Young Moroccans increasingly see English as a key skill to access education and career and cultural opportunities, according to a new study by the British Council.
Rabat – A new report by the British Council in Morocco is highlighting young Moroccans’ opinions on learning English as a way of social advancement.
On April 23, the British Council is marking UN English Language Day 2021 by releasing its “Shift to English” report, for which it surveyed 1,211 young urban Moroccans. Omnibus Marketing Research, a research firm based in the UAE and Morocco, performed the study.
The British Council is an organization tasked with promoting the United Kingdom and the English language and receives its funding from the UK Foreign Office. Its new report aims to provide an insight into the opinions on English as a language as held by young urban Moroccans.
When asked by Morocco World News why the study chose to exclusively interview urban youth, the panel indicated they felt confident that similar results would emerge from young Moroccans living in rural settings although results could vary slightly.
Speaking at a virtual conference to promote the new report, Tony Reilly, director of the British Council in Morocco, addressed the multilingual nature of Moroccan society. Reilly highlighted that many Moroccans already speak four out of the six official UN languages. “A remarkable testimony to Morocco’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity – something your country is rightly proud of,” Reilly stated.
The importance of English
The British Council’s new report found that young Moroccans are increasingly seeing English as a valuable tool to improve their social conditions. Approximately 82% of the respondents indicated they have “positive associations with English.”
According to the survey’s 15-25 year old participants, 65% of young Moroccans regard English as important, while 62% feel similarly about Arabic and 47% about French.
Reilly emphasized the importance of English in education and online activity in his opening speech at the report’s launch. “52% of all internet websites are in English. 95 of the world’s top 100 universities teach in English,” he stressed, adding that “70% of employers in non-English speaking countries in key industries say English is of crucial importance.”
“Everyone is turning to the English language because of its dominance on the internet,” one participant reported. That shift to English is likely to only accelerate further, according to the surveyed youth, with 85% of participants expecting an increase in the use of English among young Moroccans over the coming decade.
That shift is likely to produce positive economic effects according to the study. Seventy-four percent of respondents stated they believe this shift to English will be beneficial for Morocco’s national ambitions as well as those of young Moroccans themselves.
Demographics of current English speakers
Currently there is still a gap between low and higher income Moroccans when it comes to English skills, according to the report. “Younger, wealthier and more educated youth have the strongest command of English,” the study found. Young proficient English-speakers in Morocco are more likely to be female, more educated, and have higher incomes.
The “Shift to English” report did emphasize that there is still a long road ahead. “Arabic is the dominant language among Moroccan youth, spoken and understood with high proficiency by 69% of young people,” the report highlighted.
It added that according to the young people interviewed, “French is slightly more widely spoken than English – 34% speak and understand French with high proficiency, and 30% speak and understand English to the same level.” French holds an important place in the country’s culture and identity. However, while many young Moroccans come into contact with French at school, English is often more the language of movies, series, and music.
Dubbed the “Netflix generation,” youth in Morocco are increasingly discovering and developing their English-language knowledge because of its prevalence in the media and on the internet. English is now seen as an important language by 65% of surveyed youth, beating out French (42%) and even Arabic (62%), the report said.
Opinions of the English language
Young people in Morocco have a positive association with English, the study found, with 82% of participants indicating such a preference compared to 59% having positive associations with French. Young Moroccans are more likely to recommend others to learn English, seeing it as an international language that is important for their career.
“You must learn English because it is important in our lives now,” one participant told the surveyors as many linked English to our increasingly globalized world where travel, leisure, and work often require English comprehension.
The report claimed that the global pandemic, Brexit, and the US elections have all helped increase interest in the English language among the young people in Morocco surveyed by the British Council. Some developed their English purely “because I needed to follow the news,” as one participant indicated.
COVID-19-related lockdowns provided both a reason and an opportunity for Morocco’s youth to develop their English, the report found.
“Since we were confined, I discovered a lot of super interesting programs in English, and I had set myself to improve my English before the end of the confinement,” one participant responded. Another highlighted how English enabled a richer experience on social media, saying, “I noticed that there is more interaction in social media in English than in French.”
A shift to English
The study found that “English is expected to become Morocco’s primary foreign language in the next five years, as well as the foreign language most widely spoken among youth.”
That conclusion originated from 85% of respondents expecting growth in the number of Morocco’s English-speaking youth. A majority of respondents (57%) even indicated this number will increase significantly.
Currently, young people in Morocco learn English in school (37%), online (17%), through language apps (7%), and through training institutes (6%).
With affordable high-speed internet available in most places in Morocco, movies, series, and online activity are also helping familiarize Moroccans to the language, with more young people (42%) saying they gained their English skills through these media compared to 37% who learned English at school.
For young people in Morocco, English is a language that is preferably learned via the internet, language apps, as well as private schools, the report found. Meeting people online and interacting via social media provides motivation to improve young people’s English while movies and series, as well as gaming, have “great significance,” according to the survey’s respondents.
Morocco World News asked the British Council about the example of Rwanda’s shift from French to English. The African nation has seen a major economic boost since the shift, prompting MWN to inquire whether the British Council foresees similar economic benefits.
Local British Council Director Tony Reilly highlighted his organization’s contribution to Rwanda’s shift and emphasized the need for a gradual well-planned and resourced shift as an important factor for success.
“It serves Rwanda’s national ambitions and international outlook,” Reilly commented, adding that “young people say it is a good match with Morocco’s ambitions to be a business hub and increase links with Africa.” When combined with a digital transformation, shifting to English can produce significant results, the conference’s panel agreed.
With young people favoring English as their preferred foreign language, the task of gradually shifting to English in Morocco can only benefit research and education, according to Morocco’s Minister of Research and Higher Education Driss Ouaouicha, who attended the report’s launch.
While Morocco has some catching up to do in regards to English proficiency, a carefully guided transition towards English could benefit an entire new generation of citizens, according to the opinions expressed in the British Council’s “Shift to English” report.