London, Jan 31 (Agencies): President Nicolas Sarkozy wants France's youngsters to learn "the language of Shakespeare". Children in France will be forced to learn the English language from as early as nursery school.

Critics fear that Sarkozy's latest suggestions about linguistics will dilute the cherished French language and its dissemination.

The mooted educational change has kicked off debate in France, with staunch right-wing traditionalist intellectual Eric Zemmour dipping his oar, praising his country's resistance to learn English.

Zemmour said that the desire to study English is just a "fad", akin to "learning German during the occupation". However, Sarkozy's Education Minister Luc Chatel said: "Not mastering English in France these days is a handicap."

He said that plans were afoot to educate three-year olds English with the help of computers. In England school pupils tend to take on a foreign language at the age of 11, though some start earlier.

Under new educational reforms signed off by Sarkozy, some 1,000 language teachers are to lose their jobs this coming year, the report said.

Some say that the plans are a reaction to the president's personal frustration at not being fluent in English and missing out on some of the jocular banter that flies at the world leaders' top table.

Earlier in January a minister leapt to the defence of Sarkozy after the president was accused of speaking in a vulgar and common manner and without paying due attention to normal grammatical rules.