German in France
Research Centre of Multilingualism
|German in France|
- The language in the country
- General information on the language community
- Geographical and language background
- General history and history of the language
- Legal status and official policies
- The use of the language in various fields
- Judicial Authorities
- Public Authorities and services
- Mass media and Information technology
- The Arts
- The business world
- Family and social use of the language
- Transnational exchanges
There is no dat for this topic.
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2. The language in the country
2.1. General information on the language community
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2.2. Geographical and language background
Different varieties of German are spoken in France, in the regions of Alsace and in and around the Lorraine town of Thionville. Standard German is referred to as "Ditsch" or "Hochditsch" the German dialects spoken in Alsace are referred to as "Alsacien" or "Elsässisch", whilst those spoken in the eastern part of the Moselle Département are referred to as "Lothringer Platt".
The regional varieties of German are used essentially for oral communication, while standard German is used for written communication.
There is evidence of the existence of Germanic populations in the region from the time of the Roman Empire right through to the time of the Holy Roman Empire (from the 3rd to the 17th centuries). The first Bible in German was published in Strasbourg in 1466.
The area in which varieties of German are spoken includes the Départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, with the exception of some valleys in the Vosges, in Alsace, and the north and north-eastern parts of the Département of Moselle, in and around the town of Thionville.
In this area, German is spoken alongside French, as are various languages that have been introduced by recent immigrants, particularly Arabic.
These regions have a total population of approximately two and a half million people, half of whom still use German in its regional varieties. Outside France, German is the most widely spoken language in Europe, with some ninety million German-speakers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg, plus minority groups in Belgium, Denmark and several Eastern European countries.
In France, German is considered to be a regional language and none of its dialects are officially recognized. In some Ministerial documents, the regional language of Alsace is defined as "Alsatian dialects whose written form is German".
From a demographic point of view, Bas-Rhin has a population of 915 676, Haut-Rhin has a population of 650and Moselle has a population of 1 007(Born, 1989), with a slight increase over the past twenty years. In 1982, 13.6% of the indigenous population had left the region either to seek better paid work or because, as public employees (teachers, etc), they had been relocated, whilst 15% of the resident population had recently moved there for occupational reasons. Most of these newcomers are French-speakers. In Alsace, as in Moselle, about a quarter of the population lives in towns.
At the time of the last language census in 1962, the percentages of people who spoke German as their first language and still used it on a day-to-day basis were 63.6% in Bas-Rhin, 59.2% in Haut-Rhin and 43% in and around the Lorraine town of Thionville (Born, 1989). According to our correspondent, on the basis of INSEE data (1980), the percentages would be about 75% in Alsace and 70% in Moselle.
From an economic point of view, despite a deteriorating labour market situation, Alsace has the lowest unemployment rate in France. It is the region with the lowest emigration rate and still has a low immigration rate. In both Alsace and Moselle, close to two thirds of the working population are employed in the service sector (58.3% and 62%, respectively), with industry and the construction sector employing 7% and 7.6% of workers, respectively, and agriculture accounting for just 2.7% and 2.4%, respectively. Overall, Alsace is one of France's richest regions, though it is less prosperous than the Upper-Rhine regions of Germany and Switzerland. In Moselle, on the other hand, restructuring problems in the mining industry have increased the unemployment rate to 12%.
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2.3. General history and history of the language
Although Alsace has been annexed by France several times in the past, the region had no direct connection with the French State for several centuries. From the time of the Roman Empire (753 BC - 476 AD) to the time of the Holy Roman Empire (800 AD - 1806 AD), Alsace was part of the Germanic world.
The towns of Alsace were the first to adopt German as their official language, instead of Latin, during the Lutheran Reform. It was in Strasbourg that German was first used for the Liturgy. It was also in Strasbourg that the first German Bible was published in 1466.
Since the annexation of Alsace by France in the 17th century and the language policy of the French Revolution up to 1870, knowledge of French in Alsace increased considerably. With the education reforms of the 19th century, the middle classes began to speak and write French well. The French language never really managed, however, to win over the masses, the vast majority of whom continued to speak their German dialects and write in German (which we would now call "standard German").
