Issue - October 2007

October 2007

In this issue, Linda Quibaa invites you to read about French language in Cochabamba. If you have plans to travel, do not miss the article by Lucy Witter on the Salar de Uyuni. And Walter Sanchez, from the Archaeological Museum talks about the Inca more...

October 2007


The French language does not appear to be sufficiently present in Cochabamba. The Alliance Française, University of San Simón and Projects Abroad try to correct this oversight.

by: Linda Qibaa
Projects Abroad Volunteer
lyon - France

In South America, most people think learning French is not very useful. A Spanish teacher in Projects Abroad confessed to me that at university, teachers tell their students that French is the official language in only two countries! This is a vital mistake considering that French is actually the official language in thirty three countries. For people who want to get a job abroad, even in USA, French knowledge is truly appreciated. French, along with English, is the official working language of the ONU, UNESCO, and the International Olympic Committee, to cite a few. It is also the dominant working language of many European organizations like the European Court of Justice or the Press Room at the European commission in Brussels.

One example of the importance of French can be seen in a recent listing of international jobs distributed by the US state department: 125 professions required or preferred French, as opposed to 31 for Spanish, 10 for Portuguese, and 2 for German. Besides, the French economy is one of the strongest in the world and is increasingly a leader in technological innovation.

The linguistic department of San Simon University, the public university of Cochabamba, does in fact offer courses in both English and French. The department proposes that learning French and English are mandatory. Perhaps this is because this university has an association with a French one, Nantes’s University. About 4 students per year have the opportunity to be sent there, finish their studies, and graduate with a title that is both acceptable in Bolivia and France. Even if most of students become English, French, or Spanish teachers, many others choose to try their chances abroad. Moreover, France offers a lot of places for Spanish assistants in high school, and most of the students who go there, stay there. To reemphasize the importance of French in the world the department of linguistics organizes social events and invites many people that have job opportunities to work in French speaking countries.

Yet to reinforce learning the language, some organizations such as Project Abroad and the Alliance Française propose that along with the work of the university, people need to have more access to the most widely spoken foreign language in the world after English. It is important for them to become familiar with a culture that significantly influences their own. The Alliance Française is an institution founded in 1883, and it is present in 130 countries around the world. It has been active in Cochabamba since 1949, and it is composed of 10 employed staff members, and roughly about 500 students per year. 90% of The Alliance Française is self-financed, while the embassy funds some cultural events, such as “défini et ponctuel” and magazines’ subscriptions that are very expensive for the organization. The main aim of this institution is to promote and develop the French language and French culture in foreign places. With 50 years of experience in Cochabamba, the institution has become an important cultural c nter that combines both teaching and cultural activities.

These include theater, dance, literature, and a multimedia library. The institution also utilizes numerous programs to meet the needs of pupils from every level. Due to its association with French universities, it also offers a study abroad program in France for the students who would like to go. It also offers the opportunity for people to study and work in Europe and Canada, essentially for scientific, technological, administration and financial fields. The Alliance Française primarily attempts to attract students from elementary school, high school, and college.

Pupils that only learn English at school are given a great opportunity to study an alternative language, while in many cases the parents of the students become very interested in learning a second language as well. However learning French in Bolivia can still be quite expensive. To overcome this obstacle, the institution offered 2 years of free French classes for some elementary and high school pupils. This was accomplished through an agreement between The Alliance Française, the French embassy, and the Bolivian education ministry. This accord is highly valuable as it is one of the few ways to open the Alliance Française to all social classes.

Unfortunately though, this agreement expired in December 2006, and the groups involved are currently negotiating the re-establishment of the program. Meanwhile, the cultural aspect of the institution is still very much open to everyone as all cultural events are free.

Another organization that offers similar opportunities is Projects Abroad, which through the help of volunteers, brings many Bolivians the opportunity to learn French. Most of the Projects Abroad students come from the University of San Simon where they are studying linguistics. Yet many Bolivians join the program to improve their French in order to acquire either job promotions or the opportunity to find better jobs abroad. Within the classes, the volunteers are very friendly and encouraging. They promote dialogue with the students, and allow students to propose topics of their choice. Overall, French is an ambitious language generally attracting ambitious people. Not to mention, it is a good complement to English. We can not deny the fact that English is the international mode of communication, but nor should we ignore the fact that French is a good way to make a difference and gain valuable opportunities.

Say hello to the french language
In South America, most people think learning French is not very useful. A Spanish teacher in Projects Abroad confessed to me that at university, teachers tell their students that French is the official language in only two countries!....
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