International Perspective


English-French bilingualism

Carte Cameroun
Cameroun afrique
Cameroon Map



The Republic of Cameroon (in French: la République du Cameroun) is located to the southeast of Nigeria and is bordered to the east by Chad and the Central African Republic, to the south by the Republic of Congo (capital: Brazzaville), Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and to the west by the Gulf of Guinea. 

Cameroon is not a federation like Canada.  Rather it is unitary state divided into 10 administrative regions (Art. 61 of the Constitution) which possess very few powers.  The regions are the Extreme North, the North, Adamawa, the Northwest, the Southwest, the West, the Littoral (Douala), the Centre (Yaoundé), the East and the South.  Like Canada, Cameroon has two official languages, English and French, but unlike Canada with its eight Anglophone provinces, one Francophone province (Quebec) and one bilingual province (New Brunswick), in Cameroon there are eight “French” regions and two “English” regions. The two English regions are the Northwest and Southwest. All ten “regions” were called “provinces” before Decree No. 2008/376 of 12 November 2008, and in documents that are not up to date the term “province” rather than “region” can still be found.

A look at a geographical map of Africa shows that Cameroon is located on the border between the English zone of influence (Nigeria) and the French zone (Chad, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo).  The only exception is Equatorial Guinea, which has Spanish as its official language although since 1998 French has become the “second official language”.  The word “second” reflects the power relationship between Spanish, the predominant language, and the almost symbolic importance of French.  Portuguese became the “third official language” in Equatorial Guinea in 2011.


Linguistic pluralism in Cameroon

In 2018, the population of Cameroon was 24.5 million, representing over 260 languages, of which at least 200 are African languages.  As is the case in most non-Arabophone countries in Africa, a distinction needs to be made between official languages and languages spoken by local populations. Excluding the Arabophone countries (Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, etc.) official languages in Africa are generally old colonial languages such as French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, to which some countries have added an African language such as Swahili, Sesotho, Kirundi or Kinyarwanda.  This is very different from Canada, where the two official languages are also the first languages of the vast majority of the population.  In Cameroon, there are only three first languages spoken by more than a million speakers each, Fula (Fulani), Ewondo and Bulu, which means there are a large number of languages with very few speakers.   In Cameroon, the two official languages, French and English, are European languages which were added to the national languages during the colonization period.  European languages are called “imported languages” in Cameroon.

According to SIL International (formerly the Summer Institute of Linguistics), there are 268 first languages in Cameroon.  In such a multilingual country it is difficult to observe true equality because there are so many languages.  For this reason, over the years a number of lingua francas have been adopted to allow the many ethnic groups in the country to communicate amongst themselves.  These languages include Fula (Fulani), which is used throughout the North; the Beti and Bassa languages in the Centre and South; and Bulu and Pidgin English in the West and Littoral. Ewondo is used in the suburbs of Yaoundé and in Douala on the Atlantic coast.   Each of these lingua francas is now used as either a first or a second language by over three million speakers.

Pidgin English

Pidgin English is also called “Cameroon-talk”, “Cameroonian Pidgin English” or “CPE”.   It is the most widely used language in the English zone because it is a lingua franca not only in the two Anglophone regions but also in Francophone regions bordering them (the West and the Littoral), as well as in the Centre and South regions.  Pidgin English is an English-based creole language similar to creoles spoken in the West Indies, except for the fact that in Cameroon the creole is mostly used in zones where there is a great deal of linguistic diversity.  It is also used in Douala, whose cosmopolitan character means that a lingua franca is needed for business transactions.  It is estimated that 50% of the population uses Pidgin English, although it is the first language of only 5% of Cameroonians. 

Pidgin English as spoken by Francophones and Anglophones may differ depending on the region or city.  The Pidgin English used by Anglophones can be viewed as a linguistic variety of English, but it is a so-called "low" variety within the linguistic continuum.  Conversely, there is a linguistic discontinuity between French and the Pidgin English spoken by Francophones.  Most Cameroonians can easily recognize whether an utterance in Pidgin English was produced by a Francophone or an Anglophone.

