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Je suis tombé par hasard sur cette vidéo ( où l’actuel ministre du Renouveau Urbain et du Cadre de vie (M. Diène Farba Sarr) s’exprimait péniblement en anglais lors du forum des investisseurs africains en Afrique du Sud en 2014. Il y était allé pour vanter le nouvel environnement des affaires du Sénégal post-Wade. Cela m’a rappelé  que lorsque la francosphère (sommet de la francophonie) s’est réunie la même année à Dakar pour célébrer sa langue, sa communauté, ses valeurs, sa culture et ses pères fondateurs, je me suis demandé à haute voix si dans leur conclave ces éminents francophiles allaient débattre du recul progressif du français dans le monde au profit de l’anglais (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodge, Rwanda, etc.). Mais cela n’a pas été le cas. Ce qui n’était pas surprenant, étant donné qu’Adou Diouf lui-même a une fois dit que “…les francophones qui s’amusent à parler l’anglais sont des complexés…”

But in a world and economy increasingly reliant on science and new technologies, can we as a nation promote French only and keep ignoring English? If anything, what this francophone summit did for many of us is raise the question of our exclusive reliance on French as a vehicle to reach a brand new world of knowledge accessible to us only through tedious translation. Lost in Translation (une production hollywoodienne)… does that ring a bell?

In reality though, nothing really should keep binding us EXCLUSIVELY to a French language increasingly limited in its potential as a gateway to this whole new ecosystem of knowledge. Alas, we’ve already missed the boat when it comes to teaching, learning and vulgarizing math, science, literature, history and anything that matters to our culture and values in our national languages, and this despite legislative dispositions that recommended valorizing them more than a generation ago. Having already missed that opportunity for whatever reason…, then why should we care about which foreign language we express ourselves and educate our children in? Moreover, as the national conversation rages about putting science, technology, engineering and math at the heart of our school reform, why should we run the risk of having the intellectual development of future generations in this country compromised by our dependence on a language that is increasingly out of sync with these subject matters?

We can’t remix our history but we certainly can adjust the path of our collective destiny as a society going forward. What this means is our next generation of leaders, intellectuals, researchers and professionals should be comfortable speaking and writing in English. To that effect our country needs to lay out a clear vision and have the courage and the will…to set the right policies and design the educational system of tomorrow, for like it or not, in science and in technology as well as in business, all roads go now through English. Therefore let us rise up to the challenge and plan for and defend the principle that the right education of our sons and daughters is our collective future and that the failure to plan for that future is planning for our nation to fail in the future. Simply put, we can’t afford to miss the linguistic train this time around, because if we do, it may hurt our nation’s future irreversibly…

The bottom line is, since our continued dependence on English is inevitable, let us not allow unnecessary linguistic filters to separate our future generations from the aforementioned new ecosystem of knowledge. For this is what will happen if nothing changes and we stay the same educational course as we’re in today. Indeed, if nothing changes, our workforce will soon have to access knowledge à travers plusieurs filtres linguistiques that will put them at an intellectual and professional disadvantage. Granted, we cannot avoid going through linguistic filters, but we can mitigate their effect on our nation’s intellectual well-being by fundamentally rethinking the way we teach English in our schools, both in terms of content and how early it should start.

In fine, qu’on le veuille ou non, la sphère francophone se rétrécit davantage and French is increasingly a linguistic island, certainly in the expanding cyberspace but also in the geographic space. Comme en atteste la disparition progressive du français dans les pays de l’Indochine française (Laos, Vietnam et Cambodge). Even closer to home little Rwanda has converted to English and Gabon has been entertaining the idea. These are undeniable facts, a new reality with profound implications on the emergence of these nations as they slowly but surely jump out of the French ship and get into the English bandwagon.

So let’s face it, for the French language this is a regression trend that no amount of money, diplomatic goodwill, cultural promotion, bilateral cooperation or academic influence will be able to reverse in the near future.

Obviously, France has the right to push back hard and try to reclaim its shrinking cultural territory and waning aura. Indeed, France has the right to fight for the survival of its language and to defend its “Cultural Exceptionalism”. And finally France is also free to promote its culture and expand its influence to wherever it wants. We respect that but we must not allow it to obstruct or obscure our vision of what’s best for our nation.