Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Morocco and the English Language Debate

After last year's Fes Festival of World Sacred Music there was much debate about the Festival's  failure to use English in its introductions. Given the large number of Festival patrons who have English as their first or second language, it was discourteous, to say the least

A recent article in The Guardian took an in depth look at the issue of English as a dominant language.

Almost 400m people speak it as their first language; a billion more know it as a secondary tongue. It is an official language in at least 59 countries, the unofficial lingua franca of dozens more. No language in history has been used by so many people or spanned a greater portion of the globe. As The Guardian pointed out, "It is aspirational: the golden ticket to the worlds of education and international commerce, a parent’s dream and a student’s misery, winnower of the haves from the have-nots. It is inescapable: the language of global business, the internet, science, diplomacy, stellar navigation, avian pathology"

One straightforward way to trace the growing influence of English is in the way its vocabulary has infiltrated so many other languages. For a millennium or more, English was a great importer of words, absorbing vocabulary from Latin, Greek, French, Hindi, Nahuatl and many others. During the 20th century, though, as the US became the dominant superpower and the world grew more connected, English became a net exporter of words.

In some countries, such as France and Israel, special linguistic commissions have been working for decades to stem the English tide by creating new coinages of their own – to little avail, for the most part. (As the journalist Lauren Collins has wryly noted: “Does anyone really think that French teenagers, per the academy’s diktat, are going to trade out ‘sexting’ for texto pornographique?”) Thanks to the internet, the spread of English has almost certainly sped up.

In the last few decades, as globalisation has accelerated and the US has remained the world’s most powerful country, the advance of English has taken on a new momentum. In 2008, Rwanda switched its education system from French to English, having already made English an official language in 14 years earlier. Officially, this was part of the government’s effort to make Rwanda the tech hub of Africa. Unofficially, it’s widely believed to be an expression of disgust at France’s role in propping-up the pre-1994 Hutu-dominant government, as well as a reflection that the country’s ruling elite mostly speaks English, having grown up as exiles in anglophone east Africa.

When South Sudan became independent in 2011, it made English its official language despite having very few resources or qualified personnel with which to teach it in schools. The Minister of higher education at the time justified the move as being aimed at making the country “different and modern”, while the news director of South Sudan Radio added that with English, South Sudan could “become one nation” and “communicate with the rest of the world” – understandable goals in a country home to more than 50 local languages.

China has more speakers of English as a second language than any other country

The situation in east Asia is no less dramatic. China currently has more speakers of English as a second language than any other country. Some prominent English teachers have become celebrities, conducting mass lessons in stadiums seating thousands. In South Korea, meanwhile, according to the sociolinguist Joseph Sung-Yul Park, English is a “national religion”. Korean employers expect proficiency in English, even in positions where it offers no obvious advantage.

The quest to master English in Korea is often called the yeongeo yeolpung or “English frenzy”. Although mostly confined to a mania for instruction and immersion, occasionally this “frenzy” spills over into medical intervention. As Sung-Yul Park relates: “An increasing number of parents in South Korea have their children undergo a form of surgery that snips off a thin band of tissue under the tongue. Most parents pay for this surgery because they believe it will make their children speak English better; the surgery supposedly enables the child to pronounce the English retroflex consonant with ease, a sound that is considered to be particularly difficult for Koreans.”

Because English is increasingly the currency of the universal, it is difficult to express any opposition to its hegemony that doesn’t appear to be tainted by either nationalism or snobbery. When Minae Mizumura published the Fall of Language in the Age of English, in 2008, it was a surprise commercial success in Japan. But it provoked a storm of criticism, as Mizumura was accused of elitism, nationalism and being a “hopeless reactionary”. One representative online comment read: “Who does she think she is, a privileged bilingual preaching to the rest of us Japanese!” (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mizumura’s broader argument, about the gradual erosion of Japanese literature – and especially, the legacy of the Japanese modernist novel – got lost in the scuffle.)

Those troubled by the hyperdominance of English should also remember the role it has played in some societies – especially multi-ethnic ones – as a bridge to the wider world and counterweight to other nationalisms. This was especially keenly felt in South Africa, where Afrikaans was widely associated with the policy of apartheid. When the government announced that Afrikaans would be used as a language of instruction in schools on par with English in 1974, the decision led in 1976 to a mass demonstration by black students known as the Soweto uprising. Its brutal suppression resulted in hundreds of deaths, and is considered a turning point in the anti-apartheid struggle. Similar protests have periodically racked southern India since the 1940s over attempts to enforce official use of Hindi in place of English.



