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.


  • @Slim haidou

    The post was about promoting English as a second; a language for international relations, higher education and business, a gateway to the world and a much better alternative to French. Now, the issue of whether or not to promote Berber (as well as vernacular Arabic for that matter) is a different question, and one that deserves a whole new post altogether.

  • sarah chentov

    Witout a total abandonment of the French language in favour of the International language/English, Morocco is going no where.
    There are develpping countries who did emprove their economy and society in a spectacular way by adopting the English language. The exemple of Thailande id one of them, see how it was only 20 years ago!
    The French language, culture, and both historical and contemporary facts (toward the Moroccan people), make the use of French as second language, one of the main obstacles to any progres in the quasi sleeping state of Morrocco.
    A radical change in all fields included the educational one, is not easy and will take few years, but totally passible in Morocco now, more than ever.
    In fact it will probably more difficult and even impossible later in the years to come if the permanent rise of islamists number accelerate.
    In fact they will oppose the change, and will require absolut arabisation, as Arabic is the language of Islam.

    The Arabic language or culture is not known for creating or helping in any way contemporary technological or scientific etc. progres.
    Idont think fundamental Islam opposition in morocco would be humble enough to accept this truth.

    I believe that the Arabisation by the king Hassan 2 favoured the start of islamism in Morocco, though it was not the reason of it.

    I aslo would advise the use of the Berber language
    (Morocco’s language before been defeated by the muslim Arab armies) in all Berber regions, followed by the English language.

  • Hannibal of Carthage

    If North African countries such as Morocco were english speaking countries,
    then instead of having just 100 thousand of french ederly tourists for example,
    there will be instead 1 million young tourists from scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark and Norway), from England, Emirates, Australia, Canada, much much more people around the globe actually.
    English language is the way to go for new technologies, business exchange but also tourism.

  • Chris

    Let Moroccans marinate in the French language and stay a sleepy backwater nation that attracts elderly French tourists but no one else. Let Morocco be separated from world business and technology. Who cares.

  • farid

    in part of dommenation .its reducaless to consider french as a friend .basicly we are a developping country . and we are too late .

  • Jenna Major

    In the future English will claim even more attention in our national level of
    education. However, the issue of English Language Teaching (ELT) is
    high on the government’s agenda. San Antonio Bankruptcy Lawyers

  • sam Mark

    English as a universal language must be tought and French must be ommited so as most of Moroccan students don’t find any gap between what they learned and the job’s market need

  • Karen Patrick

    In the early 90-s as Russia became increasingly open for the rest of the
    world, methods of teaching English also had to be changed. Russians got
    more and more interested in learning the language that could connect
    them with the world “outside”. People could now travel abroad, search
    for information on internet and seek jobs in other countries. The
    approach to teaching languages had to be transformed into a more
    communicative direction. voluntary bankruptcy

  • Jenna Major

    Russian standard of teaching English is BRITISH ENGLISH. There are more opportunities in Moscow.


  • […] Translation […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site