There is another variety of pidgin called “Camfranglais”. It is a Cameroonian Franglais based on French, English, Pidgin English and other African languages.  Franfulfudé (pronounced fran-full-fooday) is another mixed language, a combination of Fula and French which is used by young people from various social classes.   In short, in Cameroon there are three major languages in competition — French,  English and Pidgin English — to which can be added other Cameroonian languages in the more northerly and easterly regions.

Anglophones and Francophones

The terms “Anglophone” and “Francophone” in Cameroon refer to individuals whose first language is not necessarily English or French, but who live in either one of the two Anglophone regions or one of the eight Francophone regions.  In other words, individuals are necessarily Anglophones in the English regions and Francophones in the French regions, although there are minority Francophones in the English zone and minority Anglophones in the French zone. Linguistic rights are granted according to region of residence, even though in principle these rights are personal. In other words, linguistic rights are territorial in the regions but personal with the central government in Yaoundé. 

Approximately 83% of the population in the 10 regions is Francophone and 17% Anglophone, with all citizens receiving services and instruction in the official language of their region of residence.  Unlike Canada, where the two official languages are first languages, English and French in Cameroon are typically second languages.  However, linguists maintain that a substantial number of urban youth under 20 years old (possibly 40%), have adopted English or French as their first language, abandoning African languages, which they only know passively; they understand their grandparents’ language but they don’t speak it.   According to statistics from 2005, of the two official languages approximately 46% of Cameroonians only know French, compared to 13.6% who only know English, which means more of the latter are bilingual.  Moreover, 28.8% of Cameroonians don’t speak either official language and only use African languages.

It is important to point out that when it comes to knowledge of the two official languages there are important differences between urban and rural areas.  For example, the number of individuals who speak English varies not only according to place of residence and region, but also according to sex and age.   More citizens living in cities (29%) are proficient English than those living in rural areas (18%). More men (27%) than women (21%) are proficient in English, and more young speakers than older ones. Turning to Francophones, 75% of urban dwellers speak French compared to 36% of rural residents, and 62% of men compared to 53% women.  Of course the younger generation is more proficient in French, and sometimes English, than older speakers.  Finally, those living in regions closer to the Atlantic coast (West, Centre, Littoral and South) are more proficient in French that those who reside in more northerly regions. 

Moreover, Standard English and Standard French have been regionalized in Cameroon to the point where they can be called “Cameroonian English” (l’anglais camerounais) and “Cameroonian French” (le français camerounais).  The French spoken in Cameroon exhibits a number of phonetic, lexical and morpho-syntactic innovations.  It has borrowed massively from national languages and from Pidgin English. The process of semantic generalization in Cameroonian French shows a real willingness on the part of its speakers to express their linguistic identity.   Turning to Cameroonian English, it also borrows from African languages, and even more from French, including semantic broadening of lexical items.  The result is a regional variety of English quite different from Standard English.  To sum up, French and English in Cameroon are enriched by local expressions which contribute first of all to mutual understanding among Cameroonians and second to a distancing from words in Standard French and Standard English.  Finally, there is not just one way to speak French or English in Cameroon; there are a number of ways.  This linguistic behaviour reflects linguistic ownership for expressing specific realities and emotions.   The phenomenon occurs in many countries, and Canada is no exception.

In a country as linguistically complex as Cameroon, the two official languages do not necessarily mix in daily life.   Whether it is in the public service or business, people use French OR English, rarely both, as well as African languages and/or Pidgin English.  In short, Cameroonians  believe that the most important thing is for different ethnic groups to understand each other.   Because  they can do this easily with Pidgin English, the dynamic nature of this lingua franca makes it a major player on the linguistic stage in Cameroon.   As a result, efforts to speak the other official language are half-hearted because it is not seen as necessary, except for Anglophones in the Francophone zone.  

