English-speaking Macron campaigns for French to be global language

David Chazan
Mr Macron spoke at the Académie Française as part of the International Francophonie Day - AFP

Emmanuel Macron launched an international drive to promote French as a “world language” on Tuesday, urging Francophone countries to resist the temptation to turn to English.

“France today should be proud of being one country among others that learns, speaks and writes in French,” he told the  Académie Française, an august body of luminaries that has struggled for decades to turn back the relentless tide of English expressions flooding into French. “French should become the language that creates tomorrow’s world.”

However, French commentators were quick to point out that the 40-year-old president, a fluent English-speaker, is himself fond of using English expressions.

“France is back” and “start-up nation” have become catch-phrases associated with him.

Mr Macron, the first French president to readily give interviews in English, rejected the criticism.

Brexit languages skills

He said that promoting French does not mean shutting off France to other languages. On the contrary, he argued, it is important to demonstrate that French and English can coexist as major international languages.  

Mr Macron, who is striving to reassert French influence as Britain focuses on Brexit and the US becomes increasingly isolationist under Donald Trump, wants French to become the “first language” of Africa. 

It is the world’s sixth most spoken language, with more French speakers outside France than within the country, and is commonly used in former French colonies in Africa. Mr Macron urged them not to emulate Rwanda, a former Belgian colony that has adopted English and joined the Commonwealth in 2009. 

On the streets of France, the rapidly proliferating number of shops and businesses with signs in English are visible evidence of the encroachment of “la langue de Shakespeare.”

Cyril Gaillard of Bénéfik, a consultancy that develops brand names and describes itself, in perfect franglais, as an “agence de naming”, said: “Business people think that it’s more funky, more fun and more modern to use English. They think French is an uncool language.”

Jean Maillet, a lexicographer, regrets the increasing use of “the language of capitalism” by French businesses. “I’m losing hope,” he said. “There’s a sort of indifference. I feel like I’m fighting a rearguard action.”