowest score. They manage to get there with a five out of ten with their heels over the ditch.

It’s not that they don’t think French is important, they just don’t enjoy learning the language effectively. And they don’t need to know everything about it either. That and much more are the conclusions that Charlotte Kinable (23) makes in her master’s thesis ‘Why would you ever study French?! Language Learning Motivation of Secondary-School Pupils in Belgium’.

Charlotte Kinable investigated the motivation of Flemish and Walloon secondary school students to learn French and Dutch respectively. “I was constantly asked why the hell I should study French at university. That was a real motivation to write my thesis on the subject.”


You used to be able to start right away, now you have to learn to explain the usefulness of French

Véronique Delforge, French teacher in Sint-Niklaas

Véronique Delforge also notices the lack of motivation in the students. She is a French teacher in the third grade at the OLV Presentation in Sint-Niklaas. “Pupils are less motivated for the subject than they used to be. Then you could start right away at the start of the school year, now you first have to explain the usefulness of knowing the language. That is a big difference. Students often tell me that French is just too complicated and has too many rules and exceptions. We try to convert that demotivation and the feeling that it is too difficult into something achievable. It can sometimes really work against their expectations.”

Corona backlog

The corona pandemic has not done the motivation of the students any good. Charlotte Kinable: “At the end of the survey, there were still a few open questions, including whether corona had had an influence on their motivation. 35 percent of Flemish young people answered yes. There were some students who reported that they had started to read more French books or listen to more French music. But there are a lot of students for whom the pandemic had a negative impact, especially because the classroom environment was cut off during the lockdown. As a result, there were far fewer moments to talk in French with their classmates.”


I think it’s a shame that less attention is paid to speaking

Wout Verschraegen (18), Final year PE & Sport

That is also the case with Wout Verschraegen (18). He is in his final year LO & Sport at the Broederschool Biotechnical and Sport in Sint-Niklaas. He was enthusiastic in primary school, but after eight years his motivation for the French subject has waned. “Back then I was still nervous to take French lessons, because that was something completely new,” he says. “You could brag with it, if you could speak French. But learning the language is not always easy, especially now with corona. We have lost almost a whole year and I really notice that there is a backlog. I sincerely regret that writing weighs so heavily on tests and exams and that much less attention is paid to talking to each other. Because it is by speaking a language that you learn the most.”

During her research, Kinable discovered that secondary school pupils had a higher motivation to learn French: their motivation was 7.6 compared to 7 out of 10 among secondary school pupils.

In addition, they give themselves a better score when it comes to their competences in French. “A possible explanation is that students in secondary school generally have more hours of French,” she says. “As a result, they come into contact with the language more often and are therefore more likely to speak, write and hear French.”

Possible solutions

In its recent Language Plan, the Flemish Language Platform is pushing for urgent action on language education in Flanders. In this it asks, among other things, to engage specialist teachers for French in primary school.


Training good language teachers is a priority

Flemish Language Platform

French lessons are still too often given by teachers who do not have sufficient command of the language themselves. For example, it is not inconceivable that students are taught mistakes and develop less interest in another language.

In addition, the Language Platform also wants to organize a large-scale campaign “that makes young people enthusiastic about language and language training”. This should start from the living environment of secondary school students, in order to allow them to deal with language in a pleasant way.

Various initiatives to promote languages, such as annual Olympiads, want to put them in the spotlight even more. Training good language teachers is also a priority for them.

What about the French lesson?

In their Nota Frans, the Flemish Language Platform elaborates on the specific situation of French. In it, the representatives call for a boost to the status of the French teacher and the French language itself.

To start with, sufficient contact hours are necessary to increase the students’ language skills. In addition, French can be more integrated into the living environment of secondary school students. It is important to encourage contact with French apart from the fairly formal language education.

Finally, in their French Memorandum, the representatives strive to continue to promote higher education courses and to “work on the image of our courses”.


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