A brief history of Cameroon

The Cameroonian coast was explored in 1471 by the navigator and explorer Fernando Póo, who was responsible for naming the Rio dos Camarões (‘River of Shrimps’) which became Cameroun (French), Cameroon (English) and Kamerun (German). Europeans began trading with the local populations, starting with the Dutch and followed by the British and the Germans.

Cameroon History

German Kamerun

The Germans occupied almost all of their Kamerun from 1884 to 1916. German-speaking missionaries from the Societas Apostolus Catholici (‘Society of the Catholic Apostolate’ ) settled in the German colony in 1890 and offered education in German to those who wanted it, while at the same time opening village schools where local languages — Duala, Bakweri,  Ewondo, and Nguma, etc.—were used. The German language exerted an attraction on members of urban Cameroonian society, who wanted to be able to communicate with the colonial power.   

In 1891, the German governor Eugen von Zimmerer attempted to impose Germanization policy on Kamerun in order to provide the administration with local managers who could speak German.  Despite pressures exerted by the German colonial authorities, the missionaries continued to use local languages in their Christian evangelization.  However, the First World War placed German Kamerun between two other major powers in the region, France and Great Britain.

British Cameroon

In 1916 German troops abandoned Kamerun to their two greatest rivals, France and Great Britain, and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) contained a provision for the two to share the former Kamerun. In practice, French Cameroon, comprising four fifths of the territory, was administered as a French colony, and British (or Western) Cameroon — one fifth of the territory — was integrated into Nigeria as an English colony.  Each of the colonizers would mark “its” Cameroon with its linguistic fingerprint by imposing either English or French on its colony.

The British colonial administration, which wanted to minimize investment costs in its colonies, was content to incorporate its “piece of Cameroon” into the neighbouring colony of Nigeria, which resulted in the creation of “a colony within a colony”.  As a result, British Cameroon was delayed in both its social and economic development.  Understandably, Anglophone Cameroonians in the British colony couldn’t help but notice the considerable gap between the development in their colony and the situation in French Cameroon.  

The establishment of borders and the federation

Cameroon 1961

In 1961, the independence of French Cameroon led to the question of borders with British Cameroon, borders which had never been established between the two colonies.  There was a territorial vagueness between the regions that are now part of Nigeria (Northern Cameroon) or part of Cameroon (Southern Cameroon). For this reason the United Nations conducted a referendum in which the two populations concerned had to choose which country they wanted to join, the Federation of Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon.  The latter would then become a federation of one English and one French state. 

In the referendum held on 11 February 1961, the residents of Southern Cameroon voted massively to separate from Nigeria and join the Republic of Cameroon, while in Northern Cameroon a majority voted in favour of joining Nigeria.  This is how the so-called “English” population of Southern Cameroon under British administration found itself in a predominantly French-speaking country.  

On 1 October 1961 Cameroon became a federal republic composed of two states:  English-speaking Cameroon (the current Southwest and Northwest regions) and French-speaking Cameroon.  The Federal Republic of Cameroon (1961-1972) consisted of four assemblies, one Federal Assembly and one in each of the two federated states, as well as an assembly of traditional chiefs.  There were thus three governments, one in each federated state and one federal government.  The residents of Southern Cameroon voted to become Cameroonians rather than Nigerians because they had been promised an autonomous English-speaking state within the binational state.  

At the time of independence in 1961, the Cameroonian languages were so numerous (between 260 and 300) and so diverse (consisting of languages from the Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Bantu and Afro-Asiatic families, some with very few speakers), that it seemed more practical to have French and English as the official languages of the nation.  In any event, at that time no one was interested in the fate of national languages, very few of which had a written form. Although French and English were the official languages of Cameroon, generally speaking the national languages continued to be very much alive, although marginalized from a social point of view. 

The abolition of federalism (1972)

After a referendum in May 1972 Cameroonian federalism was abolished and the two federal states disappeared, replaced by a single centralized state divided into ten administrative provinces (now called “regions”) of which two were English and eight French.  Understandably the Anglophones in the English provinces felt that their rights had been betrayed because they had chosen Cameroon rather than Nigeria due to federalism and the division of powers and languages by territory. This constitutional change was adopted by a simple majority; it also heralded a marginalization of Anglophones due to more centralized power in Cameroon. 

