Rabat - Two or three years ago, a colleague with whom I was hardly acquainted called and asked me to join what he referred to as an elite group of Moroccan Anglophone intellectuals and activists interested in the linguistic situation of Morocco and eager to replace French with English as the country’s second language. He said, not without some pride, that many leading intellectuals and influential political, economic, and educational figures who could weigh heavily on the linguistic situation of the Kingdom would be of the party. He added that the initiative had received the blessings of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Rabat – Two or three years ago, a colleague with whom I was hardly acquainted called and asked me to join what he referred to as an elite group of Moroccan Anglophone intellectuals and activists interested in the linguistic situation of Morocco and eager to replace French with English as the country’s second language. He said, not without some pride, that many leading intellectuals and influential political, economic, and educational figures who could weigh heavily on the linguistic situation of the Kingdom would be of the party. He added that the initiative had received the blessings of the United States and the United Kingdom.
He apologized for having included me on the list of an international conference program that was to be held in two days without my prior consent. I thanked him profusely and told him that I would be delighted to participate in this conference, but only as a citizen, and not on behalf of the non-governmental organization he was expecting me to participate on behalf of; an organization that he seemed to think had the main goal of spreading the English language in the country. I explained to the colleague that the organization had professional objectives and was aimed at supporting the teaching of English as a foreign language and of providing all those involved in the profession with quality services.
I further explained that the organization aimed at optimizing the efficiency of pedagogical offers, both directly through professional development and indirectly through promoting scientific research and publishing in related subject areas. As the colleague had, obviously, a completely different conception of an organization he had hoped would support his mission, I made a point to stress the fact that although the organization maintained a long history of good-standing cooperation and working relations with the British and American cultural authorities, which it holds in high esteem, it was also keen to maintain its freedom and to preserve its independence. I wanted him to know that although the organization strives to give a voice to English language teachers in the country, it would never compromise what it takes to be national priorities, nor will it negotiate what it takes to be the foundations of Morocco’s identity or indulge in any undertaking that would jeopardize it.
On the eve of the conference, I made it clear to the colleague that I considered neither French nor English as close relatives of mine. None was my mother tongue, nor did I think of myself as a militant combatting for the prevalence of either, and that I used both equally for professional purposes, and that I did not see any need to substitute one for the other. My idea was that the Moroccan educational system has specific uses for each. Shortly after this conversation, the colleague called me again to inform me that my name had been dropped from the list of speakers at the seminar. His excuse was that he had not received the abstract of my presentation. Diplomatically, he suggested that I was welcome to attend the event and participate in the debate if I so wished.
For the record, I would like to mention that I do not find the merciless war between the French and English languages on the Moroccan educational scene as very different from the conflict between the international powers during the early years of the 20th century, which paved the way to the colonization of the Kingdom, to which the euphemistic label of ‘protectorate’ was given.
I would like to remind the reader of an important principle in sociolinguistics and historical linguistics: on one hand, languages and varieties of the same language strive to preserve their status within their original community and behave, on the other hand, as if they were in a dire need to prevail over others, and to spread beyond their natural habitat, and to gain more of an influential status where they previously did not have any. This puts languages in constant conflict with one another, competing for the same privileges and to occupy new grounds in politics, economy, religion, and culture that were once held by others.
Thus, some nations and social groups have considered their languages to be productive factors to be employed in their speakers’ political, economic and commercial relations, and people have come to rely on them for establishing an ideological hegemony. Likewise, many countries have depended on their languages as pivotal elements for the construction of their identities, and have used them as important tools for the conceptualization of their perceptions of themselves as well as of the images they present of themselves to the world. In the same vein, several communities have used and are still using their languages to maintain their status among other social groups and nations. Let us reflect on the following: language is an arena in which all critical conflicts in a given society are fought. In Morocco, the issue of language and language choice has been turned into a field in which the country is cornered, to be subjected to different types of extremely competitive cultural, intellectual, political, and economic pressures and influences.
In Britain, for instance, the English language is considered to be a complex and multidimensional product, which is at times imposed upon other nations through various colonial mechanisms and, at other times, through commercial and advertising methods and through subtle cultural hegemonic strategies. This is done using a unique network in the domain of commercializing English language instruction and serving the strategic objective of spreading it. The network consists of a huge number of ‘cultural’ centers that actually function as focal points of a stock market that benefits from the direct financial, diplomatic, political, and military support of the state. They are also supported by very powerful government-subsidized global services and industries such as publishing, language teaching, higher education, training, the arts, the economy, and culture. The English language sector has thus grown to become one of the top 6 or 7 industries in the UK. Its income amounts to billions of pounds, more than many heavy traditional industries.