Between 1870 and 1918, Alsace was annexed by the German Empire in the form of an imperial province or Reichsland, and the official language, especially in schools, once again became (standard) German; French lost ground to such an extent that it has been estimated that only 2% of the population spoke French fluently and only 8% had some knowledge of it (Maugue, 1970).
After 1918, French was the only language used in schools, and particularly primary schools. After much argument and discussion and after many temporary measures, a memorandum was issued by Vice-Chancellor Pfister in 1927 and governed education in primary schools until 1939.
After annexation by the Nazis (1940-1945), during which the only language used in education was standard German, and following the Second World War, the 1927 regulation was not reinstated and the teaching of German in primary schools was suspended by a provisional rectorial decree, which was supposed to enable French to regain lost ground. The teaching of German became a major issue, however, as early as 1946.
In 1951, Article 10 of the Deixonne law on the teaching of local languages and dialects made provision for Breton, Basque, Catalan and old Provençal, but not for Corsican, Flemish or German in Alsace and Moselle.
It was not until a Decree of 18 December 1952, supplemented by an Order of 19 December of the same year, that optional teaching of the German language was introduced in elementary schools in Communes where the language of habitual use was the Alsatian dialect. Because of many objections by teachers and much official and unofficial pressure, this Decree was not very rigorously enforced.
In 1972, the Inspector General of German, Georges Holderith, obtained authorization to reintroduce German into 33 intermediate classes, on an experimental basis. This teaching of German, referred to as the Holderith Reform, was later extended to all pupils in the last two years of elementary school. This reform is still largely the basis of German teaching in elementary schools today.
It was not until 9 June 1982, with the Circulaire sur la langue et la culture régionales en Alsace (Memorandum on regional languages and culture in Alsace) issued by the Vice-Chancellor of the Académie Pierre Deyon, that the teaching of German in primary schools in Alsace really began to be given more official status. The Ministerial Memorandum of 21 June 1982, known as the Circulaire Savary, introduced financial support, over three years, for the teaching of regional languages in schools and universities. This memorandum was, however, implemented in a fairly lax manner.
More recently, in 1987, Article III of a national Minute concerning the early teaching of German in France contained special instructions for the teaching of German in Alsace and Moselle.
German is also the language of a country that France has long seen as an enemy. Moreover, Alsace and Lorraine have often been the subject of discord between France and Germany. This means that history still has an impact on the current situation concerning this minority language.
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2.4. Legal status and official policies
The supremacy of French in France is absolute, as is confirmed by Article 2 of the new Constitution of 22 June 1992, following the amendments introduced at the time of ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. This article states that "the language of the Republic shall be French". Departmental authorities (for instance, the Departmental Council of Moselle) nonetheless have the necessary powers to support bilingualism in schools by providing financial aid. Commune authorities, for their part, can introduce bilingualism into their areas of jurisdiction by erecting bilingual signs in public areas.
Although German is considered a regional language, none of its dialects is officially recognized. In some Ministerial documents, the regional language in Alsace is defined as "Alsatian dialects whose written form is German". Questions on language groupings are also prohibited in censuses.
Since the 1789 Revolution, France has tried to eradicate minority languages and dialects with varying degrees of success in different regions, and has used various means for this purpose: public authorities, schools and the media. At present, the State is having to come to terms with popular pressure at regional level. Whilst accepting that it needs to take action, it is trying to slow down some changes that are overly favourable to regional languages and dialects. Alsace and the Thionville area of Lorraine are covered by special rules concerning some administrative and judicial institutions. Whilst the centralized legislative power of the French State is recognized, some laws are not enforced in the region (for instance the 1905 law establishing the separation of the Church and State).
Elected regional authorities (Regional and Departmental Councils) use only French. They nonetheless provide financial aid for the teaching of standard German in Alsace and have, for example, set up the Office régional du bilinguisme d'Alsace (Regional Office for Bilingualism in Alsace) (1993). The German-speaking area of Moselle does not have a major urban or administrative centre, which means that the regional authorities there are less concerned about the linguistic demands of some of the population.
In principle, current language policy is based on the Circulaire Savary and on the existence of the Conseil National des Langues et Cultures Régionales (National Council for Regional Languages and Culture). It should be noted, however, that the Government has never developed a policy to support regional languages. The National Council, which was set up in 1986, does not, for example, have any real powers and does not serve to support regional languages.