More than five decades after independence, the unification of Cameroon in 1972 is being challenged and called into question by the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), an Anglophone political party that campaigns for the secession of the two Anglophone regions and the creation of an independent state which would be called “Ambazonia”.  In 2018, secessionist groups increased their violent actions against symbols of the state. For its part, the African press is concerned that an experienced guerilla organization seems to be taking up residence in the Anglophone regions of northwest and southwest Cameroon. The press has also criticized the Cameroonian authorities for having made the decision to call in the army rather than engaging in talks with the Anglophone secessionists.  On one hand, the armed rebel movements are in a power struggle with Yaoundé; on the other hand the government does not want to negotiate with those it considers “terrorists”. However, this  "Anglophone crisis"  is the result of bad governance by the Cameroonian state, and the Anglophone minority finds itself caught between two fires, or in the words of Amnesty International “: "People are caught in the crossfire between the hammer and the anvil.”

Institutional bilingualism

While both Cameroon and Canada are bilingual countries, the type of bilingualism is radically different.  Looking at how bilingualism is practiced in the two countries, it is clear that it is not necessarily defined in terms of citizens who speak the two official languages.  There needs to be a distinction made between institutional bilingualism and individual bilingualism.  In both Canada and Cameroon institutional bilingualism does not require that individuals themselves be bilingual because the institutions are. In Canada it is institutions of the federal government; in Cameroon it is the institutions of a unitary state.  In one sense, the Cameroonian state holds more political power than its Canadian counterpart, which must share power with the provinces.  While Canadian provinces have a say in issues related to language policy, this is not the case for the regions in Cameroon. 

According to Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of 1996, French and English are the two official languages of the country.

Article 1 (Official translation)

3) The official languages of the Republic of Cameroon shall be English and French, both languages having the same status. 
The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country.
It shall endeavour to protect and promote national languages.

It is important to note that both languages have “the same status” and that “[t]he State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country” while at the same time working “to protect and promote national languages”. It is now a question of ascertaining how these three provisions in the Constitution have been applied, because although the Constitution refers to the promotion of bilingualism, it is silent about its practice and implementation

It is also important to point out that in Cameroon it is the State that must be bilingual, not individuals.  This is a modality that also exists in Canada insofar as the federal government and its institutions must be bilingual but Canadian citizens do not have to be.  As in Canada, Cameroonian linguistic policy is based on personal rights which are enjoyed only by speakers of French or English, in principle anywhere in Cameroon. However, the actual practice in Cameroon means that linguistic rights are only applicable to French in the French region of the country and to both English and French in the English region. 

The languages of Parliament and the justice system

In the shared institutions in the two linguistic zones, the concept of personal rights prevails over the separation of the languages. Thus, in principle the legislative acts and regulations in the Official Gazette (‘Journal officiel’) are published in French and English, whether it is laws, decrees, decisions, instructions, circulars or memoranda.

During parliamentary debates members speak the language of their choice (French or English), but due to the law of numbers deliberations usually proceed in French, with a system of simultaneous interpretation in place in the Chamber. 

In order to respect a certain form of bilingualism, the Cameroonian government  is — in principle — made up of Francophone and Anglophone ministers,  both Muslim and Christian, when possible representing each of the ten regions.  But Francophone ministers are not always bilingual, unlike their Anglophone counterparts.  It is clear that in this regard the Cameroonian system shares certain similarities with Canada. 

When it comes to the justice system, the two English regions function exclusively in English under a legal system based on the British common-law tradition.  In the rest of the country French civil law and the French language are in effect.  When a citizen doesn’t know one of the two official languages, the judge must authorize the use of the other official language or an African language through the services of an interpreter.   

The superior courts are bilingual, but Law No. 2006/16 of 27 December 2006, which lays out the organization and functioning of the Supreme Court, does not contain any provision about the use of official languages.  In theory, Supreme Court judgements must be made available to the public in both official languages as soon as possible, but it is often the case that the English version is significantly delayed. 