In other words, talking about the English language is exactly like talking about an industrial or commercial commodity or service. It is similar to talking about an electronic device, a vehicle, an aircraft engine, a soft drink, a warplane, a cruise missile, or a bullet. The United Kingdom’s Ministry in charge of Education determined that the amount of money foreign students spend in the various schools and universities in the UK has exceeded £10 billion in 2012, 3 billion of which coming directly from the English language instruction industry. The figure does not include the huge amounts of money collected in the many Council Centres scattered all over the world. This example is mentioned only for the purpose of clarifying things for those amongst us who might still be under the impression that the support of the English language by some consular services and assimilated charities has only altruistic and generous objectives. The gains may be far more complex, but not much less visible to the naked eye if one takes the time to look closely!
Moreover, when one talks about countries intervening to spread their languages in a certain domain or foreign country, one is actually talking about hegemony and of a sort of interference at levels that are far from being purely linguistic. A sign that heralds a new colonization episode is when, for example, a simple employee in one of these language centers acquires sufficient authority to influence a Minister’s decision, or when he takes the liberty to interfere in a country’s policy by pushing for the urgency of granting priority to his own language. An even more sinister sign is when such an employee, as is unfortunately very common to see, is heeded much more than the country’s prominent linguists, researchers, university chancellors, and deans. The Moroccan adage goes, “expect the apocalypse when matters are conceded to those with no qualifications to address them…” The first and central qualification here is being a national of the Kingdom.
A large number of researchers have centered their research around English linguistic imperialism, its secrets, its hegemonic mechanisms, and its impact on the world’s culture, ideology, religion, finance, and economy. These studies reveal opportunistic and racist features of the English language that exceed those of other colonial languages like French or Spanish. Those interested in this scientific debate can run bibliographic searches with key words like “language and hegemony,” “linguistic imperialism,” “English and hegemony,” “English and racism,” “language policy” or “language planning” to strike a mine of information on the topic.
This is not to give the impression that this research is of an extremist or militant nature. It has to be noted that these studies are written in English and have been conducted by highly proficient Scandinavian, European, and North American linguists. Many courses based in this research are taught in these countries’ most famous and well-established universities. Pioneering studies and research has also been conducted in the area by African and Indian researchers. Those advocating the rejection of French and its replacement with English in Morocco because French is of a colonial nature need to investigate the imperialist and racist nature of English as discussed and documented in this relevant literature before they make up their mind or launch their marketing campaign promoting the virtues of the English language.
Anyone who prioritizes English over French in the current Moroccan educational system on the basis that French is a colonial language should recall these facts. Both languages are colonial. Some scientific research shows, however, that the hegemony of the English language is much more severe than that of any other language, as evidenced by the military, financial, economic, and political hegemony of the UK and the US and their allies, especially in the so-called Arab and Islamic world. All those pushing for the English language in Morocco should know that the two languages are waging a war, and are engaged in many conflicts that Moroccans have no reason to take sides in or to take part in. The Moroccan elite, to which my colleague seemed to be so proud to belong to, should not subject the people of the country to a new colonization and hegemony for such a cheap price. The US and the UK invest billions of dollars in this war, most of it goes to creating new alliances by all possible means, which are needless to reveal here.
Some of the questions supporters of the English language alternative do not seem to be sensitive to include the feasibility of shifting to English in the Moroccan educational system after it has invested so much in the Arabization of its primary and secondary levels while continuing to maintain French in higher technical and scientific education without compromising the status of other foreign languages, including English. Since its independence, Morocco has invested huge amounts of precious time, funds, energy, intelligence, and imagination in training teachers in these two languages, which, despite all these efforts, are still said to lack. How then, all of a sudden, can the country change its language of instruction to a language most of her teachers, who have been trained in Arabic and French, do not understand? Are the teachers who teach sciences and mathematics in Arabic in primary and secondary levels and in French in universities now to be asked to switch to English to teach? Would there be any other unfair requests? Is this not pure disregard and contempt towards these professionals, and would it not be committing the worst injustice to the students and to the country?
Or is the pretension to give a generation of English language all the skills, competences, and tools they need to perform the transition and secure the objective of rooting English in the system in a blink of an eye, knowing that the venture of qualifying teachers in Arabic and French has hardly achieved its objectives in more than fifty years? Does the country have qualified experts who are able to write course books and educational supporting materials in all school subjects in the English language, and are the country’s libraries able to provide the resources needed for this tremendous task? Does the country have trainers, school inspectors, and supervisors who are qualified to coach teachers in this language? Or do they plan on importing all this expertise and materials from the US and the UK with loans? If this option is chosen, it would have to be called something like ‘new colonialism’.
