Dubai: The educational and cultural ties between the UAE and France have grown from strength to strength over the last several years. Citizens of the two countries have always loved to know more about each other’s culture and language. In all this, Alliance Francaise, the French language-learning institute, has played a key role in building stronger ties between the two nations with its focus on culture and education.
Melanie Martini-Mareel, director, Alliance Francaise Dubai, said: “France and the UAE have a relationship that is utterly special. It is neither based on history nor demography, but on something that cannot be measured and that is friendship. French expatriates here in the UAE and Emiratis share a mutual respect and curiosity for each other’s culture and have always appreciated each other,” Martini-Mareel explained.
“Personally, I feel great joy and pride that UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has picked France to be the destination of his first state visit after being elected as the UAE President. This is a truly historic moment,” she added.
‘Dedicated programme to teach Arabic’
In UAE, Alliance Francaise offers training on French educational and cultural aspects. In Abu Dhabi, Alliance Francaise has existed since 1974 and in Dubai since 1977. “We are the oldest standing institution in the UAE that has been part of building educational ties between the two countries. We have taught several thousands of Emiratis the French language and we also have a dedicated programme to teach Arabic to French expats in the UAE,” Martini-Mareel said. She added that nearly 12 to 15 per cent of the students learning French at Alliance Francaise Dubai are Emiratis.
There are seven French schools here in the UAE, accredited by the French Ministry of Education. The schools represent more than 10,000 pupils from KG to grade 12. More new French schools are set to be opened in UAE in the near future.
Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, for one, has more than 1,100 students and the number is growing. The institution is opening new programmes every year. It has become a centre for imparting knowledge in artificial intelligence (AI), archaeology, physics, museum studies among others.
Other French higher educational institutions in the UAE include Insead Abu Dhabi, Pantheon Sorbonne in Dubai, Esmod in Dubai, 42 Abu Dhabi and ESCP Business School.
‘A major milestone’
Mareel further said: “At Alliance Francaise, we have always been more than supportive and truly welcoming of the bilateral relations between UAE and France. A major milestone is the fact that in the public schools of UAE, French is being included as the second or third language. French is being taught in government schools in the UAE for the last three years and this interest has filtered down to private institutions as well. We have seen a rush of interest in private schools to teach French as a second and third language.”
Speaking about Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed’s state visit to France, Mareel said she would like the leaders of UAE and France to discuss how to support the teaching of Arabic in France and the teaching of French in the UAE.
“Alliance Francaise is a people-to-people project. The institution was established as a civil organisation under diplomatic protection. We are now in the heart of the people,” she added.
Mareel said the UAE has always been curious about France, its culture and what the nation represents. “Learning the French language is an offset of that. We have an Emirati couple who bring their two young children to learn French with us — all the way from Fujairah. I was baffled and very pleasantly surprised when I came to know that. Emiratis — especially women — are attracted to France as a country for its beauty and its elegance. The new generation of Emirati children definitely want to learn French. Another Emirati student with us wants to pursue diplomacy. All this is very touching for us.”
Mareel recalled an exhibition held at the institute last November, which was quite a milestone for Alliance Francaise. “We invited two artists, Emirati Najat Makki and French Benedicte Gimonnet. It was a very symbolic occasion. They did a workshop together and it was indeed very heartening to see the bonding the two artists shared.”