Assessors, that is professional jurists in law, must be proficient in one of the two official languages, not necessarily both of them.  In general, French is sufficient as long as assessors do not need to communicate with citizens in the Anglophone regions.

Languages in the Public Service

Because Cameroon is a bilingual state, one would expect the public service to be bilingual.  However, the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé, has remained primarily French.  Anglophone Cameroonians who move to Yaoundé for work or any other reason cannot understand or be understood if they only speak English. They need to know French or Pidgin English, although generally speaking French occupies a prominent place in the capital.   The situation is similar in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, where only institutions of the federal government offer services in both official languages.  But there is an important difference:  in Yaoundé it is very difficult to receive bilingual services from government ministries. 


In Cameroon there is no official languages act as there is in Canada.   A circular from 1991, signed by the prime minister at the time, Sadou Hayatou, serves as the policy for the use of official languages in administrative matters. It is Circular No. 001/CAB/PM of 16 August 1991on the practice of bilingualism in public and semi-public bodies. It includes the following measures:

1— All Cameroonian citizens in general, and specifically all users of a public or semi-public service, have the basic right to speak in English or French with all public and semi-public servants and to obtain an answer in the official language of their choice. 

2— With a few exceptions (air-traffic controllers and language teachers for example), all public servants have the right to work in the official language of their choice without it having a negative impact on their career.  However, it is the responsibility of public servants who work directly with the public to make themselves understood in their dealings with the latter.  Of course the ultimate goal is that all public servants who work directly with the public will be able to make themselves understood when dealing with them. 

3— The services offered and the official documents published by public and semi-public bodies intended for the general public (speeches, notices, regulatory acts, advertisements, press releases, examinations, circulars and forms, etc.) must be available in the two official languages

4— Posters, billboards, signs and notices pertaining to goods and services of the State and their use must be written in both official languages on the same support or on two separate supports placed side by side so that the text in each language is equally visible and accessible.  

This text shows that all Cameroonian citizens have the right to demand public services in either official language; that all public servants have the right to work in the language of their choice; that all official documents must be available in both languages; and that posters, billboards signs etc. must be written in both official languages.

Efforts to promote bilingualism

Aware of the minority status of Anglophones and their feelings of exclusion, the Cameroonian government has adopted a system of regional balance, coupled with the selection of candidates admitted to professional schools and the recruitment of public officials and employees.  The government has also tried to assign Francophone public servants to the Anglophone zones and Anglophone public servants to the Francophone zones.   The president’s office of the Republic has repeatedly given clear and specific instructions to civil servants that official documents must be prepared, signed and published in both French and English. 

Signs on roads, at airports, train stations and ports, as well as posters, road signs, labels on consumer products, etc. are generally in French, but some signs may be bilingual in the Anglophone regions.   As for bank notes, the French is written in large letters and the English is of a smaller size. 

Moreover, the Cameroonian government adopted the Decree of 23 January 2017 to lay down the establishment, organization and functioning of the National Commission on the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. This commission, the NCPBM, was created on 15 March 2018.  Its mission includes working to promote bilingualism and multiculturalism in Cameroon with a view to maintaining peace, consolidating national unity and strengthening the people’s commitment to and the day-to-day practice of living together in peaceful co-existence.  One of the major elements of its mission is to ensure follow-up on the implementation of constitutional provisions making English and French two official languages with equal value, in particular the use of both languages in the public service and semi-public bodies, as well as all other organizations which receive funding from the State. 

Regional administration

In regional administration, English is normally used in the Southwestern and Northwestern regions.  Citizen can speak to the regional government in English and are guaranteed services in that language.   However, it is not possible to ask for services in English in the rest of the country, although Francophones may be able to obtain services in French in the Anglophone zone, because even in the Anglophone zones the language of the administration may be French. 

Anglophone public servants and police officers may be at a disadvantage if they don’t know French and want to pursue their careers outside the two Anglophone regions.

