Competing Desires and Realities: Language Policies in the French-Language Classroom

Angela Giovanangeli


French language policy has historically centred on ways French can be considered a dominant and influential language. It has done this since the Middle Ages, by allowing the French language to serve as a political tool. On an international level, language was a way of subjugating conquered peoples (former colonies). It promoted France’s international status (by the 18th century French was the diplomatic language of Europe). On a national level, the French language was one of the ways governments were able to centralise political power (suppression of regional languages).

One of the ways French language authorities have promoted the use of language has been through education policies and the way language is taught in schools. For example, the French language was imposed on the colonised territories of France through teaching in missionary schools. Within France, stringent laws were adopted, in particular during the nineteenth century, allowing the French language to replace local languages in schools. In France today, language policies continue to exist and to have an influence on the way we view language and society. One of the main priorities of French language policy is to protect the status of the national language in particular with respect to the increasing use of English as a global dominant language in areas such as science, technology, tourism, entertainment and the media (Nunan: 2007, 178). Consequently, France has adopted policies to respond to this linguistic climate. This has implications on the way the French language is taught both within France as well as outside of France.

This paper will examine some of the policies and agencies created over recent years that affect the French language. It will also identify some of the consequences these policies have on the teaching of language. Finally it will argue that a space has been created within the language classroom that attempts to find a compromise between the language policies of the French government and the realities of spoken French in society.


Language; Third space; Language Defence; Feminisation of professional titles; English language domination

Full Text



Adamson, R. 2007, The Defence of the French. A Language in Crisis?, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon.

Baylon, C. et al. 2002, Forum 2, Hachette FLE, Paris.

Becquer, A., Cerquiglini, B. & Cholewka, N. (eds) 1999, Femme j'cris ton nom. Guide d'aide la fminisation des noms de mtiers, titres, grades et fonctions, Institut national de la langue franaise, Paris.

Bremner, C. 2006, 'Chirac contre l'anglais, ' Times Online, 24 March. Online, available: (Accessed 8 October 2007).

Bremner, C. 2008, 'French drop le pop in search of Eurovision win, ' Times Online, 16 April. Online, available: 3754191.ece (Accessed 18 April 2008).

Brick, N., & Wilks, C. 1994, 'Et Dieu nomma la femme: observations sur la question de la fminisation des noms d'agent er sur les dsignations d'Edith Cresson dans la presse, ' French Language Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (September), 235-39.

Brick, N., & Wilks, C. 2002, 'Les partis politiques et la fminisation des noms de mtier, ' French Language Studies, vol. 12, no. 1 (March), 43-53.

Capelle, G. & Menand, R. 2003, Taxi 1, Hachette FLE, Paris.

Conrick, M, 2002, 'Language Policy and Gender Issues in Contemporary France, ' in French In and Out of France: Language Policy, Intercultural Antagonisms and Dialogue, (ed.) K. Salhi, Peter Lang, New York. 205-35.

De Certeau, M. Julia, D. & Revel, J. 2002, Une politique de la langue, Gallimard, Paris.

De Vincenti, G., Giovanangeli A. and Ward, R. 2007, 'The Queer Stopover: How Queer Travels in the Language Classroom, ' Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, vol. 4, suppl. 1, 58-72. Online, available: (Accessed 29 July 2008).

Fairclough, N. 1995, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language, Harlow, Longman.

Fairclough, N. 2001, Language and Power, 2nd ed, Harlow, Longman.

Flumian, C. et al. 2005, Rond Point 2, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, Grenoble.

Gilder, A. 1993, Et si l'on parlait franais? Essai sur une langue universelle, le Cherche Midi diteur, Paris.

Girardet, J & Pcheur, J. 2002a, Campus Niveau 1, CLE international, Paris.

Girardet, J & Pcheur, J. 2002b, Campus Niveau 2, CLE international, Paris.

Houdebine-Gravaud, A-M. 1999, 'Femmes/langue/fminisation: Une exprience de politique linguistique en France, ' Nouvelles questions fministes, vol. 20, no. 1, 23-50.

Lang, J. 2000, 'L'amour de Babel, ' in Langues : une guerre de mort, Panoramiques, Corlet, Courbevoie, 128-30.

Lavenne, C. et al, 2001, Studio 60, Didier, Paris.

Lavenne, C. et al. 2002, Studio 100, Didier, Paris.

Magnant, A. 2000, 'Le franais est-il encore une langue internationale ?, ' in Langues: une guerre de mort, Panoramiques, Corlet, Courbevoie, 124-27.

Mrieux, R. & Loiseau, Y. 2004a, Connexions. Mthode de franais, Niveau 1, Didier, Paris.

Mrieux, R. & Loiseau, Y. 2004b, Connexions. Mthode de franais, Niveau 2, Didier, Paris.

Ministre des Affaires Etrangres. 2007, Francophony/French Language. Last update July. Online, available: (Accessed 5 October 2007).

Rau, L. 1938, L'Europe franaise au sicle des lumires, Albin Michel, Paris.

Rey-Debove, J. 1999, 'Fminisation de la langue: une affaire d'usage, ' Le Franais dans le monde, Mai/Juin, no. 304, 59-60.

Sonntag, S. K. 2003, The Local Politics of Global English. Case Studies in Linguistic Globalization. Lexington Books, Lanham.

Vandendorpe, C. 1995, 'Du fondamentalisme linguistique ou de la tentation de rectifier la pense par le langage, ' Discours social. L'Esprit de censure, vol. 7, no. 1-2, 135-52.

Walter, H. 2001, Honni soit qui mal y pense. L'incroyable histoire d'amour entre le franais et l'anglais, Robert Laffont, Paris.