French language

Managing a Language Center in the French Cultural Network Abroad

The challenge is to convince our audiences that French is a language of the future, and that the Institut Français is a partner for the future.

Isaline Gailliegue is the Director of the Language Center at the Institut français de Djibouti, as part of a Volontariat International (VI) contract that began six months ago. Romuald Prouteau has been working at the Institut français of Morocco for a year and a half. Based in Rabat, he coordinates the Language Centers on a national scale. We spoke with them during the French Language Seminar organised by the Institut Français in Paris last March. Throughout the discussions, they shared their daily experiences, missions, and the challenges to be addressed within the French cultural network abroad. 


Updated on 17/06/2024

5 min

Isaline et Romuald : Diriger un Centre de langue au sein du réseau culturel français à l’étranger
© DR

What do your daily missions involve and what motivates you to take part in them? 

Isaline: My daily missions focus on reviving the Language Center, which is currently losing momentum. Our priority is to provide pedagogical support to the teachers at the Institut français of Djibouti, as well as to the French teachers in the country. There is a significant need for training, as French is the language of instruction, and the qualifications of the teachers are increasingly inadequate. 

What motivated me to participate in an International Volunteer Program was the discovery of new missions, a new country, and the challenges related to international educational cooperation. 

Romuald: The core of my mission is to coordinate the network of Language Centers, projects, and actions with the teams, with the aim of developing the activity of courses and certifications at the Institut français of Morocco. Our network has twelve branches. Some Language Centers are large operations, while others are smaller structures. Despite this heterogeneity, we seek to conduct actions in a collaborative manner to optimize their impact. The goal is to make our network a strong force. 

What motivates me daily is the human and professional adventure. It's a human adventure because it's with a team that we can carry out our projects, always with a strategic goal in mind. And it's a pleasure to work with the wonderful IFM teams! It's a professional adventure because, when you initiate a project, you want to move in a straight upward line from start to finish. But it rarely happens that way! Each project is an adventure. Each project is a piece of the puzzle that must make sense and be carefully crafted to fit into the overall strategy. This dynamic and continuous reflection is also very motivating. 

In Djibouti, the French language is the language of education, but it is not spoken daily in households.

What major challenge(s) are you currently facing in promoting and developing the French language in your country of operation?

Isaline: The main challenge is raising awareness about the training needs of teachers. Additionally, we need to make learners aware of the level expected during the DELF (Diplôme d'Études en Langue Française) and DALF (Diplôme Approfondi en Langue Française) certifications. The failure rate for the exams is quite high. 

Another major challenge is meeting the learning needs of the foreign population present, particularly the military, so they can communicate with the locals. There is a need to build loyalty among representatives to ensure that training programs are long-term within military bases. Given that this audience is present for short periods – three to six months – it is crucial to sustain the training cycles. 

Romuald: The first challenge is selecting which challenges to tackle. We need to prioritize our missions because, despite our motivation and enthusiasm, we can't work on everything. It's also important to unite everyone around common goals. Among the twelve Language Center managers, the desires and realities on the ground can sometimes be very different. Another major internal challenge is to create a network to maximize the impact of our actions. Everything works better when we are coordinated and move forward together. Externally, the challenge is to convince our audiences, as well as those who are not yet our audiences, that French is a language of the future, and that the Institut français is a partner for the future. 

The strategic challenge is to shift from a receptive approach – where the public came to us without us making significant efforts in terms of attractiveness – to a conquest approach. This is a fairly recent situation for IF Maroc. It changes the ways of working, the angles of approach, and this change must occur both in the organization of our services and in the individual professional practices across the entire IFM network. 

Since September 2023, we have launched a digital communication strategy regarding the activities of our language centers.

Could you share with us a project initiated or being developed to enhance the attractiveness of the language? 

Isaline: Ten days after my arrival, I, along with the Cultural Cooperation and Action Advisor (COCAC), initiated the "Sport and Language" project, in resonance with the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games (JOP 2024). Our aim was to collaborate more with local educational institutions to make children enjoy learning French. In Djibouti, French is the language of education, but it is not spoken daily in households. We wanted to show that it could go beyond the classroom and that you could also have fun in French.

We developed a sports commentator project, which was supported by the Fonds Langue Française 2024 – a call for projects led by the Institut Français Paris. We proposed workshops on writing sports press articles and creating around the values of Olympism.

We consider this project as a witness to something that could be bigger and, why not, sustained with the support of local authorities. It's an open door to strengthen our ties.

Romuald: Since September 2023, we have launched a digital communication strategy for the activities of our language centers, with operational implementation. For this, we hired an external provider, who we have gotten to know, and who is also getting to know us: our offerings, our profession, and the core of our missions. Our world is often somewhat unfamiliar to local communication agencies, which are used to providing services to companies in more traditional product sales domains. Our product is training, a specific, qualitative product that engages people in the long term. These can be real life projects when students undertake language training to pursue their studies in France or a Francophone country.

In practical terms, in terms of network performance, this strategy has allowed us to gain nearly ten thousand followers on our social media in four months, who have thus entered our sales funnel. Almost every one of our posts creates a link to our website, which has become commercial, something it wasn't before. We have redesigned our course and certification pages to simplify navigation and the purchasing process. Today, the structure of our pages is good, and we are satisfied. However, we still have a lot of work to do to improve online conversion: we are doing well with certifications, and much better with courses than before, but there is still room for improvement.

Everything we implement is done with a continuous improvement approach. And even though we would like to move faster – on this specific project or others – we have numerous subjects to address: some projects occasionally take precedence over others...

I was truly impressed by our visit to the permanent exhibition at the Cité Internationale de Villers-Cotterêts. I think there's a touch of genius in the minds of the curators who created this exhibition.

What did your participation in the French Language Seminar 2024 bring you? 

Isaline: As an International Volunteer, this was my first opportunity to participate in the French Language Seminar. What motivated me to apply was the prospect of gaining more tools to strengthen cooperation with MENFOP – the Ministry of Education of Djibouti. I also wanted to meet my colleagues and feel that I am not alone in addressing these challenges. 

I learned a lot during these three days in Paris and Villers-Cotterêts. I am leaving with the perspective of highlighting the online resources provided by the Institut Français to the teaching community. 

Romuald: This is the second or third time I have participated in this format of meetings. Each time, I find it a real moment of exchange, sharing experiences, and good practices with colleagues. The encounters are always very enriching. On a personal level, it’s also the pleasure of reuniting with colleagues who have sometimes become friends and whom I haven’t seen for a long time. 

Regarding this edition, I was truly impressed by our visit to the permanent exhibition at the Cité Internationale de Villers-Cotterêts. I think there’s a touch of genius in the minds of the curators who created this exhibition. I was quite amazed. It’s extremely stimulating. When we talk about reflecting on how this exhibition can be disseminated within the network, it makes you want to be part of the team that will brainstorm on this subject. 

L'institut français, LAB