Morocco joins l’Anglophonie. Possibly

Much excitement in the Moroccan press this week about Education First’s 2013 English Proficiency Index (EPI) which sees Morocco apparently blossoming as an anglophone country. Akhbar al-Yawm published a front-page article entitled: “Bad news for the francophone in Morocco … the English language is moving ahead”. The Arabic-speaking daily said “a report on English Proficiency by Education First has shown that Morocco is not only a francophone country, but an Anglophone one too”.

But there’s something a bit fishy here. In 2012 Morocco was 35th of the 54 countries ranked, behind only Iran in the MENA region: in 2013 it has dropped to 45th out of 60, behind the UAE (36th), Iran (42nd) and Egypt (43rd). But it evidently displays greater English-speaking skills than Kuwait (47th), Jordan (50th), Algeria (58th) and Iraq (60th). So if we accept the evidence here, Morocco’s English is among the best in the region, well ahead of countries with second-language English teaching like Jordan and Kuwait; but at the same time slipping fast in the global index. This is not the Morocco I recognize, where English is increasingly spoken, and on an inexorable upward curve – but still a minority sport. In a generation I believe that the language-landscape will have changed dramatically, and English will be Morocco’s second language. But we’re not quite there yet, and I suspect the methodologies used by EF need careful examination.

But – a footnote – the real tragedy of this chart is Iraq in 60th and last place. When I went to live in Iraq in 1988 it was one of the most intensely anglophone and culturally anglophile countries I had ever visited, where doctors spoke perfect English and studied for their MRCP, where students of English discussed Jane Austen, Dickens and Joyce in cultivated tones and where you could ask directions in English  on a tel in the middle of the desert and get an answer. No more: 25 years of war, destruction and repression have killed that easy anglophony, and my colleagues in Iraq are working once again to re-establish at least a part of it. To see Iraq ranked 15 places below Morocco is amazing, and (however flimsy the statistical base may be) illustrates the region’s changing cultural geography.

So: Go Morocco! Keep on studying English and don’t rest on these slightly illusory laurels. You’ll get there anyway.

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