Policy Paper : The Integration of Migrants in France through Language Learning

Migration issues are at the heart of debates in France, particularly highlighted during the 2022 presidential elections. An IFOP survey shows that only 21% of respondents believe that “most refugees who come to France will succeed in integrating into society,”1 while 46% respond otherwise. However, a large majority considers language learning essential for complete integration.

Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in France are protected by national, European, and international texts. They are also defined by international bodies, such as the United Nations, which defines a migrant as anyone who has resided in a foreign country for more than a year, regardless of the reasons or means of migration. The 1951 Geneva Convention specifies the definition of “refugee”2 and associated rights. At the national level, in France, OFPRA is responsible for recognizing refugee status and issuing residence permits.

Having a good command of the language of the host country is crucial for the social and professional integration of migrants. In France, the French language is a prerequisite for basic communication, access to medical services, employment, housing, and nationality. For example, level A1.1 of French is required for residency, and level B1 is required for obtaining nationality. Language also plays a key role in identity formation, while also bringing together those who speak it and excluding those who do not.

In France, various initiatives exist to teach French to migrants. For example, there are courses for asylum seekers and refugees, provided in reception centers (CADA) and by various associations. There is also the Republican Integration Contract (CIR) signed by all first-time foreign arrivals, it is a commitment for them to undergo one-year language training. Online applications such as “Living in France” and “Happy FLE” offer free courses, but they are criticized for lacking the human interaction necessary for efficient learning.

Online programs are criticized for their lack of personalized support. Indeed, migrant testimonies indicate that self-learning is often insufficient. Moreover, courses beyond level B1 are rare and expensive, posing barriers to the professional integration of qualified migrants.

The European Social Charter imposes obligations on European Union member states regarding the education and integration of migrants. Article 19 requires facilitating the learning of the national language for migrant workers and their families. However, the current measures implemented by France are deemed insufficient, thus violating this Article.

Faced with the inadequacy and mismatch of online programs offered by the state, civil society has mobilized to offer better-tailored training to the needs of migrant individuals. In France, there are approximately 1500 associations dedicated to such initiatives. Among these, the “Duos de demain” program, led by France Terre d’Asile and CFDT, stands out for its linguistic mentoring approach, where voluntary French citizens teach French to migrants. This facilitates language learning with practical implications, social bonding, and prejudice reduction.

Many associations also offer in-person French classes, such as Alsace Syrie, the Salvation Army Foundation, CASAS, and ABAJAD. However, these initiatives are not sufficient; classes often lack regularity, and volunteer teachers are not always trained. Additionally, differences in proficiency levels within learner groups and lack of pedagogical support exacerbate these issues, often forcing migrants to resort to translation softwares to communicate.

To address these concerns, following its analyses ASSEDEL proposes several recommendations. To begin with, accessible, regular, and free language training should be made available to all migrants as well as teacher training to guarantee the quality of instruction. Moreover, courses at different levels should be provided, since this is a predisposition for migrants to progress to level C2. Finally, facilitating the conditions of taking certification tests is essential for officially confirming one’s competences.

In summary, learning the French language is essential for the successful integration of migrants in France. Numerous language-learning initiatives exist, but they are inadequate and require improvements to meet international obligations and facilitate migrant integration.

To read the full document, please click here.

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