Municipal administration

In municipal administration the use of Cameroonian national languages is permitted.  Article 22 of Law No. 2004/018 of 22 July 2004, which sets out the regulations applying to municipalities, transferred jurisdiction over the promotion of national languages to the municipalities. Thus, in offices under the jurisdiction of a municipal or local administration, Cameroonian languages can be used in spoken, but not written communication.  Given the fact that most national languages are not written, they cannot be used in forms or in messages addressed to citizens, and even less so in print media.  For the written word, by necessity French is used in the French regions and English in the English regions. 

Although Cameroonian languages may be permitted in oral communication, they have been supplanted by Pidgin English, which serves as a lingua franca, especially in the south of the country. 

A lopsided bilingualism

Despite the efforts of the Cameroonian government, the application of institutional bilingualism has not yielded the anticipated results. English continues to be extremely rare in public institutions and organizations outside the English regions.  There are few bilingual public servants, even though bilingualism is one of the hiring criteria.  Generally speaking, French and sometimes Ewondo are spoken in the different ministries in the capital.   Most texts that the president signs, especially presidential decrees, are often written only in French.  In the army, only French is allowed, and Anglophone public servants are obliged to assume the burden of institutional bilingualism. The strategy of sending Francophone civil servants to the English zone and vice versa has not been a success, because Anglophones feel as if their territory has been invaded by a massive influx of Francophone civil servants, and that they are in the minority when they work in a Francophone milieu.  In other words, Francophones have continued to speak French in the English zone and Anglophones are being assimilated in the French zone.  

However, French-English bilingualism has a certain visibility on government forms, but many Anglophone lawyers and other legal practitioners complain that there are no English translations of laws and other legal documents when they are first published. They also protest the nomination of jurists in the Anglophone regions who are not proficient in English.  They also believe that the State wants to replace British common law by imposing the system of civil law in force in the Francophone regions. It is often the case that magistrates, commanders of the Gendarmerie, and police commissioners assigned to Anglophone regions only speak French. 

Turning to education, courses in English as a second language in the French zone are often cancelled due to the lack of qualified teachers.  Even in the Anglophone regions, examinations, which are supposed to be published and presented in English to Anglophone students, are sometimes replaced by examinations in French rather than the original language.

Many Anglophones wonder how the government can honestly promote bilingualism if public figures who are the leaders of the country—the president, prime minister, ministers, chief justice, etc.—are all unilingual Francophones. Few Francophone ministers can speak English.  In short, these numerous shortcomings in bilingualism policy in Cameroon accentuate the uneasiness and the marginalization of Anglophones.

Training Translators and Interpreters

The institutional bilingualism provided for in the Constitution gives Cameroon good reason to train translators and interpreters to translate texts and official speeches written in one of the two official languages.  In order to accomplish this commitment there is the Higher Institute of Translation and Interpretation (Institut supérieur de traduction et d'interprétation, ISTI) in Yaoundé and the Advanced School of Translators and Interpreters (ASTI) in Buea (École supérieure des traducteurs et interprètes à Buea).  However, these institutions struggle to train competent professionals, and the conditions for acting as an interpreter do not appear to be as rigorous as they are in Canada.  Judges regularly make ex officio appointments of individuals in the courtroom who is at least 21 years old and have them swear to accurately interpret accurately the words of individuals on trial who speak a different language, or to accurately translate a document in question. 

In the public service, it is often employees who are more or less bilingual who end up doing translations.  The English versions of statutory instruments and public notices are generally of very poor quality. The authorities don’t view this as a serious problem because they believe Anglophones should appreciate seeing documents written in both English and French regardless of the quality of the English version.   This situation is a result of negligence on the part of public officials vis-à-vis the problem, as well as a total lack of interest in any issues relating to the English language.

