Posted by: marianabissoqui | 12/04/2011

The unstoppable rise of English

Just over half of Africa’s 52 countries speak French, but the number is dropping. This month Rwanda announced that from now on, only English will be taught in the schools.

The government defends it as a purely business decision, driven by Rwanda’s membership in the English-speaking East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), but resentment of France also plays a role. This is a country that has already expelled the French ambassador and closed down the French cultural center, international school and radio station.

But can an African country just switch from one European language to another like that? It can if, like Rwanda, it only uses one language domestically. Almost all Rwandans, whether Hutu or Tutsi, speak Kinyarwanda, so they have no need for a ‘lingua franca’ to communicate among themselves. Only those going into higher education or working with foreigners need any other language at all — which is why only 8 percent of Rwandans speak fluent French after all this time.

This is far from typical of African countries, most of which have many different ethnic groups, each with its own language. Such countries use the language of the former colonial power as a neutral “national” language, and have such a large investment in teaching it by now, that switching is out of the question. The Congo will always use French; Nigeria will always use English; Mozambique will always use Portuguese.

So the frenches can relax: their language is not about to be vanished from the African continent. On the other hand, French will always lose out to English in situations like Rwanda, where there is a single national language and the main reason for learning a foreign language is communication with the rest of the world.

The sole reason of the change is that the world’s dominant power for the past two centuries has been English-speaking: Britain in the 19th century, and the United States in the 20th. Timing is everything, and English just happened to be the leading candidate when globalization created the need for an agreed global second language.

by Mariana B. S.



  1. I liked your post. I agree with everything, but I have a question.
    Will English lose influence and maybe speakers if the power scepter goes to another country not related to English?

  2. Well, I think people are not supposed to know JUST English, they can speak other languages, but they also need to know the global language. I don’t believe English will be lose influence in the world, at least, not so early.

  3. People cannot say that english isn´t becoming a Lingua Franca nowadays. Is not that Franch is losing space in the world, but is a fact that english has to be the mainly language; and as i said, Lingua Franca is not the english from USA or Britain, but now, the english language is a language from the whole world.

  4. I don’t think that French will vanish, even though they chose english to teach, they will comunicate in their mother language. It is because that language are already inside in their comunity.
    Whereas the idea is great , knowing the global language can provide a better opportunities for them , knowing a global language can include them in the world.

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