With the support of Quebec and the assistance of its overseas departments (Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique) acting as "bridges to Francophony", France is working to promote an interest in all things French among the elites of Latin America, and also in national education systems. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs runs a number of programmes targeting young people and teachers to help achieve its objective.
The French teaching community is one of the MAE’s closest allies in promoting the French language. Supporting this community in local education systems and providing high quality initial training to create a nursery of young teaching talent is a key priority for the MAE. The Ministry also supports in-service training in the form of expert missions and grants for training courses in France.
France directs its efforts via French educational establishments (a pool of university courses, centres of reference for in-service teacher training) and the Alliance Française network. The Alliance Française schools are a vital component of language and cultural cooperation in the region, and a growing force (enrolment up by 38% in Bolivia). They are undergoing rapid and spectacular modernisation, Paraguay being one example, and are appealing to a growing audience, as are French schools.
Although the situation varies somewhat from country to country, French is well placed in the region. In Costa Rica, for example, French is compulsory in secondary education (35,000 pupils).
The numbers learning French in this region slumped between 1998 and 2000, but have risen steadily again since 2000, mainly thanks to policies aimed at educating elites, on which France’s advice is frequently sought. The recovery is nonetheless hampered by the existence of regional integration bodies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), involving reciprocal language agreements that have done much to diminish the importance of French.
The promotion of French in this part of the world has to contend with a multilingual background made up of English and Spanish (the languages most widely spoken in the region), in addition to Creole and French, joint official languages in Haiti and in the French West Indies.
A "niche" policy is seen as offering the best development strategy for educational and linguistic cooperation in the region: a technical approach to the language (French for technical and specialty subjects) and a more elitist approach in countries where French is perceived as an alternative to English as the dominant international lingua franca.
In parallel, proactive policies must be introduced to halt the decline of French in local education systems and to counter the rise of other Romance languages (Spanish in Brazil and Portuguese elsewhere). Establishing cooperation and reciprocal language protocols (along the lines of the Franco-Brazilian cooperation protocol on reciprocal language promotion in education, signed in 2006) is essential.