Why do Ghanaians find it difficult to learn and speak French?

Kwasi: Bonjour, mon ami

Atongo: Bonjour ! Ca va ?

Kwasi: Très bien et toi ?

Atongo : Je – je – je. My friend, this is how far I can go with the French now. You know, I never took French lessons seriously back then, just like you.

Kwasi: Don’t worry, this is the limit I can set for myself despite all those French lessons back then.

The above is a typical example of conversations that mostly happen in Ghana between friends who were given French lessons at a certain level in their education. The painted picture might not be exact, but it is near perfection in describing the level of patronisation of the French language in Ghana.

But why do Ghanaians find it difficult to learn and speak French? When Bolingo Consult set out to develop the Ghana Localization Guide, this was one of the major questions that kept popping up, especially during our series of consultations we had with some Ghanaians to get their perspectives to help us develop an overview of the language and cultural landscape in Ghana. It came out clear that the average Ghanaian would wish to be able to carry out basic communication in French, considering that the country is surrounded by only French-speaking nations: Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Benin. All the Ghanaians we spoke to agreed that it would be extremely advantageous if citizens of an Anglophone country surrounded by Francophone countries learned French. 

Now, juxtaposing that with the latest statistics, the 2010 Population and Housing Census reports that 63.6% of Ghanaians aged fifteen years and older (15+) speak English, while 0.8% of Ghanaians aged 11 years and older speak French. Again, the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) in 2018 further indicated that only 1% of the over 30 million Ghanaians can speak French. 

There have been reports about Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, stating that “Our goal is to live, one day, in a bilingual Ghana, that is, English and French, together with our own indigenous languages.” This was later backed by a statement from the Foreign Affairs Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway that the promotion of the French language is a major education priority. 

In all these, we have found out the following two major challenges that make it difficult for Ghanaians to learn and speak French: 

Low Motivation for the French Language

As a second-year university student told Bolingo Consult, “French is very difficult to learn, and besides, I don’t have anyone to speak and practice with.” This is the case for many Ghanaian professionals in general and students in particular, at all levels of education. And because the French language is not compulsory, some students regrettably dropped out due to fear of failing in the language. When you meet most Ghanaian professionals and ask them why they are unable to speak French, they usually point to their failure to take French lessons seriously while in junior high or senior high school and the fact that French is not spoken in Ghanaian society, which implies that most people tend to forget the French lessons they received while in school. Obviously, most Ghanaians attach little importance to the competitive advantage the French language has in tapping into the Francophone markets. 

Not Enough Teaching and Learning resources

Despite the President’s vision for making Ghana a bilingual country, as stated in several reports, there seem to be inadequate teaching and learning resources, including well-equipped language laboratories, multimedia equipment, textbooks, and supplementary reading materials to encourage and promote the teaching of French at all levels of education. It has been reported that Mount Mary’s College of Education, the first teacher training college with specialisation in the French language, which used to have one of the best equipped audio-visual language laboratories for French, is in a state of disrepair and no longer provides audio-visual materials, tape recordings, and CDs for the French students. 

Ghanaians need to understand that multilingualism gives an individual a competitive urge to exploit different cultural markets. Previously, it was widely thought that learning a foreign language was a form of slavery. Today, the best investment in this global world is an investment in command over multiple languages—it simply makes one a global citizen. And if Ghanaian policymakers will put words into action, treat learning French as an investment with enormous economic returns, and encourage the citizens to understand it from that perspective, French will be taken seriously by Ghanaians.