Morocco’s language course to boost prosperity
Of the many indicators used to measure a country’s development prospects, perhaps the most overlooked is that of language. Around the world, governments seeking to gain competitive advantages are faced with crucial language policy decisions.
Nowhere is this truer than in Morocco, where the attachment to French in some quarters has sought to stratify rather than mobilize Moroccan society. With youth unemployment reaching an all-time high in 2020, the focus is on creating jobs that better integrate Morocco into international markets – a goal that cannot be achieved with the French language.
There has been a marked shift in gears over the past 12 months. The picturesque North African kingdom, long constrained by development challenges, has adopted a series of political, economic and military policies to project itself internationally. Last month, he launched his new economic strategy with great fanfare, with the inevitable marketing in English “Morocco Now”. The challenges of remaining competitive lead to a gradual abandonment of French, as young people strive to integrate into the wider world.
Morocco has evolved rapidly, last year again climbing the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. The strategically located kingdom has grown year on year since the global financial crisis and has shown remarkable resilience during the pandemic. Nevertheless, to support long-term economic progress, French-speaking Morocco will continue to rely on foreign direct investment, in the form of checks made out largely in English.
While Mandarin Chinese and Hindi are growing, the use of English also remains on the rise. Worldwide, up to 1.5 billion people have learned or are learning English, or nearly one in six people on earth. For emerging countries like Morocco, adopting English is not an insurmountable challenge. Rwanda and Cameroon are just two French-speaking countries that are making concerted efforts to expand its use.
But it is easy to see from the history of Morocco why this is more complex than it appears. The mother tongue was Berber; the subsequent Arab conquest resulted in almost complete Arabization. Successive periods of foreign influence have also left their linguistic imprint. Today, Arabic is the official language, followed by Berber, French and Spanish. English occupies the fifth position.
However, while Arabic and French are beautiful languages, English is the lingua franca of international commerce. China, whose economy supports that of the world, invests heavily in teaching English. English now dominates digital, tourism and economic vocabularies. Even French, despite its historic dominance and its 275 million speakers worldwide, is now left behind. Six of the ten least developed countries ranked by the United Nations Development Program are French-speaking African states.
The picturesque North African kingdom, long constrained by development challenges, has adopted a series of political, economic and military policies to project itself internationally.
Zaid M. Belbagi
In Morocco, there is a thirst for change. In 2002, reforms stipulated that English would be taught in all public schools. Last year, the Moroccan Ministry of National Education announced that it would adopt a license system for higher education, replacing it with the License, Master, Doctorate (LMD) system. However, despite these movements, the number of English-speaking Moroccans remains low. According to a report compiled for the British Council, 18% of the population speak English, although 82% “consider speaking English to be beneficial”.
Across Morocco, billboards now glow with marketing slogans in English – “Free”, “Life” and “Love”. Nevertheless, French continues to complement Arabic as a language of written and academic expression. When it comes to communicating on the world stage, Morocco remains enveloped in a French-speaking cocoon. The educated elites in France who reabsorbed economic and political power in the second half of the 20th century retained their influence through their fluency in French. But today, for countries like Morocco with limited natural resources, the need to adapt to global markets outweighs the need to perpetuate small local monopolies.
As in other African countries that have changed their language policies, the impetus for change should come from the government. Since English skills are a vital tool in the global economy, the government must support its teaching. Currently, public schools only teach English from the age of 10; this could be done earlier so that students finish their studies with a better level of English.
The government could also approve more universities like Morocco’s world-famous Al-Akhawayn University, where English is the language of study. We need to invest more in English language education and training. Currently, the government does not pay all employees who request English training. At the national level, the government could increase the time allotted to television and radio broadcasts in English. Prime Minister Aziz Akhounouch, who owes his support to the Berber-speaking electorate, recently allocated millions to encourage the learning of Amazigh. It is the only experience in the world of costly reintegration of a language that was supplanted nearly two millennia ago by conquest. This is short-term and inopportune for a country whose priority should be anglicization.
Morocco has chosen the airfreight, financial services, tourism and aeronautical sectors for growth, where it has a competitive advantage. These sectors require a working knowledge of English, with recent studies showing that over 90% of jobs require English as at least a second language. By equipping young Moroccans with these skills, jobs will be created and the standard of living raised. To continue to be the engine of development, it is the linguistic policy as much as the economic one which must be on the agenda in Morocco.
- Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and private client adviser between London and the GCC. Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid
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