An American in France is struck by the way that people in public life have mastered the language. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, French politicians and civil servants speak in complete sentences, using correct verb forms. They are not guilty of mispronunciations, malapropisms or mistakes in grammar.
In Washington, English grammar is so far down on virtually everyone's list of priorities that politicians would probably think a journalist had gone slightly mad if he or she asked whether grammatical errors upset them. But a French news magazine asked two leading French politicians last year if they were "startled when someone commits a fault of French."
This exercise, which emphasizes comprehension, grammar and spelling, occupies a central role for the rest of the child's school years. The French school dictee is graded rather harshly: The maximum score is 20 points, and some teachers deduct five points for each grammatical error and two points for each spelling error. Failing is easy.