Francophone Africa

Francophone Africa

One of the biggest challenges I’m facing as a brand new business owner is the decision as to where to place my energies: should I be taking courses, workshops and doing self-study to learn new skills and earn new credentials, or should I just trust that after 25 years as a reasonably successful academic, I have more than enough skills, and should instead concentrate on trying to sell my services.

When you leave a salaried job in a field such as University research and teaching, you face a crisis of confidence (unless you are  a professor with a clearly defined and highly marketable skill such as law, business, medicine, or high-end statistics). I was good at what I did, but my skills do not easily transfer into something that corporations can easily identify as useful. How do you sell the skill, “able to write a paper in a good academic journal?”

I’m groping towards a solution, and will soon be advertising my new business website which will market the research “solutions” offered by myself and about a dozen of my closest colleagues. Still, I often hanker for a clearly defined and marketable skill. There are so many certifications to choose from, however, some of which look darn attractive: language certificates, data analysis programs, and sundry programs in digital marketing, entrepreneurship, project management, and project evaluation. All of them look like they could, in theory, be useful, but all of them charge a lot of money, and take a lot of time. Which one, if any, is worth the investment?

I’ve decided, tentatively, to begin with French, figuring that it never hears to really nail one’s proficiency in a major international language. I have long spoken French at an intermediate level, having begun as a kindergartner in the south of France in the early 70s, and then having taken French  in my Jerusalem middle and high school during the 1980s. I even worked in Geneva  with the Red Cross for four months in the 1990s, and did professional interviews in Francophone Africa in the early 2000s. Still, I would be hard-pressed to say that I am fluent, and find myself growing intensely nervous before entering a professional Francophone setting. I often struggle to find the right words, mangle my tenses, and generally sound less articulate than I’d like.

So, I’ve decided to try and earn the DELF diploma offered by the French government. It certifies you as competent in reading, writing, speaking and comprehension at a specific level, ranging from A1 (total beginner) to C2 (oh la la). My current French teacher says it will take a few months of intense studying to pass the appropriate exam (B2, or perhaps even C1 if I really work hard), and I’ve signed up with an intensive online French program for fifteen hours a week. We’ll see if I have the discipline to stick it out.

I’m looking forward to studying, as I really do love learning languages. I’ve learnt half decent French and Spanish over the years, fluent Hebrew when I was young, and have learned, and long forgotten, beginner’s Turkish and Serbo-Croat.

As I embark on this new venture, however, I wonder if I’m wasting valuable time that would be better spent on marketing and sales. Am I  secretly avoiding the hard work of recruiting new clients by hiding behind this effort to gain more credentials?

To be sure, I’ve been told by experienced consultants to USAID and other international aid agencies that French-speaking consultants are at a premium. A lot of international development assistance goes to Francophone countries in Africa, yet too many consultants are fluent in Spanish or other major languages, rather than French. The problem is especially acute in America, where French is hardly spoken and Spanish is the country’s unofficial second language. USAID likes to use American consultants, but often can’t find enough who can handle themselves in French. So perhaps this course will really pay off.

Inshallah. (From another language I hope to learn in a few years).