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.

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