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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia Chooses Franco-phone Path

Cambodia Chooses Franco-phone Path

Cambodia's provisional government is seeking full membership to the Association of

French Speaking Countries, which is preparing to hold its annual summit in Mauritius.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, co-chairmen of Cambodia's interim administration,

wrote a letter on July 28 to Head of State Prince Norodom Sihanouk, asking for his


"The provisional government sees the proposal for full membership to the Association

of French Speaking Countries as important and useful for our country at this moment,"

the letter said.

It also said that Prince Ranariddh would soon lead a delegation to attend the Francophone


Following independence in 1954, the French language continued to be used in Sihanouk's

government institutions, especially in the field of education, and as a means to

link Cambodia with the international community. But the practice of French was banned

during the Khmer Rouge years, and was suppressed in the wake of the Vietnamese invasion

in 1979.

Fighting against what they termed imperialistic cultural expansion, pro-Vietnamese

hard-liners installed Vietnamese and Russian languages into the teaching programs

at both school and university levels.

However, private English classes, which were at first branded pro-imperialist and

outlawed, soon won broad popularity among Cambodian youth, compared to the small

percentage who sought to study French.

Refusing to give his full name, Mr. Ang, a teacher at the Institute of Economics,

said the current wrangling over which language should be used in the classroom was

confusing students. He said struggles for the use of French or English were currently

underway in the Economics, Law and Agricultural schools.

"It is not easy to make our youth switch from the current trend of learning

English to learning French. France seems to be as proud as the Soviets and Vietnamese

were. It is as if it is trying to reclaim the influence they used to have before,"

he said.

He agreed that in accordance with tradition Cambodia should use French as a second

language for communicating with the rest of the world, but noted that because of

the geographical and economic orientation of Cambodia, English was more necessary

and obviously practical.

"The long-term existence of the French language depends on a factor which is

France's economic influence (in Cambodia)," said Khieu Kanharith, minister of


He noted that of the Cambodian youth presently studying foreign languages, 80 percent

know English better than French, and the same percentage exists among those ministers

and other officials of the former SOC (State of Cambodia) government who went through

foreign language training courses."Khmers are pragmatic. They learn English

so they can use it to find a job," he said.



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