It is a lie to claim that the transition from one secondary language to another can be carried out smoothly without affecting additional generations of poor children. The transition would disqualify them from mainstream development opportunities and from socioeconomic mobility. It cannot be done without great pain and sociopolitical and cultural injury, or without creating wide and unbridgeable intellectual and cultural gaps and huge losses of current assets.
A traitor to his own people and a liar is he who claims that education and knowledge will spread and become equally accessible to all Moroccans through any language other than their mother tongues. Morocco will never be a developed, independent, and scientific country without providing fundamental education to all of its people in their own mother tongues. Those who are truly concerned about the future of this country should deploy their intelligence, expertise, experience, and wisdom to adapt strategies that would allow the native languages of Morocco to facilitate (i) the design of suitable curricula, (ii) the invention of appropriate pedagogical approaches, (iii) the learning and also the generation of relevant knowledge, (iv) the mastery of critical skills, (v) the production of innovative ideas, and (vi) the development of the creative competencies needed for the solution of the country’s problems.
Second and third foreign languages are undoubtedly important, and should be made accessible to all learners when they need them. They should be considered as tools to invest in to meet well-defined specific needs and purposes, but should not be given priority over other subjects in students’ primary and secondary education. In fact, the need for second or third foreign language varies from one field to another, and from one educational level to another. There is no need for English for a well-qualified accountant, a good surgeon, a creative architect, or a secondary school teacher of law, history, philosophy, music, or any other subject. English may be useful in fields such as tourism, the hotel industry, and banking.
The importance of this language cannot be neglected for those specializing in advanced scientific research, international diplomacy, trade, military, and civil aviation, or merchant shipping vocations. These crafts will require their practitioners to learn English and therefore the capacity and the skills of teaching it in the best ways and at the least cost. But to adopt English in the first years of instruction would not only be a waste of time, energy, and money, it will be at the expense of other more critical skills and competencies. It would seem to be more natural in the earlier years of the educational system for Morocco to invest in building native language capacities, strengthening the status of the national languages, and optimizing the quality of their teaching. Investment priorities should be on basic cognitive skills in maths, physics, chemistry, biology, physical training, and critical thinking aptitudes.
The main question to be asked is for whom this country is training her children. Is it for Morocco, its people, and its national economic development? Some colleagues argue that it is easier for university graduates to find jobs abroad if they are fluent in English. My answer is that this is absolutely true, but as a Moroccan citizen I refuse to see Morocco’s money placed in training qualified engineers, senior directors, and managers for Canada, the United States, China, or Europe. Those who want to emigrate and work in these parts of the world should then purchase the language education they need for those ‘specific markets’ or centers and pay for them out of their pocket. They should not spend Morocco’s tax money paid by Morocco’s poor, its merchants, its civil servants, and its citizens who choose to invest in the economy and industry of their country. I also find it quite immoral for the country to invest money it borrows with high interest rates on training skilled manpower that will return to the very same countries that lent Morocco the money.
A similar excuse I have seen with is that Morocco needs to attract foreign investment and multinational corporations, and that they consider English an important factor in choosing countries they settle in. This, it is argued, is a good enough argument to convince Morocco to teach this language. To answer this claim, I would like to say that teaching English as a foreign language is one thing, and having it replace another language is something else. Furthermore, the current curriculum of Moroccan public schools can provide high school graduates with such English language proficiency that can be further fine-tuned to a higher competency when and if needed. Moreover, Morocco will benefit more from strengthening its multi-linguistic capital, adding to it rather than reducing its potential, shaking her stability, and incurring a great loss.
Whatever the language(s) Morocco ends up choosing for specific purposes, the decision-making process should be grounded in the theoretical framework in which foreign language courses are designed and their multi-layer dimensions. It must be certain that the hegemonic cultural, communicational, pragmatic, colonial, racist, and imperial dimensions are accounted for and managed when the decision is made. In fact, every foreign language course should be supported by a pedagogy of critical thinking and the evaluation of opinions, attitudes, perceptions, situations, and behaviors associated with it. If the goal is to enable all those who want to learn English with the skills they need, there should be more than one methodological option to serve this purpose without replacing, amputating, or creating clashes and confusions. Should the purpose be something else, and the true goals be hidden or unstated, the issue will clearly be of a different nature.
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