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
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 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.