Learning French Through Film, United Republic of Tanzania

  • Date published:
    31 January 2022
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Programme summary

Programme Title Learning French Through Film
Implementing Organization Cellule de la francophonie – Le Club RFI Kigoma
Location United Republic of Tanzania
Language of Instruction Combination of first and second languages
Date of Inception 2017
Programme Partners RFI, Les Écrans de la Paix (Screens of Peace),
Consulate of the Democratic Republic of Congo, TV5Monde, World Bank
Funding Local contributions, donations
Annual Programme Costs USD 10,200
Annual Programme Cost per Learner Less than USD 3
Annual cost of the digital tool USD 600
Digital tool(s) used Computers, projectors, sound systems, TV receiver, antenna, DVDs, USBs, internet modem
Target population Teachers, students, refugees who wish to learn French
Learner age 12–70
Learner to instructor ratio 140:1
Target skill(s) Literacy, with a particular focus on digital skills, rural development, gender awareness and women’s rights, family literacy and intergenerational learning, human rights, health (preventive health and HIV/AIDS, nutrition and hygiene, mental health), economic self-sufficiency, multilingual contexts, lifelong learning
Impact 230–560 viewers per week
Programme website http://marfi.rfi.fr/entrevous/clubs?club=613


The United Republic of Tanzania is one of the largest host countries for refugees. Most of the over 350,000 people who have sought refuge in the country are fleeing violence in the neighbouring countries of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), resettling in the Tanzanian lake port city of Kigoma (IRC, 2021). Three major refugee camps operate in Kigoma: Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli. The first, Nyarugusu, opened in 1996 to accept refugees escaping the civil war in the DRC; it is now one of the largest refugee camps in the world and home to around 150,000 refugees. Nduta opened in 2015 in response to an influx of refugees escaping civil unrest in Burundi, followed in 2016 by Mtendeli, a second overflow camp. All three camps have between three and 20 primary schools, between two and six secondary schools, and between two and five youth or women’s centres offering non-formal learning opportunities.

The school system in Tanzania struggles with high drop-out rates. In 2020, the net enrolment rate fell more than 50 per cent between primary school (83.3 per cent) and secondary school (28.3 per cent) (UIS, 2021). These challenges are exacerbated for refugee children, who experience a significant shortage of classrooms in the camps (Romtveit, 2019). Of those students who do continue to secondary school, many lack English-language proficiency (Uwezo, 2017, p. 11). And while Swahili is the official language of the United Republic of Tanzania, English is used in classrooms and French is the only foreign language other than English to be offered through the national curriculum (Kamagi, 2020). French is also an official language of Burundi and the DRC, and it is the fourth most-used language on the internet, creating opportunities for connection between local Tanzanians, resettled refugees, francophone Africa and the rest of the world (ibid.).

To promote French-language learning, the Consulate of the DRC founded the Congolese School Centre in 2012 to support refugee learners in Kigoma. The school’s Cellule de la francophonie – Le Club RFI Kigoma (hereafter ‘the Francophone Unit’) targets refugees from Burundi and the DRC who speak another language at home and have never mastered French. In both the DRC and the United Republic of Tanzania, French is spoken among the educated elite; however, most of the population speaks national and local languages such as Kituba, Lingala and Kirundi. Some refugees in Kigoma may have studied French at school in their home country but lost it when they were forced to abandon their education to resettle in Tanzania; others may have never attended school and therefore never studied French. 

The Francophone Unit hosts a wide range of French language-learning programmes, including the Learning French Through Film programme, which introduces French films to marginalized learners. In 2019, only 20 per cent of Tanzania’s population used the internet (World Bank, 2021), meaning that it is unlikely that people in Tanzania are accessing film and other media online. Film is an effective audio-visual language-learning tool, however: in fact, research shows that subtitled films increase viewers’ vocabulary and reading speed in a foreign language (Shinyaka, 2020, p. 35). Providing refugees and other vulnerable populations in Tanzania with screenings of films to which they would not otherwise have ready access can therefore help develop their language proficiency, thus increasing their communication skills and supporting their integration into the community.

Overview of the programme

The Learning French Through Film programme was created in 2017 by the Francophone Unit at the Congolese School Centre in Kigoma, which is also an official RFI (Radio France International) Club. With approximately 100,000 members globally, RFI clubs adhere to an RFI charter to ‘contribute to the cultural and educational enrichment of its members, excluding any personal financial gain.’[1] The Francophone Unit seeks to improve the French-language skills of students at the Congolese School Centre, and of child, youth and adult learners (both in and out of school) lacking literacy skills in the Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps of the Kigoma region.