People believe that it is rare for French policy to promote the use of German. For example, the French authorities rarely recognize German as contributing to the country's cultural richness. People do not believe that the geographical area in which German is spoken is respected with a view to ensuring promotion of the language; they believe that the French Government rarely facilitates and encourages the use of written or spoken German in public and private. According to them, the French Government seldom encourages links between groups of German-speakers in neighbouring countries. The French Government rarely provides significant resources for the teaching and study of German at all levels. Nonetheless, people feel that the Government is providing some facilities for non-German-speakers in Alsace so that they can learn the language if they so wish. The French Government rarely promotes studies and research projects on German in universities.
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3. The use of the language in various fields
Teaching in schools is in French. Although German has been declared a "regional language", young people can study up to baccalauréat level without learning German and without hearing any mention of local history and culture.
All the legal provisions on the teaching of German in primary schools in Alsace are still laid down, as they have been since 1918, at central level, by the National Assembly, in the case of legislation, and by the Ministry of Education, in the case of Decrees and other regulations. The person responsible for all teaching in Alsace is, as in all the other regions of France, the Vice-Chancellor of the Académie, who is the Ministry's regional representative and, therefore, a government employee. He can take decisions and review legislation, but only with the prior consent of the Ministry.
Only national history and civilization are included in the compulsory curriculum, though there is an option on regional language and culture.
As regards school inspections, since the teaching of German is optional, schools can choose whether or not to follow any recommendations they receive, with the exception of those issued by inspectors, which are compulsory. The Sous-commissions départementales d'Allemand-Langue et culture régionales (Departmental sub-committees on German/regional language and culture) provide assistance for teachers at all levels. These sub-committees comprise inspectors, teacher-trainers, educational advisers to the inspectors, and teachers of German at secondary and post-secondary level. They are responsible, for example, for discussing educational issues and devising teaching aids. At primary level, since 1982, a team of four educational advisers and five teachers/facilitators, seconded from the classroom, has been appointed to perform tasks including monitoring the teaching of German. There is also the Inspection académique du Haut-Rhin (Academic Inspectorate of Haut-Rhin).
Outside Alsace and the Thionville area of Lorraine, German has a reputation for being difficult to learn and is, therefore, taught only to top pupils at secondary level. There are just a few examples of German being taught at primary school.
From the point of view of official documents concerning the teaching of German in France, in addition to the Deixonne Law and the Savary Memorandum, the Departmental authorities and Schools Inspectorate of Haut-Rhin in 1992 signed a Minute concerning the teaching of German in primary schools. In recent years, the greatest step forward has been the opening of several bilingual French/German nursery classes offering 13 hours of French and 13 hours of German a week. This project, which was launched by the Association ABCM-Zweisprachigkeit in 1990, has prompted the public education authorities to offer this type of bilingual teaching in 23 State schools, and the departmental and regional authorities have appointed staff responsible for issues connected with bilingualism.
German is rarely used in nursery schools but is taught for a few hours a week at primary level.
German is an option in some pre-school establishments. It is taught in approximately 125 classes and a slow increase in the use of German is taking place. The national education authorities refer to French/German schools as maternelles bilingues (bilingual nursery schools). The association that promotes bilingualism in nursery schools is ABCM-Zweisprachigkeit. This private-sector organization is a member of the Fédération des langues régionales dans l'enseignement public (FLAREP - Federation of Regional Languages in Public Education), an association which itself runs nursery schools and serves as a pressure group to encourage the authorities to set up bilingual schools.
Most public-sector schools that offer German officially provide six hours of German-language teaching (but, in practice, classes are often neglected). There are just a few bilingual public-sector schools offering 13 hours of German and 13 hours of French.
In primary education, German is optional in some schools and is taught on a voluntary basis by teachers which means that, in practice, it is often neglected. In 1986/1987, some 76.5% of pupils, or a total of 116 000, received some of their classes in German. The situation has not really changed in recent years, since the proportions were more or less the same between 1978/1979 and 1981/1982, though they were slightly lower between 1982/1983 and 1984/1985 (around 70%).
Until 1983/1984, the only working document on primary education in Alsace was the one drawn up by the Inspector General of Public Education, Georges Holderith. Since 1984, improvements have been made to this situation, which was not in keeping with teachers' wishes or children's needs. A few textbooks are now also available for the use of German in history and geography classes.
