Mayor of Paris candidate vows to make French fluent in English

David Chazan
People cool down in the fountains of the Trocadero gardens in Paris - AP

The Academie Francaise has long fought to stop English words creeping into common French parlance, but an ally of President Emmanuel Macron is vowing to make Parisians fluent in English. 

Benjamin Griveaux made the pledge as part of his campaign to become mayor of Paris. The former government spokesman and confidant of the president said it was deplorable that “Paris is a global city where we speak English badly, when it is an essential language to travel and work.

“My aim is for all Parisian children to be bilingual” by the age of 16, he said. Mr Griveaux, who at 41 is the same age as the president, wants to introduce English in nurseries and get schools to organise extra-curricular activities in English.

Mr Macron often speaks English when meeting foreign leaders, in a departure from the practice of most recent French presidents. Although he has backed efforts to maintain French as an international language, especially in France’s former African colonies, and to resist the encroachment of English, he has been mocked for his fondness of peppering his speeches with English words.

Soon after he was elected, he ended a speech about the need to modernise French business with the English phrase: “I want France to be a start-up nation”.

Like his mentor, Mr Griveaux sees teaching English as “a useful investment for the future”.

“Pupils at prestigious private schools should not be the only ones given the opportunity to become bilingual,” he said. “Let’s not forget the 14,000 children in Paris who live below the poverty threshold.”

Mr Griveaux, an MP for Mr Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) party, is the president’s favoured candidate for the mayoral election due in March. But the party faced accusations of disunity after two other LREM MPs said they would also run.

One of them, Mounir Mahjoubi, a former digital minister, has now dropped out of the race, but says he is now backing the third LREM candidate, Cédric Villani, a mathematician known for wearing spider brooches and a lavallière, a cross between a cravat and a bow tie. 

Mr Griveaux said he hoped that a “dissident” candidacy by Mr Villani would not upset his attempt to wrest the mayorship from Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist incumbent. “We have more common points than disagreements,” Mr Griveaux said. “It’s thanks to LREM that we are MPs! Cédric said he would be loyal and I have no reason to doubt his word.”