Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French (Ch.14)
During our travels we tried to get an idea of how much English was displacing French in France’s former colonies. This led us to understand a curious phenomenon. History has led many Americans, British, French, Spanish and Arab speakers to believe that languages are somehow a zero-sum game, that the gains of one language necessarily come at the expense of another. This point of view is widespread among journalists, business people and even diplomats. Yet from what we saw, nothing could be further from the truth. Most Algerians, Senegalese, Indians and Polynesians are at least bilingual (not surprisingly, since only ten countries in the world, and very small ones at that, are classified as strictly monolingual). The progress of French in Algeria and Senegal has made no impression on Arabic or Wolof. By the same token, the progress of French in some former British African colonies (French is now an official second language in Nigeria, for instance) has not affected the status of English there. And of course, in countries where French second-language teaching is the most extensive- Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia-few, if any, have lost their English.
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, English is not really threatening the status of French in France’s former colonies. In most cases the threat to French is coming from declining education systems. This is true in almost all developing countries, but especially in Africa (more on this in chapters 16 and 19)—and for that matter it represents a threat to English as well as French. As a result of failed investment, austerity measures and plain mismanagement, investment in education in Africa has been declining since independence. So, not surprisingly, few sub-Saharan countries can afford to teach new foreign languages, whether English or any other. In Atlanta, at the conference of the International Federation of Teachers of French, we met many African French teachers who deplored the fact that they didn’t have teaching materials adapted to African realities. “We still have teaching books with stories that talk about French castles and snow,” says Congolese professor Desire K.Wa Kabwe-Segatti, who teaches French at a university in South Africa. “Kids in the francophone Congo don’t know what snow is!” And the fact is, introducing English into the schools is a luxury few African countries can afford.