German is an option in some secondary schools. In practice, standard German is treated as a langue vivante étrangère (modern foreign language), except in establishments where pupils who speak dialect are separated from non-French-speakers (54% in Bas-Rhin and 26% in Haut-Rhin). In Moselle, where 7399 pupils sat their baccalauréat in 1990, the past few years have seen a marked increase in the teaching of German, with the number of pupils choosing the course in Langue et culture régionales (Regional language and culture) as an option rising from 41 in 1988 to 1263 in 1993.
Pupils can also choose to take German as their first or second foreign language at secondary school. In Moselle in 1992/1993, 44.63% of pupils chose German as their first foreign language and 37.2% chose it as their second foreign language.
Since 1987, pupils in the first year of secondary education who are learning German as their first foreign language can also take an advanced German course. At the end of the fourth year, they can sit an exam for the Certificat d'apprentissage approfondi de l'allemand (Advanced Certificate in German).
In vocational education, German is offered as an option in some schools. There is a "mention régionale d'allemand en formation professionnelle" (MRAFP - regional instruction in German in vocational training) for Certificats d'aptitude professionnelle (CAP - Certificate of Vocational Aptitude) and Brevets d'études professionnelle (BEP - Certificate of Vocational Studies).
German is taught as a modern language in universities and there are textbooks for the teaching of German as a foreign language. There has, however, been a slow decline in the use of German at universities, where the language enjoys no special status. It is just one of many modern languages. The training of teachers in German is just a small part of their training.
German is used in adult education. Continuing training is provided by workers' colleges, which offer courses in German but do not reach all population groups.
The German language is taught on a voluntary basis in public primary education. In teacher training establishments, German language and culture is just a small part of the curriculum and is optional. Initial training and, in particular, continuing training are dependent on voluntary services. The body that offers teacher training in the German language is the Centre Transfrontalier (Transborder Centre). This centre offers compulsory courses for primary teachers. Of the 4006 teachers in Moselle in 1990/1991, 250 were enrolled for German classes, in comparison with 150 in 1989/1990 and 200 in 1990/1991.
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3.2. Judicial authorities
Since the Villers-Cotterêts edict of 1539, French has been the sole language of the French courts. Even private judicial documents must be written in French.
German is not used before the courts but, since the defendant has a right to use his or her own language, the services of an interpreter may be used where necessary. Interpreters are virtually always available in the courts. A party to the proceedings may use German without incurring any additional costs. Similarly, documents and evidence can be produced in German, with translation or interpreting being provided without cost to the person concerned.
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3.3. Public authorities and services
Central government uses French only.
Regional authorities also use French, but public employees may also use dialect in oral communications. At election time, some lists of candidates and notices are bilingual, although, officially, they are supposed to be in French only. Election manifestos can be bilingual in the Départements of Alsace and Moselle. In the Thionville area of Lorraine, bilingual manifestos are not permitted in all cantons. For example, the canton of Bouzonville is considered to be monolingual, whereas the cantons of Sierck, Cattenom, Metzervisse and Albestroff are considered to be bilingual (Legrand, 1993). German is not usually used in dealings between residents and the regional authorities, and the authorities actively discourage the use of German. The departmental authorities of Bas-Rhin have invited their employees to use the regional language with the public, but they are not obliged to know this language when they are recruited.
Local authorities also use French, but their employees may use dialect in oral communications. Municipal bulletins also sometimes contain German summaries of French articles. Although German is not usually used in dealings between residents and the local authorities, its use is neither encouraged or discouraged by the authorities.
Our information is that the French Government has taken virtually no measures to ensure that German is used in the various communications from central government. Similarly, German is little used by the regional and local authorities.
Public and semi-public services are provided solely in French: telephone bills and receipts, telephone directories, hospital signs, electricity bills, post-office and police-station signs. Personal contacts may occasionally be in German in the case of the telephone company or local post office, but rarely in the case of the electricity company or tax office. Over the past ten years, oral communication between the authorities and the public has increasingly been in French, since public employees tend not to be natives of Alsace.
As regards proper names, the authorities have largely adopted the policy of using place names in their traditional, correct German form, and the same applies in the case of people's surnames. In the case of given names, on the other hand, in some Communes, pressure is still placed on parents not to give their children names that are "too German".