There are more than 260 other languages in Cameroon, and there is a need for translations of religious, medical, legal and administrative texts for speakers of these languages who at times have little formal education. This state of affairs results in a routine build-up of translations between local and official languages.  The Cameroonian state has great difficulty recruiting enough translators and interpreters after they graduate from its schools, and are not able to fill the gap left by those who leave for more promising positions. One oft-cited example is the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which drained dozens of translators as they rushed to leave the public service for Tanzania, attracted by salaries which were significantly higher than those in Cameroon.  

The Languages of Education

In the field of education, there is an English system and a French system, and both are unilingual.  All Cameroonians are guaranteed instruction in French or English depending on their region of residence, from primary to the end of secondary school.  Instruction in “the other language” is mandatory in the sixth year of primary school.  The Cameroonian State provides the bulk of formal education in the country: 72% of the student population attends a government school.

Issues with bilingualism

The Cameroonian government is making efforts to promote bilingualism in education.  In order to do so, it has established a number of bilingual high schools, particularly in the Central and Littoral regions.  It also requires that English or French as a second language be taught, depending on the region, starting in kindergarten.  It also ordered the creation of English- and French-speaking courses in primary schools.  There are a number of Anglophone schools in Francophone cities, notably in Yaoundé and Douala. The aim of these schools is to produce bilingual individuals as well as encouraging students to speak French and English.  However, because the majority of students are Francophones, they are often afraid to speak English, a language they use only in the classroom and in formal situations.  As soon as they leave the classroom, even in the school hallways, they switch to French. 

Although the various actions described above are commendable, the results are rather modest.  Apart from a few bilingual schools, there is still a barrier between the two linguistic communities.  A person is either English-speaking or French-speaking, but rarely both.  In fact, the number of bilingual individuals is 22.7% for the country as a whole, of which 17.5% live in urban areas and 5.2% in rural areas. Moreover, bilinguals are concentrated in two regions: the Littoral and Centre regions, which are the Francophone regions with the highest number of Anglophones.

According to studies conducted by the Ministry of Education, there is a shortage of French second-language teachers and especially English second-language teachers.  The problem is more serious in secondary than primary schools.  Thus, students can graduate from high school counting the number of times they have an English class in a year, which shows that English classes are extremely rare if not almost non-existent!  

Institutional bilingualism in Cameroon doesn’t leave any room for national languages; as a result the teaching of national languages is still in an embryonic state.  The main languages taught (but there are others of less importance) are Duala, Ewondo, Bassa, Bulu, Eton, Fula, Beti, Ntumu and Mundang, which is not very many out of a total of 268 languages.  In any case, there is no official program, and there are almost no course books for these languages.

With regard to higher education, particularly in universities, students receive instruction in French in the Francophone regions and in English in the Anglophone regions. There are some “bilingual universities” where courses are given in the language in which the professor is most proficient, which in most cases favours Francophones. Clearly the minority of students who know both languages are at a distinct advantage.  In practice, French predominates in most universities, institutes and grandes écoles of technology. In bilingual universities, French is the working language, even to communicate with Anglophone students; the only notices written in English and French deal with paying tuition fees

Teacher training

When it comes to teacher training there are major problems.  Close to 70% of primary-school teachers do not have appropriate professional training in most disciplines, not only in first- and second-language teaching.  Almost 90% of students do not have textbooks and workbooks.  Generally speaking, students’ levels in reading, writing and mathematics are quite low.  Under these conditions learning English in French schools is hit-or-miss.

The Media in Cameroon

In the media world, Cameroon has an original model. The national bilingual newspaper, the Cameroon-Tribune, is published daily in French but only once a week in English.  The private press has approximately 50 titles, some of which are in English.  


In Cameroon there are various public radio networks which are affiliated with Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV, in French Radio de l'office national de radio et télévision). Radio-Yaoundé broadcasts thirteen hours per day in French (65% of the total) and seven hours in English (35% of the total); news highlights are broadcast every hour on the hour in both official languages.  There are about thirty regional stations, some of which broadcast in Cameroonian languages.  For example, CRTV Littoral broadcasts in Duala, Bakon, Tunen, Balo, Yabassi, Bakoko, Bakaka, Ewondo and Basa.

