French language gets boost in Korea

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 20, 2015 - 20:13
  • Updated : Dec 20, 2015 - 20:13

The International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), an agency dedicated to popularizing French language and culture worldwide, launched a support group in Seoul last week to widen collaboration with Korea.

The Council of Promotion of Francophonie in Korea is comprised of diplomats with networks in Tokyo, Hanoi, Bangkok and Jakarta. The agency will support cultural events, academic conferences and business partnerships, meeting once or twice a year.

“We are here to celebrate Francophonie’s essential values ― respect for different cultures, civilizations and languages,” French Ambassador Fabien Penone said in a speech at an inaugural ceremony at the French Embassy in Seoul on Dec. 14.

“As the world’s fifth-most spoken language and an official language of the United Nations, the real strength of French lies in supporting linguistic and cultural pluralism.”

From left: Yoo Dae-jong, director general for international organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Seoul National University president Sung Nak-in; French Ambassador Fabien Penone; Corea Image Communications Institute president Choi Jung-wha; and Eric Normand Thibeault, the International Organization of the Francophonie for Asia and Pacific regional representative. (French Embassy)

The global organization is comprised of 57 member states and 20 observers, with nearly 280 million speakers around the globe. Korea, which has 40,000 French learners and 50 French language university departments across the country, is a nonmember.

Launched in 1970 as the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation, the institution has striven to promote solidarity, democracy and technology among the French-speaking nations during the Cold War and postwar decolonization.

Having received its current name in 2005, the organization has affiliations with 800 universities, 800 educators, translators and citizens, 700 municipalities and numerous media outlets around the world.

Noting that there would be 750 million French speakers in the world by 2050, the ambassador expressed hope that the council’s opening would encourage greater cooperation among students, entrepreneurs and researchers, particularly in the arts, tourism, technology, health, education and innovation.

Eric Normand Thibeault, the regional representative of OIF based in Hanoi covering the Asia-Pacific, explained that his organization backed various international sports events, where French is commonly used.

Ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the OIF has provided French language services for the website, social network platforms and mobile applications, in addition to translation services and language classes for staff.

The OIF will support diverse initiatives in Asia, where the next three Olympic Games ― 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing ― will be held, according to Thibeault.

French-speaking ambassadors. (French embassy)

Seoul National University president Sung Nak-in underscored the importance of reviving French education in an era of “explosive Anglicization.” SNU has increased exchanges with over seven French universities, he said, adding that a branch office was established at the University of Paris VII, which has a Korean studies department and summer internship programs with SNU.

“Korea has the highest proportion of French language learners in Asia with 40,000 students,” Corea Image Communications Institute president and Hanguk University of Foreign Studies professor Choi Jung-wha said.

Choi, who is on the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games Advisory Committee, stressed that there would be great demand for French translation and interpretation services during the event.

“Audrey Delacroix, the Olympic Games commissioner for French language, affirmed her active support for PyeongChang,” Choi pointed out. “PyeongChang will be a golden opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of our lingua franca. We aspire to promote cultural diversity, cherish universal friendship and elevate the visibility of French language.”

By Joel Lee (