Sometimes, when you consider the realities, the charm and beauty of a potential partner
cannot be reason enough to engage in a relationship. Thus, several hundred students
from the Institute of Technology set an early end to what was supposed to be a future
love story: They rejected French as the medium of instruction in their classes and
asked for English instead.
The news of the students' protest was even worth a mention in many foreign newspapers.
But not so for the French-language local paper Le Mekong which on seven lines reduced
the number of protestors to some dozens. According to Le Mekong, the students even
asked the francophone organiszation AUPELF to "implement faster the envisaged
support: materials, teachers..." etc.
Of course you can look at subjects from many points of view as in the way a friend
might tell you how well his soccer team just played without mentioning a word about
its actual defeat. It is only natural that people do not like to mention their team
came second. But, ultimately, they have to simply accept the facts and not act like
In the case of French as second or third language in Cambodia, I have my doubts that
the responsible authorities will accept the reality and adapt their policies.
Although I personally admire the French language and literature, I do not have much
sympathy for the way the French like to impose the beauty of their tongue on other
people. The proponents of francophonia should not forget the history of their language
It was not that many centuries ago that, by a Royal decree, the language spoken in
a limited area around "l'Ile de France" suddenly became the national language.
Students throughout France were suddenly taught French under duress and punished
for falling back on their mother tongue. This way, several dialects disappeared under
the denomination of "Occitan". And what seemed to work for the introduction
of French in their own country seemed appropriate to other parts of France's colonial
The supporters of French as first foreign language in this country may leave the
linguistic past out of the picture but they just cannot ignore the interest of hundreds
of Cambodians who flock daily to the numerous English schools, outnumbering by far
the few who volunteer for private French lessons.
They should not forget either that in this part of Asia, English is used as a means
of communication between nations. A French language island does not make much sense.
Lastly, the standard bearers of francophonia should acknowledge that the students
who took to the streets of Phnom Penh expressed their own will.
After a decade of enforced Russian teaching, the institute is not in the mood to
switch to another medium of instruction that turns out to be a disadvantage once
the students graduate and look for work.
Of course nobody expects the French to halt their efforts to preserve the status
of their language in this part of Indo-China. But the least one can expect is that
the response to the real needs of these countries should prevail over a strategy
to intergrate another nation in the community of francophone countries.
Otherwise, any support will only be seen as serving self-interest and not doing very
much for a young Khmer generation, eager to make the best of its situation and showing
a lot of self-confidence.
- Beat Gruninger