Public notices and road signs are usually in French, be they door signs in municipal offices, road signs indicating the names of towns and places, signs for schools and public swimming pools or trade signs. Over the past ten years, some Commune authorities have put up bilingual street signs in some areas, usually in the historic centres of towns. This step has been taken as a result of public pressure, particularly in Strasbourg, from groups such as Action-Pirate.
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3.4. Mass media and information technology
Under Order 45-113 of 1945 (Article 11), 25% of the text of all bilingual periodicals published in Alsace and Moselle must be in French. This rule was repealed in 1985, but it is still being applied in practice, particularly in the case of articles for young people, sports articles and obituaries. As a general rule, dialect-speakers understand the standard German used by the media, in both oral and written form.
According to Born (1989) and our correspondent, 65% of copies of DNA (Les dernières nouvelles d'Alsace - Alsace Latest), which has a circulation of approximately 55 000, are printed in German, and 50% of copies of Mulhouse's L'Alsace, which has a circulation of approximately 20 000, are printed in German.
There are also two weekly newspapers, 25% of whose content is in German: L'Ami du Peuple or Der Volksfreund (circulation of 40 000) and Le Messager Evangélique.
DNA and L'Alsace are also published in French. The circulation of bilingual editions of newspapers has been falling over the past ten years. Daily and weekly newspapers do not receive any assistance from the authorities.
Periodicals published partly in German include Rot und Wiss, a regional monthly with a circulation of 8000, 75% of whose content is in German, and Land und Sproch, a quarterly publication promoting bilingualism and regional culture, 75% of whose content is in German. These periodicals receive no financial aid from the Government.
Programmes produced in dialect are broadcast on medium wave but not on FM. There are also local radio stations, many of whose programmes are in dialect. Radio stations do not receive any financial support, with the exception of FR Alsace, which receives aid for its bilingual broadcasts. There are no figures for listener numbers for the various stations. The public radio network has reduced the number of programmes in German and relegated them to MW.
Radio France Alsace (RFA) broadcasts news in standard German on medium wave for one hour each day and news in dialect for five hours a day, though these broadcasts are only faintly audible and have few listeners.
FR3 Alsace does not broadcast any programmes in standard German, but it does broadcast one programme in dialect from Monday to Saturday at seven o'clock in the evening; this programme lasts for eight minutes on Mondays to Fridays and for 40 minutes on Saturdays.
The private radio stations with the most listeners include Radio-Télé Alsace (RTA), Radio des Alsaciens and Radio 67 (Fréquence Alsace), all of which broadcast about 50% of their programmes in German. These private radio stations, all of which have been set up since 1981, offer many more programmes in dialect but, according to our correspondent, many listeners are put off by poor broadcast quality.
The public television network broadcasts approximately an hour and a half of programmes in Alsatian every week. Television programmes in German broadcast in Germany (Südwestfunk or those broadcast in the Saar), Luxembourg and Switzerland can also be received in the area.
The public network France 3 offers programmes in dialect, but none in German. There are no private television stations in either Alsace or Moselle.
The new station ARTE broadcasts cultural programmes in both French and German.
In the case of computers, German can be word-processed without any keyboard or printer problems. Software is also available in German.
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3.5. The Arts
Although some literary publications and entertainment productions are in standard German and dialect, most cultural output is in French.
Books are published in either standard German or dialect, whether they be school texts, children's books, poetry, short stories, novels or religious tracts.
In the area of traditional music, there are several local groups and groups attached to brasseries and local radio stations. The number of local rock and pop groups has also been rising since 1972. Some groups have recorded albums.
Professional theatre companies include Théâtre Alsacien groups in Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Colmar, Haguenau and Schiltigheim, although playwrights have to have an alternative occupation to survive. These groups produce five plays a year, two of which are funded by Théâtre Alsacien (Born, 1989). In the world of amateur theatre, there are many groups at parish and local level. These groups do not receive any public aid. There is a contemporary organization, the Jung Elsässer Buehn, which organizes an annual drama week, the Theater Wuch, in Kochersberg.
In the film world, almost no French-made films are in German, though many films are produced in German in other countries.
Although there are no regular festivals, numerous musical and theatrical events are organized on an irregular basis and have been enjoying growing success over the years.
