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Friday, November 2, 2012


French is becoming increasingly important in South Africa, a statement resulting from three recent developments:

- The Department of International Relations and Cooperation declared French to be the second official language of the department.
- The South African and French governments arranged a multi-faceted season of business, language and cultural programmes in South Africa with South Africa reciprocating in France next year.
- Some 800 teachers from 140 countries came to Durban for a conference on teaching French.

French is of particular importance in Africa. Of the 54 countries on the continent, French is the official language in 20 and is widely spoken in six others. It is the second working language within the African Union and the United Nations.

Professor Francesca Balladon from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who headed the organising committee of the 13th World Conference of French Teachers, says that French teachers are a critical link in achieving high level county-to-country partnerships. This is especially pertinent considering the increasing numbers of South Africans pursuing business and other relationships around education, health, arts and culture, and socio-economic development with both Francophone African countries and with France itself.

Balladon says the conference sought to raise the profile of French teachers in South Africa, Africa and across the world, and to highlight the enormous challenges they face. “For example,” she says, “French teachers today are tasked with teaching the language in the face of a rapidly changing 21st century world which means they have to deal with a far greater diversity of cultures than ever before.

Thus, while teaching the language correctly, they also have to accommodate cultural and linguistic diversity,” she continues. “This makes the task extremely challenging and calls for flexibility without compromising the integrity of the language skills being developed.”

The delegates who came from across the world debated how the teaching of French fits into today’s world and how the profession is charged with promoting sound language skills while respecting cultural differences.

Balladon says the conference provided those involved in French education, training, language and development the opportunity to share resources, pool experiences and create sustainable international networks.

Bongani Tembe, commissioner general for the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013 says: “This year was the first time that this conference was held in Africa, which saw it take centre stage as a key French Season in South Africa project. It also put South Africa on the map as a growing hub where French teaching is taking place. The conference’s particular concern with French teaching in a rapidly changing world directly supports the essence of what the France-South Africa Seasons initiative is about: exploring commonalities between diverse cultures which are dynamic and changing all the time.”

The conference was organised by the Association for French Studies in Southern Africa (AFSSA) in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It takes place every four years. “There are more French teachers in Africa than anywhere else in the world,” says Professor Balladon, “and there are more French speakers in the DRC alone than in France.” French is estimated to have 110 million native speakers, 190 million second language speakers and is the second-most studied foreign language in the world, after English.

For more information on the French Season in South Africa 2012 visit