Speaking French: Weighing the Value Against Uganda’s Limitations

Dr. Edith Natukunda Togboa (L) the Head of Department of European and Oriental Languages at Makerere University, Jose-Maria Queiros (2nd L) the Director Alliance Francaise Kampala, Claire Cadart and Jean-Jacqueus Richer a Professor in didatics of French at University of Bourgogne (R) during the dialogue at Makerere on Tuesday.

French is among the most widely spoken language internationally with over 200m speakers (including partial speakers), purchase however Uganda isn’t among the countries where it has been largely embraced. This is partly explained by Uganda’s colonial background as a British colony back in the 1900s a time when assimilation was a method of spreading influence on the part of colonial masters.

While this is the case, more about a few people have taken interest in studying the language (French) for a range of reasons, view for some being mere passion driven. Gladly, the language has for many years been embedded in Uganda’s education curriculum from secondary and university while a few have had a privilege to learn it in lower primary. Nevertheless, there are differing views on whether having a second language (international) like French is indeed a worthwhile venture.

Makerere University on Tuesday hosted a dialogue to discuss the academic and professional opportunities presented by French as well as what is being done to make it attractive to Ugandans. The dialogue was organized by the French embassy in Uganda as well as Alliances Francaise in Kampala.

French is among the most spoken languages with over 200m speakers (including partial speakers)

French is among the most spoken languages with over 200m speakers (including partial speakers)

There was consensus that given its wide footprint, French is a significant asset in facilitating cross border trade as well as business especially for multi-national companies.

Politically, the language has also been used for diplomatic relations between Francophone states to enhance cooperation. It’s however the economic benefits that dominated the discussion with many holding that French presents employment opportunities especially by international organizations and NGOs.

West Africa which is largely a French speaking region is one of the biggest job market in humanitarian work however the skilled human resource in Uganda has always been limited by linguistic barriers.

Jose-Maria Queiros the Director Alliance Francaise a cultural center in Uganda said that at least 12,000 Ugandans registered for their programs which include French lessons and cultural engagements. The platform which was formed back in 1954 by a French businessman also has a library where its members can access literature, video content that enables them to better grow not just their oratory skills but also get acclimatized with the French culture.

Solomon Kalema is a young Ugandan journalist who developed strong love for French in his early school days. He would later pursue it at the University as an extra while he did a Bachelor’s Degree in Agro business.

“What helped me was my unique approach towards learning it back in high school. I took learning beyond the blackboard and class. I tasked my teacher to always allow me converse with him in French and correct my mistakes,” he said. His knowledge of French has enabled him earn as an interpreter and to travel the globe covering international conferences especially where French is used.

In Kalema’s view learning French should be supplemented by adequate practice. “We also need a mindset change in for people to understand that employment opportunities don’t only lie in Uganda. If the world is a global village that we call it, we must be willing to learn all the cultures in this village,” he says.

The biggest task in the endeavor to expand the use of French in Uganda lies on the academics. Excluding Uganda’s education system from this debate is as good as flogging a dead horse.

Most of the teachers that participated in Tuesday’s dialogue however decried the several limitations encountered in their efforts to impart literally and oratory skills. Some of the challenges include lack of up-to-date teaching materials, inadequate time among other policy related issues.

Makerere University introduced French lessons in 1962. Today, instruction in French has stretched from grammar and literature to areas like; Administration, business, law, media, tourism, ICT and research. Yet, Dr. Edith Natukunda – Togboa the Head of Department of European and Oriental Languages is concerned about the inefficiencies within learning institutions in Uganda which have left less achievements.

“Most Degree programs at Makerere can’t give students the required minimum four (4) contact hours for the lecturer to adequately impact students. Learning French also still lacks linguistic immersion. We need activities that will enable students of French to have study trips to French speaking countries like Rwanda for to do more practice,” she said.

Even amidst these shortcomings, Dr. Natukunda maintains that French as a language is still highly marketable in the job market. She says that many of her students have since been taken on by international organizations which are often well paying.

For France like many other countries, part of its national interests is expanding its language and culture across the globe. This serves to increase its influence and power on the international arena. Campus France is a French national agency that promotes French higher studies abroad as well as within France itself. There were only 38 Ugandan students on academic attachment in France in 2014/15 compared to Tanzania (50) and Kenya (138).


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