JEDDAH: The French language has been in Saudi Arabia for over 180 years and is spreading among young Saudi people. The Alliance Française of Saudi Arabia is playing an important role in introducing the language to the new Saudi generation.
According to the Jeddah-based consul general of France, Mostafa Mihraje, the French have been in Jeddah since the consulate opened its doors in the city's Al-Balad district for the first time in 1839.
“During this long period, we shared the joys and the sorrows of Jeddah and its people,” he told Arab News. “We were there during the two world wars, the horrible epidemics (in particular the cholera epidemic of 1893), but also during the great moments in the history of Saudi Arabia. This long presence allows me to say that we have an intimate relationship with Jeddah and the west of the Kingdom, and I am honored to be part of this continuous history.”
The consul general said that the Alliance Française of Saudi Arabia was part of a worldwide network and he gave an overview of the organization and its work.
“It has been present in Saudi Arabia since 2011 and its main objectives are teaching French as a foreign language, promoting the French language and the dissemination of French-speaking cultures, as well as being a cultural center encouraging cultural exchanges between Saudi Arabia and France.”
The Alliance Française had succeeded in spreading the French language and culture in the Kingdom and Saudi students were very interested in learning French, according to Mihraje.
“The Alliance Française responds to the growing needs of the Saudi population, particularly in the academic and professional fields. The courses are all validated by French diplomas and certifications, organized jointly with the French Ministry of National Education and the French embassy.”
He said that some 1,500 students took courses at the Alliance Française last year and that more than 1,000 candidates had obtained certification in French. He added that more than 70 percent of Alliance Française students were Saudi nationals and that, since it was established, the Alliance Française had welcomed and trained more than 15,000 Saudi students.
“In the framework of two major cooperation projects between Saudi Arabia and France, the Alliance Française has shown its capacity to respond in an adapted manner to the needs of young Saudis. In the medical sector, the Alliance Française prepares around 100 doctors every year to continue their medical specialty studies in France and, within the framework of the Franco-Saudi AlUla project, the Alliance Française trains around 100 young women and men from the AlUla region before they go on to continue their training in sectors related to tourism and hospitality in France.”
In March 2019, the Alliance Française signed an agreement with the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) to teach the French language in the holy city of Makkah. That move was of great significance to the Alliance Française.
Mihraje said that Makkah was a major city for pilgrimage and, in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan goal of reaching 30 million pilgrims by 2030, among these visitors were an important number from European and African French-speaking countries and many pilgrims who spoke neither Arabic nor English.
“It seemed to us that learning the French language by economic actors (hotels, transport, catering) in this context was a necessity. I was very pleased to find that the MCCI, and in particular its president, Hisham Kaaki, shared the same analysis. This is how we quickly signed a cooperation agreement between the Alliance Française and the MCCI.”
French language training provided by the Alliance Française on the MCCI’s premises has been growing in success. Mihraje said that this success was the result of the quality of the training provided by the Alliance Française, the comfort of the premises and the proximity of the training location and demand, both for personal and professional purposes.
“In one year, more than 130 students registered for these French courses. The people of Makkah show great interest and curiosity for learning French and I am delighted. One year after signing this agreement, the Alliance Française and the MCCI are confident in their ability to further develop French lessons for the benefit of the city’s inhabitants and economic sector.”
In the same spirit, he added, the Alliance Française signed a similar agreement with the Chamber of Commerce of Yanbu (YCCI), which presented strong potential through the Royal Commission of Yanbu and the perspectives of industrial development.
“I would like to thank my friend Murad Al-Arwi, president of the YCCI, who also perceived the added value of learning French for the young people of the region.”
French has been taught in Jeddah for years for different reasons, one of which is the presence of the French International School in Jeddah, which has been part of the Jeddah landscape since 1966 and where 1,200 students are enrolled.
The French-speaking schools of Jeddah, such as the Jeddah International School, Al-Nawras and the Arc de Triomphe School, teach French to more than 2,800 pupils.
“The Alliance Française responds to the growing needs of the Saudi population, particularly in the academic and professional fields.”
“French is also taught in higher education establishments such as King Abdulaziz University, Effat University and the University of Business Technology. We thus see that French is taught in Jeddah to more than 5,000 people, and this is a source of pride for us,” Mihraje said.
Last February, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and Campus France signed an agreement in Paris to foster mobility and knowledge-sharing between France and the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This agreement targets support to around 200 international students a year by offering them scholarships and a personalized follow-up.
Mihraje said that academic cooperation was a key element of France’s international action because it believed in the power of knowledge and human interaction as a way of fostering sustainable and peaceful international relationships and economic development.
“The agreement between IsDB and Campus France is part of this global policy. Therefore, France has set itself the goal of welcoming half a million foreign students by 2027 at the highest international standards. To serve this goal, our Prime Minister Edouard Philippe launched last year the ‘Choose France’ strategy. This new strategy is based on a simplification of visa policies, the reinforcement of programs in French as a foreign language and university programs taught in English, and the development of a global communication campaign.”