Could French Language Teachers be the Cause of Low French Literacy in Ghana?

Could French Language Teachers be the Cause of Low French Literacy in Ghana?

 As stated on the Spain Exchange County Guide, about only 13% of the Ghanaian population speaks French. In other words, the level of literacy in French is very low. Although the need to improve the level of literacy in French has been identified, leading to the introduction of compulsory French-language education at the basic level of education, the results obtained are still very low.

The purpose of this article is to identify reasons why most Ghanaians are unable to speak French, although it is taught in schools. The article presents the point of view of both Ghanaians who speak French and who do not speak French. It also provides some possible solutions on how most Ghanaians can be encouraged to love French and speak it fluently.

For the purpose of this article fifteen (15) people were interviewed. Out of the fifteen, three speak some level of acceptable French, three have some basic understanding in French, nine do not speak French at all. It is worth mentioning that all the participants were taught French back in school. One element that caught my attention, while I was talking to all the contributors, was the performance of Ghanaians’ French teachers. Out of the fifteen participants, only two said that their French teachers at the basic level were good teachers because they motivated them to learn French. For the purpose of privacy, the names of the interviewees will not be disclosed.

1. The incapacity of Ghanaians French teachers to push students to love the language from infancy

It is worth mentioning that of one of the two interviewees who qualified their teachers as good at the basic level, nearly dropped French at the university because of her French Oral lecturer, and the second one was not taught by a Ghanaian teacher but a Togolese teacher. Linda (whose real names have not been disclosed), one of the two stated “From a young age I developed an interest for French. Due to my mom’s work, we normally had French-speaking people at our end. I loved how they spoke, the flair and all. I started learning and I was improving gradually. My school, Junior High too was a good school, one of the best in Kumasi so my teachers were encouraging. Then I went to the Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL). The feeling was great. Then some of the lecturers started demotivating us from level 100. Before correcting us when we made mistakes, they will laugh and discourage us. I then started losing interest in speaking French because I was afraid to speak and be laughed at.”

Elinam (whose real names have not been disclosed), said “growing up our French teachers were mean, and they made the language unattractive. And it’s tough for most children because French like any other lesson is taught for you to chew pass and forget in Ghana”.

Apart from the fifteen people interviewed and the 2-opinion shared, I met many Ghanaians who lost interest in learning French because of how they were treated by the teachers back in school. I personally know a lecturer who pushed many students to drop French, because she takes a shot of their exam papers, posts it on Facebook so that her friends can laugh at her students. It is high time French teachers start making French attractive to their students and encourage them to speak.

2. The wrong way French is taught in Ghana

Another aspect is how the language itself is taught. Because many French language teachers are not fluent in the language (cannot speak fluently), all they do is to teach grammar and rules. This practice grooms students who can conjugate properly in French, apply all the rules on paper but are unable to speak. To some extend these teachers are not to blame because this is how they were taught.

I also spoke to Grace (whose real names have not been disclosed), a trained and certified French teacher who cannot speak the language. She revealed that she never really noticed that she was not taking the language seriously until she finished the training college and was still unable to speak.

“I think, I started taking it seriously when after the teacher training college, I was still struggling to speak and teach it”, she said.

Realising this, “I began to listen to audiotapes and did various exercises while listening. I also went back to school, Alliance Française to improve the French,” she added.

How many teachers are this conscious like Grace, to know that they cannot give what they don’t have, and go the extra mile to improve their French so that they can teach their students more effectively?

One of the ways to solve the problem of students not being able to speak after so many years of schooling could be for teachers to start thinking about more innovative ways of teaching. They can make students watch short instructive or funny videos in French, listen to songs in French then encourage them to write the lyrics down on their own to later compare it with the original; They can give them assignments in groups like preparing a dialogue and presenting to the rest of the class. In addition, they can also create French drama groups where students will have the opportunity to act and perform using the French language. One important thing they can also do is to encourage students to listen to news they have already listened to in English, in French. This is not to say that grammar must be ignored for it is an indisputable fact that grammar is the core of every language.

3. The difficulty of the French language

This article will not be complete if it fails to mention the fact that, unlike English, French is a difficult language with many rules. Listening to someone speak French can be as pleasing as listening to your favourite love song. The only difference is that your favourite love song does not have tricky rules. English speakers (Ghanaians) find it difficult to learn French because of their gender-based requirements.

Its sounds and stress[1] rules are hugely different from those of English. These difficulties are real but should not be a barrier to any person, who is determined to learn French. With all the difficulty she went through, Linda was able to learn French and could speak. As advice to those trying to learn the language, she said, “learning a new language is not easy… Yes, it is acceptable to say French is difficult… but with hard work and determination, it will be easy so they should gird up the loins and decide to do it no matter what. People will discourage you … but don’t give up on your dream. It is possible!”

If point one and two are well dealt with, point three will be easy to overcome, leading to most Ghanaians speaking French.

Some Ghanaians don’t feature in any of the three categories mentioned above. They deliberately ignore the importance of learning French, because they feel they are already speaking the most widely spoken and fastest-spreading world language – English. Someone told me that she does not have any intention of travelling to any French-speaking country, so she does not see any need to learn French.

Ekua (whose real names have not been disclosed), one of my contributors put it nicely. She said, “priority has not been given to learning and speaking French for a long time because you can get by without it. English has always been more important for commerce, for education and for any sector you can think of globally. So, French has never been essential.”

“If, however, we recognise Ghana’s position in West Africa and how important it is to succeed at regional integration; if we awaken to the fact that speaking French and English gives one many more opportunities, then, Ghanaians will be more interested in learning French,” she admonished.

Some Ghanaians are part of this last category not because they wanted to, but because they ignored French when they had the opportunity to learn it; because they did not see what French could help them achieve. These are the people Grace was referring to when she told me, “Many people did not know the value of learning French or a foreign language when they were young, so they make fun of the language and the teacher, making no attempt to speak, only to grow up, start missing enviable job opportunities and start regretting it”.

If you are part of this last category unknowingly, and you are now regretting it, it is never too late. You can start by getting someone to teach you and apply on your own, all the innovative ways mentioned above.

[1] Stress occurs when a sentence, word or syllable is pronounced louder and more clearly than adjacent sentences, words or syllables.

 

NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

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Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

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Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

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MAXWELL APENTENG

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Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

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STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

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Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

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JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

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Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
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LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

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Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

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Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 10 years progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa. She joined WACSI in November 2009 as an Advocacy Consultant. And later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer in 2010 and Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit in 2015. As head, she offers strategic direction to the institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organized and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality.


Previously, Omolara served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria. She also served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa where she teamed up to design and implement two programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

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