Constantine, Algeria

Do People Speak French in Algeria?

Language is one of the most crucial diplomatic factors. Few languages, however, have the diplomatic and cultural clout that French has traditionally possessed. While some African nations have a native language considered their national language, most still speak a foreign language. This conflict originated in colonialism when the west invaded most African nations and forced its languages upon the locals, which later became the official language. 

However, as time passes, some foreign languages are gaining ground in some colonies while others are losing their place for local languages. By implication, even though the French colonized Algeria, many people still wonder whether they speak french in Algeria. If you’re among these persons, this article is exclusively a treat for you. 

The short answer is Yes! They do speak french in Algeria. Algeria is the world’s second-largest French-speaking country in terms of a speaker population. Notwithstanding, Algeria is not a member of La Francophonie. Hence French is not its official language.

This write-up comprises everything you should know regarding the subject. Keep reading to learn more!

Do they speak French in Algeria?

Limiting the subject to speaking, yes – most people in Algeria speak French, particularly the staunch elites who defend French dominance and individuals who may have spent time in France. 

What are the main languages spoken in Algeria?

Algeria is one of the countries with a complexity of languages. Algeria has various languages, including Derja (Algerian Arabic), a unique type of Arabic that does not contain French words; Tamazight (Berber), and French. Others may exist, but we’ll focus on these main languages.

Among these languages, Derja is Algeria’s official language. Algerians do not consider themselves to be part of Francophone Africa. However, French has significantly impacted all the languages spoken in this Northern African country. Regardless of whether the language employed is Derja or Berber, Algerians will not converse without picking out a few french words mixed in.

What is the French level in Algeria?

Even though French is an official language in many French colonies, such as Cameroon, Gabon, and Senegal, this is not the case with Algeria. French is a spoken language but has never been recognized as an official language in Algeria. 

Generally, around two-thirds of Algerians speak French as a second language, and half have a “very extensive” command of the language. As stated earlier, you may only hear a few French words mixed with either Derja or Berber (the two official languages) during communication, but the case is different in writing. The media and industry both frequently utilize French. In diglossic conjunction with Arabic, French is widely used and spoken in daily life in Algeria’s largest cities.

Do they teach French in Schools?

No! Berber has been acknowledged as one of Algeria’s national languages since 2002, which is fitting given that 99% of Algeria’s population speaks either Arabic or Berber. 

Nevertheless, although used in government, higher education, and taught in schools since French colonial times, the French language has no official status in Algeria. 

Typically, an estimated 20% of Algerians can read and write French, with even more people being able to comprehend the language. 

Do tourists need to speak French if visiting Algeria?

Numerous tourists frequently visit Algeria because of its extensive history and seven World Heritage Sites. Whatever the case, you should be aware of certain crucial things if you consider visiting Algeria. With most of the population being Muslims, the nation may have practices different from yours, so communication will be paramount.

Again, communication can be challenging due to the various Arabic dialects used nationwide. But practically everyone speaks French. Therefore, if you speak French and can take care of yourself in a city like Algiers or Constantine, then Algeria is the perfect destination for your next summer vacation!

How has the level of French changed over the years?

Algeria’s French language status is worsening as the country’s ministry of culture proclaimed on April 2, 2022, prohibiting the use of French in official correspondence, dealings and events, seminars, and conferences, while encouraging the use of Arabic. 

French is rapidly becoming a lingua franca in Algeria for communication purposes. Initially, the language was allowed to be used in some official documents (except for the ministry of defense). Yet, the language is not an official language per the constitution.

Recently, two ministries, Vocational Training and Youth and Sports, also banned the use of French in any official document of the ministry, conference, seminars, agreements, and others. In the correspondence published on the official Facebook page of the ministry of vocational training, it reads:

“Per the provisions of the Constitution and the Law on the Universal Use of Arabic, we are required to abide by the obligation to use Arabic in all communication, administrative, financial, and technical communication, and conduct.”

Note!

The ban on French in some ministries in Algeria is a measure to promote Arabic, its official language. Also, the ban on the use of French in its ministry of defense is due to security reasons. Generally and technically, french have no place in Algeria as the Algerian constitution makes no provision for the french.

Can you live in Algeria if you speak just french?

Yes! But you may need help communicating. This is because, while most people in Algeria speak french, others speak a mix of French, Arabic, and Berber with little variation.  

Generally, it is often rare to find two or more Algerians speaking in French to each other. You may only identify a few French words in their discussion but no purely french sentences. 

Nonetheless, Algerians who have lived in France for a long find it more comfortable communicating in French, and some who are staunch francophone elitists turn to look down on Algerian Arabic speakers and prefer french. It is worth noting that this group represents less than 10% of the population. 

Thinking of traveling to Algeria?

Are you considering visiting Algeria? Then the following Emergency Numbers in Algeria might be necessary. 

  • Fire: 14 
  • Police: 17
  • Tourist police: 1548 
  • Gendarme (inter-city/rural police): 1055
  • Medical assistance: 213 (0) 21-235-050

Conclusion

It’s important to know whether people in Algeria can speak French. Because France was Algeria’s colonial overlord, one could assume it is obvious. However, this issue should be considered in light of current political events. If you travel to Algeria for business, school, or official purposes, you must think carefully about your options because you may have a challenging time.

Nevertheless, if you travel to this northern African country for pleasure or tourism, your chances of success will be higher. However, there will still be some difficulties because most of the people you meet will speak Derja or Berber.

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