Imagine attending an event where the speakers are Francois Henri-Pinault, Christian Louboutin, Thierry Mugler, Thierry Henry, Olivier Giroud, and you are asked to introduce yourself in French.
The average Nigerian French language proficiency is being able to say ‘Bonjour, Bonsoir, comment ça va? Je m’apelle.’ Expecting them to continue the conversation in French may leave you disappointed.
As a country surrounded by francophone countries, we ought to take the French language extremely serious. French is a global language widely spoken by 274 million native speakers, and it is an official language in 29 countries.
Although we are a country surrounded by francophone countries, there are certain reasons for the deficiency of the French language in Nigeria.
Firstly, we have an implementation problem. In 1996, the late President Sani Abacha proclaimed French as the second official language in Nigeria; sadly that pronouncement was never implemented by the relevant government agency.
Secondly, there is an issue of lack of interest and lack of learning resources. Our rigid method of learning has made a good number of Nigerians lose interest in learning new languages.
Many students never go beyond cramming certain phrases, writing their assignments with the aid of the French dictionary, and praying to get a credit in an exam.
Perhaps, a part of this fault is that many do not understand that you don’t teach a language with another language because every language has its own unique rules.
For instance, most times in Nigeria we are taught french by translating it from English; this doesn’t present us with an opportunity to learn the rules of the French language.
The importance of the French language in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. Its implementation will go a long way in reducing the high unemployment rate. We have several French companies in Nigeria such as Total, Elf, Michelin, Peugeot, Air France, etc. who need professionals who possess a working knowledge of French.
More Nigerians would be employed by these companies if we can breach the gap. Moreover, French is among the official languages of many international organisations such as the United Nations, ECOWAS, African Union, Red Cross.
Secondly, bridging the gap will boost immigration for Nigerians. Most Nigerians who immigrate (either for work or education) often move to Anglophone countries due to the language barrier.
In a country like Canada for instance, the Nigerian population in Quebec province is quite low because their official language is French. Whereas, Quebec is among the best cities to be in Canada. In addition to that, some Nigerians have missed numerous scholarship opportunities from universities in francophone countries due to their inability to speak French.
Lastly learning the French language will improve our business relationship with our francophone neighbours. It is not news that we trade massively with Cameroon, Togo, Senegal, and the Benin Republic. Nigerians are one of the most travelled people in the world and the world is a global village. Therefore, being bilingual and multilingual is extremely important.
Language is power. Strangers have become friends via speaking the same language, job opportunities have been offered because of language, you never know when an opportunity will arise and you will need to use your multi-lingual tongue to communicate.
How Can We Bridge The Gap
Firstly, the government should ensure that a relevant agency such as the Ministry of Education enforces the implementation of the French language in every school in the country.
Adequate literary resources should be provided, and students should be encouraged to participate wholeheartedly. In addition to that, only professionals who are certified to teach French should teach it.
I use this medium as a Clarion Call to employ Nigerians to wake up and take advantage of multilingualism by learning the French language as well as other global languages.