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French for International Relations and Diplomacy

- Wits University

The Department of French and Francophone Studies at Wits recently co-hosted a successful Winter School in French for International Relations and Diplomacy.

Francophone recruitment in South Africa is on the rise, making proficiency in French a valuable skill. French-speaking countries in Africa are important economic partners and offer good growth opportunities for South African entrepreneurs. According to the French Embassy in South Africa, 360 French companies operate in South Africa employing almost 37 000 people directly in many professional fields.

The French Embassy in South Africa, in partnership with the Department of French and Francophone Studies in the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits University, hosted a Winter School with an intensive professional language course in French for International Relations and Diplomacy last week on 26 – 30 June 2017. With this cooperation being the first of its kind, the Winter School aimed to respond to the growing demand in specialised French language proficiency in this field.

Frank Marchetti, Head of Cooperation at the Embassy of France says that as French is an official language for many African countries, French language skills are pivotal at fostering good international relations: “In international relations and diplomacy, French is an important language. It is the official language of 32 states and governments, including many African states. It is the working language of many multilateral organisations including the United Nations and the European Union. Closer to home, the African Union and the South African Development Community, among others, have adopted French as both official language and working language.”

The Winter School attracted more than 40 students from various South African institutions, officers and diplomats from the Department of International Relation and Cooperation (DIRCO). The intensive language course was facilitated by language trainers coming from French universities.

Tarryn Warries one of the participants from DIRCO who works in the multilactural desk says that the course was relevant to her scope of work as most organisations use French as their working language, and Winter School would be beneficial for her job.

Another participant, also from DIRCO, Rossana Geldenhuys extended the essence of French in welcoming delegates from French speaking countries, saying that they feel more welcomed when you speak their home language.

Quoting Nelson Mandela, Geldenhuys added that, “if you speak to a man in a language that he understands, it goes to his head, but if you speak to him in hi mother tongue, it goes to his heart.”

“As diplomats we are to speak to the hearts of other people, whether we are negotiating, whether we are having bilateral agreements, agreements of cooperations, memorandums of understandings, it helps a lot,” she said.

The Winter School harnessed the writing and oral French skills of the participants through debating and writing exercises.  

Dr Fiona Horne, a Lecturer in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at Wits says the course will increase the skills set of students, thereby increasing their employability: “Since it is a certified, internationally recognised course, it will increase our students' chances in the job market and equip them with skills that they will hopefully use in their professional careers.”

The Winter School was an immense success, not only developing new language skills but also creating networks between participants across institutions,  says Horne.