The broadcast languages are, in order, first French, then English followed by Cameroonian languages, Pidgin English and Camfranglais. In rural Cameroon, ethnic languages (national languages and first languages) are used more; at least fifty national languages are used and broadcast.  

Some foreign radio stations also broadcast in Cameroon: Radio France Internationale (in French), Voice of America/ La Voix d’Amérique (in English and French), the BBC (in English), la Voix de l'Allemagne /Deutsche Welle (in French), CBC International (in English) /Radio Canada Internationale (in French), Radio Nederland  (in English)/ Radio Pays-Bas (in French), etc. For the whole country, it is estimated that 69% of the programming is in French compared to 31% in English. 


CRTV, the only national TV channel, broadcasts programs in French and English from Yaoundé, but needless to say the distribution is unequal. There are roughly twenty private stations in the country, several of which broadcast in English.  For some time there have been local television services («télévision de proximité») owned by the group InfoTv, whose goal is to promote Cameroonian languages.  This TV station, available via satellite, allows Cameroonians to have access to a new world of information and communication in their first languages.


Institutional bilingualism as implemented in Cameroon is a good example of unbalanced bilingualism.  However, the country is not an exception among 55 bilingual countries, because when it comes to institutional bilingualism balance is the exception rather than the rule.  It goes without saying that in all officially bilingual countries there is unbalanced bilingualism  because the languages in question are rarely, if ever, equal in number and prestige.    Imbalance is a question of degree; bilingualism in Cameroon is more unbalanced that in Canada, but not less than the imbalance in other countries such as Ireland, Israel, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.  In this  context Canada places well above average.  Moreover, unbalanced bilingualism can be more or less accentuated or relatively weak depending on the region within the same country. In any country there can be “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip” when it comes to the implementation of a linguistic policy, whether it is bilingualism or another issue. 

Although institutional bilingualism in Cameroon is enshrined in the Constitution of 1996, it is regarded as profoundly unequal, especially in the public service, the justice system and the educational system.  English is generally the poor relation of the two official languages in Cameroon. For this reason Anglophones feel that they are marginalized and treated like second-class citizens compared to Francophones.   They assert that they do not enjoy the equal opportunity that they deserve as citizens of a modern, democratic state. Under these conditions, Anglophones suffer more than their Francophone compatriots from problems linked to unemployment, infrastructure gaps, healthcare and access to education.  For Anglophones, bilingual Cameroon is perceived as being reserved for Francophones.  The situation on the ground seems to be a confirmation of the popular saying: “Cameroon is certainly bilingual, but Cameroonians certainly aren’t.”

Bilingualism in Cameroon has been implemented as a strategy to preserve political and social integration, which would allow for the unification of Anglophone and Francophone regions.  Thus, bilingualism was first reflected in symbolic narratives rather than real actions for its implementation.  One of the common statements used by Cameroonian authorities is of this sort:  “Bilingualism is pride, and the symbol of our national unity and our cultural diversity.”  Anyone who holds an administrative or managerial position should respect the kinds of comments that give the signal that Cameroon is a bilingual country.   Any comments contrary to this established principle can be interpreted a direct threat to national unity.

Cameroon is one of the few countries where the English language has not succeeded in dominating and influencing other languages with which it shares the status of official language, which in the case of Cameroon is French.  Some Cameroonian linguists believe that the increasingly widespread use of Pidgin English could be one of the aggravating factors contributing to the decline of English in the country.  Pidgin English is now the most frequently spoken language in Anglophone Cameroon; in the street one can hear passersby speaking first in Pidgin English, then in French, next in an African language and finally in English.  It is therefore Pidgin English, and not English, that rivals French in Cameroon.  Indeed nowadays no one in the country talks about banning Pidgin English as they did in the recent past on Anglophone campuses; rather they discuss institutionalizing Pidgin English as an eventual third official language.  But there is strong resistance within government agencies, for whom Pidgin English constitutes a linguistic step backwards rather than a mark of cultural identity. 

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