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French is Still a Fascinating Language for Indonesians

The French language remains an influential language in the diplomatic world, aside for being dubbed as a romance language. Spoken in at least 29 countries, this language can be rather useful for today’s nomads.

AF class

Some of you might wonder what Alliance Française is and what it stands for. Surprisingly enough, it’s not a sort of French club, or even anything close to that. Neither is it a French insurance company nor the name of an exotic French military contingent. It’s not even aimed at the French themselves, but at the rest of the world who do not speak French… yet.

Yes, Alliance Française is a school for those wanting to learn the French language. After all, it’s not every country that wants to promote its language abroad as France does. This is nothing surprising for those who know about the French and their legendary self-esteem; they have always considered their culture universal.

Either way, this is nothing new. Alliance Française first started in 1883 with that very purpose. One and a half centuries later, the goal set by prestigious French personalities like Jules Verne, Louis Pasteur, and Armand Colin is still the number one mission of the 1,016 Alliances Françaises that have been dispatched to over 137 countries on the planet. Nearly half a million students learn French through this old worldwide institution every year.

With little funding from the French government, Alliance Française has to also be a profitable business, and each of them is an independently run franchise. This is in contrast to the 150 French Cultural Institutes led directly by the French state, also to promote French language and culture on foreign soil.

True, it’s not only the French who enjoy promoting their language abroad. The British, Germans, Italians, and Spanish also have the same kind of institutions, although not to the same extent. In the original Parisian Alliance Française, which opened its doors in 1894, there are no less than 11,000 students from 160 different countries who still learn French every year.

In Asia, the first Alliance Française to open was the one in Manila in 1920. There is one Alliance Française in Bali too. Located in the upper-class district of Renon, every year the school attracts numerous Indonesians willing to “parler francais.” It’s not an expensive school, contrary to what the location suggests.

In the Bali school, almost all teachers are Indonesians, duly formed by the institution and having been sent to France for training. With the help of the local branch manager Amandine Salmon, let’s meet these Indonesians and find out what is the thing they have for France and its culture, to the point they have now dedicated their lives to teaching the language.

Monsieur Lesmana is the senior teacher at the Denpasar Alliance Française. He confesses that he was not attracted to French when he decided to study it, but rather had tried to avoid studying psychology, which his uncle had suggested back then. “For me, France was only about perfumes,” he recalled. After long studies in Paris and Montpellier, he got his DEA in sociolinguistics and came back to Yogyakarta where he taught French for years.

It’s a completely different story with Malika, a French and Indonesian teacher at Alliance Française. Yes, French residents can also learn Bahasa Indonesia at the branch through special lessons tailored for them. “My parents loved French literature and philosophy. That’s how I got attracted to French culture. Also, as a child, I had the chance to live in the mountainous region of Haute-Savoie for six months. I learned how to ski too,” she revealed while sporting a big smile.

For Rosandra, being able to speak French was a childhood dream. Originating from Malang, she first learned French at Alliance Française and then was sent to Nantes by the institution for training. She remembers her stay in Paris as being quite unpleasant. Although she enjoyed visiting the city and its wonders, she was very disappointed by the unfriendliness of Parisians.

With Sada, it was a different story. He already had a degree in English literature but felt that French would better suit his taste. “I love the sound of French – it’s lovely. I like old French singers like Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, and Charles Trenet. I am very fond of French cinema, fashion, and cuisine too,” he enthuses.

Ayu teaches but she is also in charge of communication in the Denpasar branch. For her, the main magnet of France is the culture, “Literature, philosophy, and arts are what got me in the first place”. Her favourite French film is “Zazie dans le metro,” an old classic comedy from 1960. But her favourite singer is actually the Belgian singer and rapper, Stromae.

When asked about her interest in France and its culture, Dilla admitted it all happened by accident. In her native town of Surabaya, the Institut France-Indonesie wasn’t too far from her home – and that’s it! Because her French teacher was good and passionate, it gave her the necessary motivation to go further in her French studies.

Manager Amandine Salmon describes the usual profiles of students attending the classes in Bali as, “mostly related to tourism. Many of them work already in this field; tour guides and hotel employees. They master English and think knowing French would give them a better specialisation, more job opportunities, and better pay too. I would say that only 5 per cent of our students are genuinely attracted to the country and its culture.”

Also of note is the increase in mixed marriages happening in Bali. Spouses and children sooner or later feel the need to be able to speak French in the family. Or when the trip to visit the in-laws in France is approaching fast, they can give a good impression during family meetings.

According to Amandine Salmon, the image of France among Indonesians is a positive one. Unfortunately, the teaching of French is regressing, like other European languages on the whole, as more regional languages like Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean are understandably rising in popularity with the growth of the Asian economy.

The French government is taking this latest trend into account and has decided to develop a lot of new scholarships in tourism, cuisine, hospitality, architecture, and fashion to boost the attractiveness of French schools for young Indonesians. These subjects are not necessarily in French; many French schools now offer courses in English. The fact is that scholarships to study French literature in France have dropped drastically. Last year, only 500 Indonesian students went to France to study, a figure that can undoubtedly be bettered in the near future.

Alliance Française: Jl. Raya Puputan I No.13A, Panjer, South Denpasar, Bali.

Tel: (0361) 234143

See: Preserving the Balinese Language for Generations to Come

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