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Morocco: English as the Second Language

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

In a recent interview with African Writing Online, Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American author, elaborates on her educational upbringing. Lalami grew up speaking Moroccan Arabic, but it was not until she was a teenager that she “finally came across Moroccan novels, written by Moroccan authors, and featuring Moroccan characters.” This is primarily because Lalami attended a French school as a child. She says:

“French was the language in which I was first exposed to literature, beginning with children's comics like Tintin and Asterix, through young adult novels like those of Alexandre Dumas, all the way to classics like those of Victor Hugo.”

Nonetheless, Lalami published her first novel, Secret Son, in English after earning a Ph.D in linguistics from the University of Southern California.

Lalami’s experience is quite common for a student in Morocco. Said Bellari, a writer for, advocates the gradual eradication of the dependence on the French language, and the introduction of English as the official second language of Morocco. In his essay, he introduces a newfangled concept known as “disliteracy:”

“It means that they are speaking the wrong language in Morocco amongst themselves and with the rest of the world. Because of that we fail to go with the global flow and we isolate ourselves more and more from the development growth of other areas abroad like the one in South East Asia. Just to be clear from the onset: with this assertion I do not want to say that we should stop speaking Arabic in Morocco. Allah yastar (May Allah have mercy)! Not in the least, perhaps we should do that even more. With it I mean in fact that we should aim to fade out the French language as soon as possible. Simultaneously we should give the English language a fresh stimulus in all aspects of Moroccan society and let it take its place as a second language of Morocco. French should not even be 3rd or 4th language for that matter. This change from a francophone to an “Arab-Anglophone” country will introduce a second era of Istiqlal (independence).”

Language is a key component in the formation of a society. Societies come together based on common values and one objective is to form a way to communicate with one another in order to flourish. Bellari writes that it is self-destructive for the Moroccan society to continue to keep French as a second language:

“Every Moroccan academician, scientist, entrepreneur, artist, writer, doctor, politician or whatever key societal character, will easily admit that French is still the Master of the Moroccan Universe. In more than 50 years France has still succeeded in keeping the illusion in Morocco alive and kicking that we need our historical and cultural ties with it.”

Although it has been 55 years since Morocco gained its independence, French influences are still quite evident. Language is self-referential tool used to express social identity. Every language offers its own tones, gestures, facial expressions, and accents. It also comes with a heavy history. In this case, Bellari says:

“For the remaining part, French as a Lingua Franca in Moroccan society, consciously, but even more unconsciously, still reminds us of being slaves, of being dependent, of being backward, of being unable and of being all the things that second rate people are, or better phrased: of being what racist people want you to think of yourselves, of being second rate: I am less worthy, less able.”

In addition to distinguishing national identity, an increased use of English will open up new doors in the world of science and technology. A blogger on Bla Francia, Hicham, describes the lack of advancement in the scientific sphere. Reliance on the French language, especially in the education and research of the sciences, does not seem to reap in enough benefits for Morocco. Hicham lists the following statistics :

– 50% من الطلبة المسجلين في السنة الأولى يغادرون الجامعة قبل نهاية السلك الأول، دون الحصول على أية شهادة،
– 9,3 هو معدل عدد السنوات التي يستلزمها الحصول على شهادة الإجازة (أربع سنوات جامعية بالوثيرة العادية)،
– أقل من 10% من الطلبة المتخرجين فقط يحصلون على شهادة الإجازة في ظرف أربع سنوات، *

- 50% of students enrolled in the first year of university drop out before the end of the first term, without obtaining any certificate.
– 9.3 is the average number of years required to obtain a bachelor's degree (usually takes four years),
– Less than 10% of graduating students only receive a bachelor's degree in four years

Although high costs are also a reason for the low graduation rate, it is a reality that:

أزيد من نصف طلبة السنة الأولى في كلية العلوم لا يفهمون درس العلوم الملقن باللغة الفرنسية
More than a half of first-year students at the Faculty of Science, do not understand the science lessons in French

The French language is relatively prevalent in Morocco, but most students are not comfortable enough with it to actively participate in the scientific world where French is the primary language. To improve the situation, the blogger, who is quoting from a paper by Khaled Sami on the need of scientific e-documents in Arabic, suggests:

