Jean Bourdin, Alliance Française Southern Africa

My French Link > Education


Tell us a bit about yourself

I am the Director of the Alliance Française of Johannesburg and General Delegate of the Fondation Alliance Française in Southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Before Johannesburg, I had worked at the Alliance Française in Madagascar, Brazil and in Pretoria. I have now spent three years in Johannesburg.

What is the Alliance Française ?


It was founded in 1883 in Paris and is now the oldest and largest cultural network in the world consisting of 813 independent associations in 133 countries. The Alliances Françaises are non-profit organisations aiming at promoting cultural and linguistic diversity with a strong accent on French language and French-speaking cultures.


How many Alliances Françaises are there in South Africa ?

In South Africa and Lesotho 15 different Alliances Françaises form part of the move- ment (Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Johannesburg, Mitchell’s Plain, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth, Potchefs- troom, Pretoria, Somerset West, Soweto, Stellenbosch, Vaal triangle); five of them benefit from a director appointed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the main metros. The Alliances are managed by local volunteer committees and the French directors are in charge of the day-to-day running of the association.

What do the Alliance Française offer ?


The Alliance Française’s core activity is to teach languages. We therefore offer French classes as well as isiZulu or isiXhosa and Portuguese (in partnership with the Camoes Institute). For us, a language is more than grammar rules and vocabulary, it’s also access to a culture. So we also have libraries and organise cultural events such as concerts, exhibitions, conferences…


What is the experience of learning French at the Alliance Française like ?

We strongly focus on communication as it is the main reason for learning any language. Students are encouraged to talk and interact through entertaining and dynamic activities supported by an excellent handbook, gradually building con dence and knowledge. We also organise a range of cultural activities to pursue the learning process outside of the classroom and enhance the learning experience, such as speed dating, wine tasting, culinary workshops… Learners also bene t greatly from our media centres with thousands of books and DVD’s, magazines, CD’s… Furthermore, they also have free access to our online library.

Does it require a strong commitment ?

Depending on where one studies, the schedules can vary from three to four or even more hours per week. But we also offer a blended course for our very busy students. It allows them to study 50% of the content online, wherever and whenever they want, and to attend class only once a week instead of twice.

Who are your students and why do they learn French ?

We welcome South Africans from many walks of life: entrepreneurs, travellers, students, chefs, doctors, journalists…
We also teach corporate groups who want to extend their activities into francophone Africa. There are many reasons to learn French, beyond its perceived romanticism. First of all it’s a truly international language, spoken on all continents, in all international organisations (UN, EU…). It’s also the most widely spoken language in Africa. It’s the language “par excellence” in gastronomy, fashion… and it’s a very valuable professional asset in this country as more than 30,000 South Africans are employed by French companies.

What difference do you make for your students ?

The Alliances Françaises adhere to a very demanding quality process which means that we follow guidelines for all our activities. We are the only accredited centres for a series of of cial French exams such as the DELF. Our teachers undergo regular training sessions every year. We make use of the latest technology available in the eld of tuition to improve the experience of our students. We organise many cultural events where students can meet and interact with artists, writers, thinkers… The Alliance Française is a bridge between our two countries and the closest gateway to French and French-speaking cultures.

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