Could French language teachers be the cause of low French literacy in Ghana?

Ghana shares borders with three French-speaking countries, namely Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. However, most Ghanaians do not speak French. As stated on the SpainExchange County Guide, about only 13 per cent 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 those who do not. 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 French teachers in Ghana. 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.

The incapacity of French teachers in Ghana to push students to love the language from infancy.

It is worth mentioning that of one of the two interviewees who described 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 interest in French. Due to my mother’s work, we normally had French speaking people around. 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 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 (not the real name), 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 two-opinions 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 took shots of their exam papers, post on Facebook so that her friends can laugh at her students.

It is high time French teachers started making French attractive to their students and encouraged them to speak the language.

The wrong way French is taught in Ghana

Another part of the problem 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 extent these teachers are not to blame because this is how they were taught.

I also spoke to Grace (not her real name), 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 audio tapes and did various exercises while listening. I also went back to school, Alliance Française to improve my French,” she added.

It is high time French teachers started making French attractive to their students and encouraged them to speak the language.

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 with the original. They can give them group assignments 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 undisputable fact that grammar is the core of every language.

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 its 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 difficulties she went through, Linda was able to learn French and could speak. As an 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 possible so they should girdle up their 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 language in the world – 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.

Let’s call her Ekua, 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 said, “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 learn, 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.

By Stella Yawa Wowoui

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