While a minority, Morocco’s French-speaking people have more political and economic power in public life than the average Moroccan.
Rabat – A new study, published in time for International Francophonie Day on March 20, has found that only 35 percent of Moroccans speak French.
Annually conducted by the French Language Observatory, the report assesses the progress of the French language and future prospects for young French speakers.
Despite the low percentage of Moroccans with French fluency, however, the country is North Africa’s second highest French user. It ranks above Algeria (33 percent) and Mauritania (13 percent). Tunisia leads the dance with 52 percent.
The Francophone appeal
Despite a reputation that suffers from France’s colonial history, the French language continues to appeal.
According to the report, most of the MENA region’s French-speaking populations positively relate to the language. Between “80-100 percent want their offspring to speak French,” while 40-80 percent put efforts into teaching their children themselves.
The study established that the largest cohort of foreign students in French learning institutions come from sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
“Mastery of French is a treasured skill in the professional and academic worlds in the [MENA] region,” the report said.
It elaborated on the history bonding France with many of the Francophone countries, highlighting the remains of cultural proximity that continue to guide young students towards French.
But the Francophone appeal is not only cultural or historical, according to the study.
On the economic front, many parents and students in Francophone countries prioritize French because it opens doors to employment and business prospects.
“While French has not liberated itself from the stains of the colonial period, it retains a comfortable position in the minds of its speakers as a language for school,” the study noted. French speakers perceive the language as “modern and useful for work and business.”
The report comes against the backdrop of an intense linguistic debate at the Moroccan Parliament.
While French is not the country’s official language, it still subsumes Arabic and Tamazight (Berber), especially when it comes to administrative paperwork and communication in the highest echelons of Moroccan political life.
Morocco’s middle class tend to use French as their operational language, and the country has a vibrant publishing market for literature in French. Some of Morocco’s most popular authors write in French.
The same is true in other North African countries, where mastery of French is associated with higher social status because French classes are taught in expensive private schools.
In Morocco, the French-speaking “grandes ecoles,” the highly selective engineering and business schools, as well as prestigious high schools mostly operate in French.
Recently, education minister Said Amzazi introduced a bill to teach scientific subjects in foreign languages from primary school onwards. The current medium in the majority of Moroccan primary schools is Arabic.
The debate has deepened the identify gulf among Moroccan MPs. Conservative parties like the ruling PJD are calling for more “Arabization” to uphold the country’s “authentic identity,” while progressive parties assert that embracing foreign languages will serve Morocco better as it seeks to be part of global scientific dialogues and breakthroughs.