There are organizations fighting to protect the language in both Alsace and the Thionville area of Lorraine. In Alsace, there is René-Schickele-Kreis (set up in 1965), which publishes the journal Land und Sproch, APCA (1975), EMA (1975), Unsri Gerachtigkeit (1981) and Unsri Causa Nostra (1982). In the Thionville area, there is Hemechtslans a sprooch (1975), which has published a map of Fränkeschland, Wéi laang nach (1979), which has organized protests against nuclear power stations, Bei uns daheim (1980), Gau un Griis (1986) and Lothringe in d'Schul (1989). Overall, these organizations have succeeded in persuading the national education authorities to accept German as the regional language. They have also managed to convince some parents that a knowledge of German might be advantageous for their children from the economic point of view. They have set up bilingual nursery classes and have conducted activities intended to persuade elected local officials to support their activities or take the initiative in, for example, introducing bilingual street signs.
Central government, we are told, rarely offers support for German in the arts, and the regional and local authorities tend to support the supremacy of French.
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3.6. The business world
The business world uses French because the State tends to impose its use, or at least its supremacy, in business. Legislation on language also imposes French as the only language to be used for contracts of employment. It is also illegal for contracts of employment to contain individual words or phrases in another language. Knowledge of German is nonetheless a requirement for anyone applying for a job that involves dealing with the public.
German is used in advertising campaigns on the street, on some local radio stations and on television (in some cases with French sub-titles), though there do not appear to have been any recent initiatives to encourage the use of German in advertising. The use of dialect in advertising has virtually disappeared in the last few years, except on local radio stations.
As in all regions of France, all products sold in Alsace must be labelled in French. Products intended for the German, Swiss and Austrian markets may, however, be labelled in German. There do not seem to have been any initiatives to encourage greater use of German for labels and instructions for use.
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3.7. Family and social use of the language
Few parents speak to their children in German. Since 1950, moreover, the situation has worsened and many young parents cannot speak the regional language.
Courting couples tend to speak to each other in French. There are no figures on endogamy. Generally speaking, men tend to use German more than women do, especially among young people. There is, however, no difference in the language that parents use to speak to their sons and daughters.
From the point of view of religion, there are no data on language use by churchgoers. Among the clergy, some 80% of Protestants can speak German, as compared with 60% of Catholic priests. About half of religious services are celebrated in German and all religious works are available in German. Families are free to choose the language to be used for weddings, funerals, etc. A distinction can be drawn between Lutherans, who traditionally use standard German for their church services and use the language much more than Catholics, and Catholics, who are much more inclined to use French. In 1992, André Weckmann celebrated one religious service a month in dialect and standard German in Strasbourg, an initiative that was banned after two months by Archbishop Brand (Land und Sproch, 1992).
As regards social attitudes, people see speakers of German in its dialect form as being socially inferior and old-fashioned. Nevertheless, there is a growing trend among young people in Baden and Alsace to speak to each other in dialect. People generally believe that it is useful to know German.
Many German-speakers are pessimistic about the future of their language. Knowledge of German is seen as being of little use by its speakers and as useless by non-German-speakers. People also believe that being able to speak dialect makes it more difficult to speak French, which is still the language of the upwardly-mobile. As a general rule, people think that young people do not speak German as well as their parents and grandparents. They feel that the dialect that young people use is less pure and rich than that used by previous generations. For non-German-speaking young people, workers' colleges offer courses in Alsatian, but few students take up this option.
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3.8. Transnational exchanges
There are school exchanges as well as twinnings between towns in the region and German towns. The French Government is doing something to apply the bilateral and multilateral agreements it has with German-speaking countries so as to strengthen contact between German-users, in accordance with the sentiment of Franco-German friendship. The French Government rarely promotes or facilitates cross-border cooperation, even by regional or local authorities in whose areas German is spoken. According to our correspondent, the French Government is using the fact that German is spoken in Alsace and parts of Lorraine to encourage German-speaking States to learn more French.
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Although it is difficult to cover Alsace and the Thionville area of Lorraine together and two separate studies would have been preferable, this examination enables us to conclude that the situation of the German language in France has worsened, particularly as a result of a national policy that is hostile to regional and minority languages. German nevertheless has a very solid footing in the rest of Europe.
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