Meanwhile, in Morocco

On March 17, 2017, the Ministry of Handicrafts, Social Economy and Solidarity launched an English training program for trainees or graduates from handicrafts institutions in Fez. The move comes as part of a larger movement across the Kingdom to raise the status of English as a language essential to development and tourism.

The struggle to spread the use of English has been going on for the last few years.

In 2015, a report by Morocco’s think tank: Rabat Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, urged Morocco to adopt English rather than French in schools across the country.

After the statements of many Moroccan ministers and politicians in favour of adopting English over French, the Rabat Center for Political and Strategic Studies submitted a report to the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research, demanding the adoption of English as Morocco’s first foreign language instead of French.

The report said that although the Council’s committee in charge of programs considered the proposal earlier this year, the Supreme Council’s administration did not take the necessary steps, and is currently still moving to keep French as a second official language.

The Centre noted that English is the necessary language to compete in today’s world. Morocco being a former French protectorate would not be able to compete without it.

“Maintaining the French language directly after Arabic in the curriculum is neither based on objective measures nor on standards offering good opportunities both locally and internationally for Moroccan students, «the center added.

The center argued that English has become the language of choice in many European universities and education, adding that 90 percent of publications and research in Europe, including France, are published in English.

A number of Moroccan official have previously called for replacing French with English as the primary language of higher education. In March 2014, the Moroccan Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi had announced plans to make the switch from French to English.

Back in November 2016 the Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Rachid Belmokhtar, declared that the Ministry has taken serious procedures to expand and improve the use of the English language among students in the Moroccan Kingdom.

At the time Belmokhtar revealed that, in response and accordance with the reform project called for by King Mohammed VI, the Ministry of Education has adopted new approaches and methods to expand and improve the comprehension of school pupils in the country’s newly adopted second foreign language of English. “We’ve tried to encourage the creation of English clubs in all high-schools to encourage students to be able to speak it,” Belmokhtar said.

The move towards promoting English has recieved support, not only within Morocco, but also from abroad. Prominent Kuwaiti businessman and Muslim scholar Tariq Al-Suwaidan has been quoted as saying publicly, “French language is useless and a waste of time.”

Al-Suwaidan went on to say, “I am serious, French is not the language of tourism, science and civilisation. France is a backward country in terms of administration.” He pointed out that...“Today, the language of science is English – keep it in your minds. I see proof that Arabic was the historic language of science, however, the current [leading] language of science and tourism is English,” noting that “80% of scientific researches in every field are released [and conducted] in English and the 20% of [researches are conducted] in other different languages.”

“French ranks as the 16th most widely spoken language. So, it is useless in the fields of tourism, science and civilisation,” he said.“I think, according to your history and the dominance of the francophone [culture], which you have to get rid of it – you are still attached to French [language]. We need to break this barrier, because it is useless. [Please] pay to attention to this and learn English.”


Over the past years, the issue of English has become controversial, but, according to a 2015 survey, conducted by news website Hespress, 85.98% of Moroccans want to replace French with English as the country’s first foreign language.

Last year Morocco World News reported that the new project for artisans is part of a partnership agreement between the ministry, the American Embassy, and the American Language Center to provide beneficiaries with tools to communicate with tourists and improve the sale of their products.

More than 300 artisans in the Msala and Aouinat Hajjaj handicraft institutions will benefit from this program, which will be assisted by the University of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah and the handicraft chamber of the Fez and Meknes region.

“The program aims to empower young trainees with various tools including communication, to enable them integrate in the labor market and to develop this sector which is considered one of the pillars of the national economy,” said Fatema Marouane, the head minister.

Many Festivals in Morocco now cater for English speaking audiences. It is to be hoped the Fes Festival will adopt a similar policy.

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1 comment:

contact said...

In a recurring way, this blog wants to impose the English language in this French-speaking country for 200 years. This can be summarized as follows: English is the future of humanity, so let's be pragmatic, and let the 5 billion humans speak English and the world will turn round.
Where is the cultural feeling, where is the feeling of belonging to a community in this vision so exclusively market? Moroccans know that they are welcome in France and many are the ones who actually come to work in France, live in France. France remains the first host country for Moroccans and citizens of Africa. History is so. I am not aware that England reserves the same welcome, and especially not since this country has chosen to leave the European Community, whose Morocco is very close, economically and culturally. Pascal