Executives at the French world service channel, TV5, have called on language teachers and students across Britain to join the fight for the station's survival in the UK.
Ian Johnston, the British representative of TV5, wrote to every school in the UK after it emerged that the channel is to be dropped by ntl, which dominates the British cable TV market.
Campaigners, supported by the French embassy, believe the loss of the channel, which is used as a teaching aid in schools, will be a step backwards for Anglo-French relations as students' exposure to the language declines.
"This action will propel Britain backwards into the dark ages rather than forwards into the next millennium," said Dr Brigitte Boyce, director of the Association for Language Learning, which represents teachers.
"The reason why we are less good at learning languages than other countries is because few pupils have direct exposure to the authentic language.
"One of the really motivating factors in changing this situation has been the development of technologies which help introduce pupils to French culture and boost interest in the language."
The association says that the British are losing jobs to foreigners because of their poor language skills. French is the most widely taught foreign language in the UK and the loss of TV5 will have political, financial, social and cultural repercussions, Dr Boyce said.
According to Ian Johnston, more than 2,000 teachers have received training in how to use TV5's range of news, documentary and entertainment programmes in the classroom, and many more refer to the channel.
"Three million people learn French and it is the first or second language in 52 countries, but ntl insist on taking a populist view instead of providing a diverse range or programming," he said. "They say their customers prefer EastEnders and Coronation Street repeats, but the TV5 could have a huge impact on cross-cultural business and pleasure links."
Neither ntl's move to digital cable, which will allow it to expand its servive to 150 channels, nor a pounds 5.5bn investment from France Telecom have helped save TV5, which is principally funded by French, Belgian and Swiss taxpayers. A spokesman for ntl was blunt: "Customer demand means we can no longer carry it," he said.Reuse content