The Teaching of Arabic in France: A Critical Perspective on the Role of Ideology in Language Policy & Practice

The Teaching of Arabic in France: A Critical Perspective on the Role of Ideology in Language Policy and Practice
Christine Hélot, PhD 
Professor of English and Sociolinguistics in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Strasbourg (France)

About the Presentation
Six months after the terrorist attacks of Jan 11 2015 in Paris, this presentation focuses on language education policies (LEP) in France as a background to analysis of the marginalisation of the Arabic language.  With an estimated 3 million speakers of Arabic in France and another 1 or 2 million speakers of Berber, these two languages are the most widely spoken “languages of France” (Cerquiglini, 2003) after French, and most speakers are multilingual French nationals. Maghrebi Arabic was recognized as a “language of France” in 1999 but as Caubet (2013) notes, ten years later most speakers of the language still ignore this fact and some tend to under value the language because it is mostly transmitted in the family and not learnt at school. 

The written press (Perruca, 2009, Du 2014, Benevent 2015, Aubenas 2015) regularly addresses the topic of the teaching of Arabic to question the small number of schools offering the language in view of the large number of speakers and comparatively to other world languages such as Chinese for example. While institutional policies do allow for the teaching of Arabic, priority is given to the standard variety which is usually not transmitted in the homes but offered more and more often in cultural or religious centres precisely because it is not offered in schools. 

The presenter proposes a critical analysis of the different models of language education in place for languages other than French and show how macro policies do give a place to Arabic in the institutional discourse, including in bilingual education, but in such a way so as to reinforce the hierarchy between the standard variety and Maghrebi Arabic. While on the surface the policy looks inclusive, the provision at the local level for courses in Arabic has remained so limited, the language is given very little visibility in schools and the bilingualism of its speakers is deligitimized through the sole choice of the standard variety. This lack of institutional support for real practices of the language and the lack of valuation of the language by the school system has also had an impact on its transmission in the family context and on attitudes of learners, therefore on language acquisition (Barontini 2013).

Research on LEP has shown the extent to which policies are interwoven with historical, political and economic issues and how they participate directly or indirectly into discriminatory practices towards marginalized minority language speakers. It has also pointed to the danger of essentializing a language and its speakers as is the case with Arabic in France, which continues to be seen as the language of a specific community rather than a world language like English. The research on the interface between LP and political theory presented in the recent issue of the Language Policy journal (Ricento & al, 2014) provides an interesting avenue to probe into the complexity of French LEP towards minority languages and Arabic in particular.

Aubenas, F. (2015) L’arabe au ban de l’école, Le Monde 18/06/2015

Barontini, Alexandrine (2013): Locuteurs de l’arabe maghrébin-langue de France : Une analyse sociolinguistique des représentations, des pratiques langagières et du processus de transmission, Thèse en Langues, littératures, sociétés, sous la co-direction de D. Caubet et C. Miller. INALCO (Paris).

Benabent, J. (2015) L’arabe à rude école, Télérama 3408, 06/05/2015, 22-29.

Caubet, D. (2013) L’arabe maghrébin, in G. Kremnitz (ed) Histoire sociale des langues de France, Rennes: presses Universitaires de Rennes, 581-596

Cerquiglini, B. (2003) Les langues de France, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

Godard, B. (2015) La question musulmane en France, Paris: Fayard

Hjjat, A. & Marwan, M. (2013) Islamophobie. Comment les élites françaises fabriquent le “problème musulman”, Paris: La Découverte.

Langues et Cité n15 (2009): L’arabe en France. DGLFLF, Observatoire des pratiques linguistiques, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Paris.

Messaoudi, A. (2015 ) Les Arabisants et la France coloniale. 1780-1930, Lyon: ENS Lyon

Du.P. (2014) L’arabe, langue oubliée par l’éducation nationale, L’Humanité, 23 juin, 26-27

Hornberger, N. (2002) Multilingual Language Policy and the continua of biliteracy, Language Policy 1, 27-51

Perucca, B. (2009) La langue arabe chassée des classes, Le Monde, 8 septembre

Ricento, T., Peled, Y. & Ives, P. (2014) (eds) Language Policy and Political Theory. Thematic Issue. Language Policy, vol 13, no 4, Nov 2014

About the Presenter
Dr. Christine Hélot has been a professor of English and Sociolinguistics in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Strasbourg (France) since 1991. Previously she held a post of lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the National University of Ireland (Maynooth College) where she was the director of the Language Centre. As a sociolinguist, her research focuses on language in education policies in France and in Europe, bi-multilingual education, intercultural education, language awareness, early childhood education, and children’s literature and multiliteracy. In 1988 she obtained her PhD from Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland) for a thesis entitled Child Bilingualism: a linguistic and sociolinguistic study, and in 2005 she was awarded an Habilitation by the University of Strasbourg for her research on bilingualism in the home and school contexts. This research was published in French in 2007 by l’Harmattan (Paris) under the title Du Bilinguisme en famille au Plurilinguisme à l’école. Since 2009, Dr Christine Hélot has been a regular participant to the Master in Bilingual Education run by the University Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla, Spain). During 2011/2012, she was a guest professor at the Goethe University of Frankfurt Am Main (Germany) in the Institute for Romance Languages and Literatures. She has published widely in French and English.

Her most recent publications include:

Space is limited for this event. Please register no later than Monday, July 6, 2015 by emailing