The rise of the French language
The preponderance of English in the world is no longer to prove. However, the Francophonie is doing well. According to the 2018 summary of the OIF (Organisation internationale de la Francophonie), learning the French language is “up nearly 10% since 2014”. This is true in China, where French lovers are more and more numerous. This follows the agreements reached between the two countries, but also the desire of some Chinese to learn a language different from English, for the sake of differentiation, by leisure and by attraction to French refinement.
Explosion of the number of learners
The learning of the French language in China is not a new phenomenon, it began in the nineteenth century. Before the Chinese revolution of 1927, French was even the third language taught after English and Russian (see colloquium French Studies in Globalization and the Future of the Humanities).
Today, the number of Chinese students wishing to improve or study in France continues to increase: the number of Chinese applicants for entrance examinations for French-language courses has grown by nearly 41% between 2017 and 2018. In addition, the 2018 report of the OIF shows that there are between 120,000 and 135,000 French students in China.
Three reasons to learn French
The Chinese embark on learning French for two major reasons. They want to differentiate themselves from other students during their studies, or from other candidates on the job market. Thus, they show their adaptability, their open-mindedness by apprehending a new culture and they demonstrate versatility. The mastery of English no longer allows them to distinguish themselves from others: speaking another language is therefore perceived as a plus. This offers more opportunities.
Coming to study in France attracts many students. France is attractive thanks to the quality of its education and affordable school fees, compared to the United Kingdom or the United States.
Then, mastering the French language makes it possible to apply in French-speaking countries, as is the case on the African continent, at a time when trade with China explodes. The demand for graduates in French is consistent. In addition, French companies abroad are also numerous, and there is a rather friendly atmosphere that also attracts young workers. Finally, French is, with English, the official language used by the United Nations Secretariat.
However, the last reason that push the Chinese to invest time and energy in the memorization of a new language is the interest for what represents the French language and culture: luxury, gastronomy, literature, Romanticism. Added to this is the use of many French terms in art, science or leisure.
Honoring the Francophonie
Indeed, the French government has made the development of the Francophonie one of its areas of work. In March 2018, President Macron presented his project during a speech at the Institut de France. He wants French to be “one of the world’s three greatest languages of the 21st century” and “an asset in globalization”. As such, several measures have been implemented since, under the auspices of the International Organization of La Francophonie: supported support for education systems in Africa, promotion of French-language bilingual education in the world, doubling the number of students in French institutions abroad by 2030 (700,000 students), promotion of French-language media, etc.
Multiple and varied teaching sites
Henceforth, French is taught in many schools in China. As such, the Chinese Ministry of Education has included French in school curricula with the promulgation in January 2018 of the first National Program for French Secondary Education.
Specifically, in China, several actions have already been put in place: French departments have been created in nearly 150 universities, which brings together about 120,000 students. An article by France Info cites as an example a primary school in Wenquan, northwest of Beijing. 80 children in the CP age class take French, sport, science or art classes in French. The teaching uses the Chinese method of repetition to instill the basics to the students. Moreover, it is possible to choose French for the Gaokao exam, the equivalent of the French baccalaureate (useful if the student wants to join a French university).
It is also possible to learn French at the secondary level and in the “pilot sections” (teaching of letters and mathematics in French), and finally within the French departments of Chinese universities. In addition, two “French-Chinese high schools” opened their doors in Beijing in 2016 and 2017. It still remains the Beijing International High School Charles de Gaulle (800 students), created in 1964 following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the France and China, and the French Lycée of Shanghai (1,420 students), opened in 1995.
The first French Alliance in China was opened in 1884 and closed in 1953 due to political turmoil. But it was reborn in 1989 with the creation of the Alliance française de Canton. Today, the country has 13 in mainland China, one in Hong Kong and another in Macao (a total of 15 centers). These institutions represent the second place of French teaching in China. Other activities are offered, around gastronomy, music, cinema, literature, etc.
Opportunities for brands to seize
Maintain the desirability of French products
Brands have every interest in maintaining the fantasy that comes with the use of French. A brand name with a sound or a French writing already plays a lot on the perception of Chinese consumers. This effect is similar in the rest of Asia. In addition, the French origin of a company is a factor of attractiveness to employees. Yet they must be able to exercise their language skills within it. Finally, the development of schools of good manners, often inspired by the French way of life, is also a sector on which opportunities are conceivable.
Offer French courses
Although Chinese schools open “French language” sections, most learners go through private structures, language schools, physical or digital (see our article on online schools), which offer courses outside school hours, evenings or weekends. The Hugo Coffart school, Hugo Français (Hugo 法语), is an example. After studying at a French business school, he settled in China at the end of his career, rounding up his month ends with teaching. After having made it his main activity, he set up a partnership with the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China (CCIFC). In addition to French classes, he is currently preparing for interviews with immigration services, or exercises for university interviews.