The campaign for Ghanaians to learn French is not new to us. It has always been drummed into our heads that Ghana is sandwiched between francophone countries and therefore, there is the need for us to learn to speak French. From primary school, pupils are exposed to the French language through recitals, songs and poems. French is offered all the way up till University and yet very few Ghanaians speak any real French. As the world is continually becoming a global village, there is a need to reinforce efforts to get our human resources to be linguistically dynamic in order to tap into international opportunities.
In May 2018, Ghana signed a linguistic pact between Ghana and the International Organization of the Francophonie for improved technical support and capacity building for the teaching and learning of French. How have various actors, institutions and individuals contributed to the promotion of the French language?
The French language
French is the language of France and also used in parts of Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada, in several countries of northern and western Africa and the Caribbean. It is an official language in 29 countries across five different continents, most of which are members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the community of 84 countries which share the official use or teaching of French. The language traces its origin from Vulgar Latin of the Roman empire. It is the second language mostly spoken, after English. There are some 274 million French speakers worldwide, making it the sixth most widely spoken language and the fourth most used language on the internet, according to the Francophonie organization of French-speaking countries.
The French are well noted for their gastronomy. Common among these foods are croissants, soupe à l’oignon, coq au vin, chocolat souffle etc. They are proud of their food and culture, diverse ways of preparing meals and good eating.
Why learn French?
The French language exposes the speaker to a vastly diverse culture. French is an advantage to one’s career profile and opens up various career opportunities.
Think about it. In our competitive world of work, being bilingual or multilingual makes you unique and much more employable. Kofi Annan was appointed in 1996 to the position of UN Secretary-General partly because of his French-speaking abilities.
It is also interesting to know that the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo speaks French! He practiced at the French Bar for two years in the Paris office of the U.S. law firm Coudert Brothers. He is endowed with fluency not only in English but also in French and thus he serves as a role model for students to emulate. With his bilingual abilities, he has been instrumental in various international fora and avenues, including the United Nations Assembly. Since March 2018, the President has led negotiations to find a lasting solution to the political crisis in Togo, by virtue of his abilities to understand the nuances in French cultures, positionalities, and for the parties to trust his judgement and suasions.
Are we making headway in learning French?
The French Embassy, Francophone Embassies and French diplomatic missions have also been of immense support to the promotion of French language in Ghana. The embassy fosters bilateral relations between Ghana, France and the francophone communities in areas of trade, health, research, aid etc. Alliance Française, for example, has been promoting French language and culture through lessons and events. Events such as Semaine la Francophonie, Semaine de Goût, and other music festivals are championed by the institution.
The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, upon his swearing-in visited Ghana (first African tour) in his bid to modernize France’s relations with Africa. His objectives include creating business links, education and sport rather than development aid. Emmanuel Macron has launched a drive to boost French language around the world. The French President seeks to invest hundreds of millions of euros boosting the French language worldwide, overtake English in Africa and increase the use of French online. Part of these investments will be pumped into our educational structures in order for the nation to build its capacity in the French language.
French radio transmissions have also been extended to Ghana. Radio France Internationale is in Accra (89.50MHZ) and Kumasi (92.9MHZ). This is a unique opportunity for students to listen and improve their listening and comprehension in the language. There are French resources also on digital television channels such as DSTV, TV5 etc.
Si vous pouvez lire ceci, remerciez votre professeur. If you can read this [in French], thank your teacher. Teachers have been direct contacts with students in the delivery of French lessons. In the past, most French teachers were Ivorians, Togolese or Burkinabés who would come to Ghana in desperate need of jobs and would find teaching as a stepping stone. The only ‘selection’ criteria were their ability to rattle the language! These foreign teachers, without any form of professional education training, lacked the methodologies and approaches to the teaching of the French language. They would literally ‘beat’ the lessons into you. What do you recall of your Monsieur? Thankfully, more qualified teachers have been trained by various teacher training colleges and educational institutions. They have been equipped with the various concepts and ways of effectively administering lessons to students.
Also, universities are churning out graduates who have degrees in French to contribute to the promotion of the language. These graduates also spend at least one (1) year abroad in any francophone country or France to further practice the French language and culture.
Traditional rulers with education at heart have also promoted the French language within their subjects. Asantehene has played a pivotal role in Ghana’s educational narrative, of which the teaching and learning of French language is not an exception. The current Asantehene has made education one of the pillars to his social interventions with the Otumfuo Education Foundation. Since 2013, The Foundation has facilitated the annual Lady Julia National French Quiz which seeks to encourage and reward students and institutions for learning French. The Annual Lady Julia French Quiz was instituted by the Foundation in collaboration with Alliance Française and the Ghana Education Service in 2013 and was implemented in 2014.
What needs to be done.
Amidst all of these efforts, the majority of Ghanaians still do not speak French. People mention things they learned from school and make a joke out of it. Languages are best learnt when you listen, watch and act (speak). French language in our schools seems to be a subject with the expectation of students to be able to “chew and pour”. Students memorize lessons without understanding it with the intention of reproducing the lesson in an exam (and probably forgetting about it). This is surely not the way to go. Evaluation of the lessons should be made flexible with the target of students being able to speak, write and understand the language with little emphasis on getting 100% in the class test. This can be achieved when there is a deliberate pedagogic outline that systematically empowers the student to understand the lesson and apply them in real-life scenarios. This can be achieved through interesting songs, dance, sessions in the lawns (not always in the classroom).
The syllabus is a guide to teachers on which topics to teach within a period. Some teachers will teach exactly what the syllabus dictates and even gives the exact examples to students. Instructors need to step out of their comfort zone by exploring other books and online resources that reinforce the topic of the day. This will require a lot of research and the curation of ideas. In a class of about 50 students, teachers are overburdened with marking essays, writing of lesson notes, marking registers, preparing result slips etc. with little time for ample research of resources. Beyond the textbooks, how many French teachers will make time to check out the latest French comic movies to show the student? How many schools will pay some few dollars to subscribe to a French resource portal to receive the latest resources within the industry?
Stakeholders should invest in establishing more training institutes. This will be an avenue where the trainer will be trained. Universities in Ghana such as the University of Education, Winneba etc are championing the teaching and learning of French language. Other institutions such as the Centre Régionale pour l’Enseignement Française are also organizing periodic refresher courses to French teachers to upgrade their skills. There should also be scholarships to teachers to study abroad with the aim of the beneficiaries being the “growth pole” around which others can benefit.
Our Local Languages
As we are promoting other foreign languages, let us not abandon our local languages. English has become a measure of one’s intelligence; speaking fluent English is a sign of knowledge in Ghana. Families now prefer to speak English to their children to the detriment of our Asante Twi, Ewe, Ga, Frafra and other 250 languages and dialects are spoken in Ghana. It is good to learn French, however, it will be better if a local language is an official language in Ghana. It will be best if we promote cross-learning of language and culture; Asante will learn the Ga language; Ewes will learn Frafra etc.
Ghana is poised to get global and optimize integration in our global village. Government, teachers, diplomatic missions etc. are continually contributing to get Ghana fully tapped into francophone resources. There is the need for students, professionals and all citizens to embrace this effort and also learn the language. A bon entendu, c’est salut!
Sylvester Kwame Osei is a bilingual communications professional. Contact him on [email protected]