I am a francophile. There, I admitted it. I spent ten years studying French in school, by choice. I could have taken Spanish in Junior High; I could have taken Spanish, German, or Latin in High School, and almost any language in college. But I chose French. To this day, I love the sound of French. I love French literature. In fact, I know I am hopeless because I even like a lot of French popular music (Charles Trenet, Jacques Brel (yes, I know he's Belgian), Annie Villeneuve, Isabelle Boulay (both Quebecoise)). France is one of the garden spots of the world, and French food . . . well, it is French food. And it was arguably my love of French that led me to a French-speaking country — Morocco — as a Peace Corps Volunteer, one of the more fortunate events in my life.
None of which is to say that I do not love Morocco on its own terms, or that I do not think English has a major role to play in Morocco's future. After all, the justification for my being in Morocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer was to assist with the country's already quite competent program of English language instruction. Still, I have a little hesitancy about the push to supplant French in Morocco, as described in a recent article by well-known writer and blogger Hisham G.. Quite apart from my sentimental francophilia, I think that revolutionizing a culture is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Morocco does have a rich francophone tradition, and I would argue for supplementing it with English rather than seeking to banish French.
I also suspect that English is not the panacea that some of its proponents imagine. As the article hints, English may well be relegated tomorrow to the place of French today if the Chinese ascendancy continues. (My five-year-old is learning Mandarin in school.) Quite apart from the fact that English is not really widely spoken in Morocco, it seems to me there are other glaring deficiencies in the Moroccan educational system — particularly in the scientific and technical sector — that need to be addressed if the country is going to be an effective global competitor. Allowing for differences in scale, Morocco might be the "next India," but it is not going to happen by itself.
In addition, I think the arguments quoted in the Morocco Board article from the Pittsburgh Gazette are slightly misleading. According to year 2000 census data quoted by Wikipedia, the top second languages spoken in the United States are Spanish, American Sign Language, Chinese, French, and German. (Arabic is number 13 on the list, and Hindi is number 18.) Most Americans, of course, speak only English; to my mind a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Moroccans, who often speak anywhere from two to five languages. According to one study, seventy percent of college students taking a foreign language in America were taking either Spanish or, to a lesser degree, French. So while the Pittsburgh Gazette may be correct that little studied languages in America are gaining adherents at a rapid rate, it is clear that the primary emphasis on language learning in the United States is still on Spanish and, yes, French, at least to the extent that Americans bother to learn any other language at all. To the extent that Americans are likely to be able to communicate directly with Moroccans who do not speak English, they are likely to be speaking French or possibly Spanish. (The number of Americans who learn Arabic is, sadly, minuscule.) Maybe French should not be counted out completely just yet. After all, it is still a first language to 70 million people and an official language for 220 million, according to the Cambridge Factfinder.
Because Americans are fortunate enough to have the currently dominant world language as their mother tongue, America may not be the best model for charting Morocco's linguistic course. It might actually make sense to take a closer look at what the European approach is. Of course, one may well find that they are all learning English too, but it might also be useful to examine what other factors play into their economic success or lack thereof.
Finally, it seems to me that the difficulty of trying to determine the value of French to Moroccan economic life is increased by the complex intertwining of colonial oppression and class snobbery with economic progress, technical assistance, and post-colonial economic progress. The French language, culture, and people just strike too many raw nerves too often in Morocco, a situation not ameliorated by current French attitudes toward immigrants or indeed the country's legendary arrogance. My thought however is that it is probably possible to cultivate English without uprooting French. Morocco is a country of rich cultural diversity, a diversity I would prefer to see augmented rather than diminished.