إصلاح الدراسات الجامعية الراهن يخصص نصف السنة الأولى من التعليم الجامعي لتعلم اللغات وتقانات التواصل وهو ما يعني بالواضح، في حال كليات العلوم، تعلم اللغة الفرنسية. إلا أن هذا الإجراء، على صعوبة إثبات جدواه، ذو كلفة عالية، فمجرد توفير الأساتذة الأكفاء بقدر كاف أمر بعيد المنال، ناهيك عن واقعية تعلم اللغة في أربعة أشهر


Reform of Undergraduate Studies currently allocates half of the first year of university education to learn languages and communication technologies, which means the obvious, in the science faculties, and that is learning the French language.
However, this procedure, the difficulty of establishing the feasibility, the cost is high, the mere provision of enough qualified teachers is elusive, not to mention realistic language learning in four months.

Providing a crash course in French is one way to appease the situation, but Hicham encourages that universities should allow their students to explore the scientific world in their own vernacular, Arabic. This does not diminish the vast number of scientific publications, and Internet references reported in English. International forums, and organizations in the scientific sphere are more likely to communicate in English than in Arabic, or in French.

Bellari continues in his essay to say that propagating English as the second language will lead to:

“a true collective grass-roots wave that speaks of will-power, self-determination, self-expression and new trust, hope and optimism for the future. It is the collective people’s effort of riding the Laraki of Moroccan destiny while halting the constant watching in the rear mirror and start looking through the front window, to 2050 and beyond, in the sole interest of our children and grandchildren.”

If the English language does gain the title of the official second language of Morocco, entirely new pockets of economic and social opportunities will manifest themselves to the residents of Morocco.

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

  • Pingback: Le Maroc devrait passer à l’anglais « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée()

  • sandra Rose

    English will never be Morocco’s second language. Morocco was ruled by the French. My husband is Moroccan and he speaks arabic,french and english. He learned english in school and perfected english in the U.S. Every Moroccan should speak french. They can study english in school as their third language. Most people that only speak english can not even speak it properly. Be proud of who you are and your ability to speak a third language. I wish that I can speak two languages. We can not be all things to all people. Work on your country and try to educate your people. If you are educated in your country then you can go abroad and make yourselves proud. If I spoke french I would work with the children and educate them. The children need to learn how to brush their teeth twice a day. The mint tea is decaying the Moroccan peoples mouth. Stay in your country and make it great by educating your own people.
    My husband went to technical school in Morocco 25 years ago andhe is able to earn a decent salary in the U.S. now. College is not the only solution. Technicians earn good money in the U.S.
    My husband makes more money than me and I am a college graduate in the U.S.

    • Oussama Azizi

      English as Morocco’s second language file is being discussed and waiting for approval

  • Suzanne Lehn

    Really? Why not look further into the future, when International English will be dethroned by International Chinese?

  • Great first post, Nabila!

    Though I think it’ll be hard to shake French, Morocco does need to think harder about the English it’s teaching its students. I taught youth there (at a private language school) who had studied English in school for three or four years but couldn’t form a proper sentence. Morocco is a country where the best and brightest leave–often for France or Quebec, but increasingly for the United States, thanks to the visa lottery–but are often (academically) unprepared for the countries they end up in. English is vital for many of these youth, even if only as a strong option.

  • Fawzi

    I’m Moroccan and I whole heartedly agree with this article. French should be treated as a nice language to learn but not a must. English is the global language of business and science and if Morocco wants to compete in the global economy, it needs its citizens to speak English.
    Countries that speak English as a first or a second language have a huge advantage attracting investment from American businesses. One can simply look at the Indian economy to see how much outsourcing from American companies has helped it.
    On another point, Moroccan education system has to make dramatic improvements. It lags behind many countries in several subjects.

  • ocean

    we Moroccans love freedom , so lets thing about possibilities :

    when you speak English well … you will have magnificent experience , you will meet

    fabulous persons , you could have an international job … it could be in Indian ,

    Australia , England , Mexico , Scotland.. Emirate …

  • Pingback: On Promoting English As a Second Language In Morocco « the Mirror | المرآة()

  • Thank you Nabila for your excellent thought provoking post.

    Whilst I’m pretty convinced English should be promoted, I don’t think French should be phased out completely. Moroccans should see their French heritage and knowledge as an asset rather than a liability. This inspired me to write a blog entry actually:

  • Pingback: On Promoting English As a Second Language In Morocco « the Mirror()

  • Slim haidou

    And the majority language in Morocco (berber) goes unmentioned …so long for Globalvoices !

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