Macron Launches Drive to Boost French Language Around World
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is to spend hundreds of millions of euros boosting the French language worldwide, in a push to overtake English in Africa, increase the use of French online and teach French to more European officials to loosen the grip of the English language on Brussels, reported the Guardian.
Macron hailed French as a “language of freedom” as he set out plans to pour funds into increasing French teaching and doubling the number of students in French schools abroad.
Macron said he wanted to boost French amid the widespread use of English in the EU. “The situation now is quite paradoxical. English has probably never been as present in Brussels at the time when we are talking about Brexit,” he said. “This domination is not inevitable. It’s up to us to set some rules, to be present, and make French the language with which one has access to a number of opportunities.”
French was long dominant at EU headquarters in Brussels but English has become ubiquitous in European institutions, especially since eastern European members joined the bloc in 2004.
French is the sixth most spoken language in the world – after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic – and there are now more French speakers outside France than inside it. With population growth, there will be more than 700 million French-speakers by 2050, 80% of them in Africa. Macron wants to boost the number of people speaking French in the hope of leaping up the global language rankings.
But a cultural row had raged since Macron announced to students in Burkina Faso last year that French could within decades be “the number one language in Africa and maybe even the world” and that it fell to young Africans to defend it.
In recent months, Macron’s grand project to expand French sparked criticism among leading French-language writers and intellectuals from Africa.
The acclaimed Franco-Congolese author Alain Mabanckou, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles, turned down an invitation by Macron to help draft the plan, seeing it as a cover for continued meddling in former colonies.
Macron stressed that France saw itself merely as a “country among others” in the vast French-speaking world. Crucially, he insisted that the diverse and thriving global literature in French – much by bestselling African writers – must now be taught in schools in France, where it is absent from the curriculum.
Before Macron took to the stage at the Academie Francaise, the award-winning French-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani – his personal representative on francophone affairs – carefully stated that she “had listened to all voices, even the most critical” and that there was no question of Paris presenting an “elitist and arrogant” view of the French-speaking world, insisting there was no “hierarchy” of French speakers or writers.
Macron said this was “a new moment in history” to push French to new heights worldwide.
He said: “France is the fourth language on the internet, it’s the third language on Amazon”, but that wasn’t enough and French universities must put more resources online and more online courses to push French into a more key position on the internet.
Macron, who unlike previous French presidents loves to speak English at summits and regularly uses English slogans such as “start-up nation” and “Make our planet great again”, made no apologies for regularly speaking English, saying it had become an international language of business. But he said speaking French was also a way to highlight French “values” in business and that he would continue to push French as a commercial language.
Macron also announced that a castle in Villers-Cotterêts north-east of Paris would be given a €200m (£175m) refurbishment as a global centre for the promotion and study of the French language. The Picardy town, which has a far-right Front National mayor, was home to the revolutionary General Dumas, who was born to a French nobleman and an African slave, and was father to the writer Alexandre Dumas.
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