The Francophone Unit also provides supplemental French-languages services to Tanzanian schools in the Kigoma region. In addition, it provides training services to French teachers at these schools to enhance their language-teaching methodologies in the classroom and administers numerous resources, programmes and events to promote the French language, including a library of French literature in the Nyarugusu camp designed to increase inhabitants’ access to printed materials. The unit’s aim is to promote greater communication between refugees and native Tanzanians.

Each year, the unit hosts a French-language competition among schools and classes, during which learners demonstrate their skills in spelling, dictation, conversation, poetry, writing and drawing. The competition coincides with celebrations to mark International Francophonie Day on 20 March.

Through the Learning French Through Film programme, students are provided with audio-visual content to enhance both their mastery of the French language and their awareness of francophone culture. Film screenings also serve as a way of reaching new learners who are not enrolled in formal schooling, giving them an opportunity to join the learning community, and promoting social cohesion among low-literacy adults. The programme furthermore brings refugee and Tanzanian learners together, and thus aids social integration.

The films are chosen by the Congolese School Centre’s education committee and screened up to four times per week to an audience of 58–140 viewers per screening. Tools used during delivery include a computer, a large screen, a projector, a sound system, DVDs, USBs and an internet modem.

Programme objectives

The programme seeks to encourage proficiency in the French language by showing films in French, thus strengthening the vocabulary and oral communication skills of non-French-speaking viewers in a supervised yet relaxed and informal environment. An additional emphasis is placed on community-building: refugees, a marginalized community, gain French language skills through exposure to films alongside an audience of Tanzanians. The programme thus enables newcomers to the country to overcome language barriers and integrate into the Kigoma region by learning to express themselves in French.


Although all are welcome to participate in the programme, Learning French Through Film prioritizes out-of-school learners from the United Republic of Tanzania’s population of refugees from the DRC and Burundi. Some intend to settle in the country permanently; others wish to relocate to another country or return to their home country. In order to prevent further social divisions within an already diverse group of learners, the programme intentionally avoids requesting further demographic data from its students.

Learner enrolment

The Francophone Unit recruits learners at local markets, churches, hospitals and other public spaces, who then attend an open day to find out more about the programme and ask questions. Those interested in enrolling complete an initial test to assess their language level, administered by Francophone Unit. Learners typically require a basic understanding of French in order to benefit fully from the programme. They are then allocated to classes that match their age, language level and availability, and are expected to attend one screening per week for as many weeks as they wish. Participation is free of charge to learners, and all learning materials are provided by the programme.

Learner assessment

Each screening is followed by an informal group discussion of the film designed to assess students’ oral and listening skills, vocabulary and critical thinking. Rather than monitor individual progress, facilitators complete weekly reports to document attendance, participation and language skills among the group as a whole. Learners are furthermore encouraged to participate in annual French-language competitionsdictation, conversation, poetry and writing serve as an informal way of assessing students’ progress in the language.

Teaching and learning approaches

Film screenings are coordinated by age group. The Francophone Unit’s education committee meets weekly to choose and vet films for different age groups based on their content and language level, starting with children’s cartoons and increasing in complexity for more advanced learners. The committee also takes into account feedback provided by programme facilitators, who share insights into the kinds of films that resonate with their audiences. As a rule, four French-language screenings are held each week – two for adults and two for children – and are aimed at beginners. One facilitator is present during each screening.

The Learning French Through Film programme emphasizes collective learning, discovery through observation and active communication among participants. The facilitator begins each screening by summarizing the themes from the previous session and introducing the current film. After viewing the film, learners break into small groups and spend 20 minutes practising pronunciation and new vocabulary from the film, forming sentences and discussing the storyline. Facilitators use chalkboards to guide instruction and learners are equipped with a French dictionary.

The post-viewing exercises are inspired by Le Talisman Brisé (The Broken Talisman), a radio soap created by RFI Savoirs, the RFI wing focusing on French-language teaching methodologies. The bilingual radio drama introduces listeners with low levels of education to the French language. Over 25 episodes, it tells the story of Kwamé, a humble gardener who sets forth on a suspenseful adventure to solve the mystery of his teacher’s kidnapping. The radio drama is supplemented by a booklet with pictures that guides the reader through the story, as well as comprehension exercises that help students identify keywords, analyse what they are hearing and decipher its meaning, use their newly acquired French vocabulary to discuss the plot, and re-enact the storyline through roleplay.

Teachers working with Le Talisman Brisé use prompts to foster group discussions and improve students’ French-language comprehension. Examples include:

  • Who did Kwamé and other characters speak with in the episode?
  • When did they speak, where and how?
  • Why did they speak to one another and what was the purpose of their conversation?
  • What do we know from this conversation?
  • What actions did Kwamé and the other characters take as a result of the conversation?

This arts-based learning approach makes it easy for learners to engage in active listening, and keeps the learning process light and playful, something the programme designers believe is important for learners who have experienced the traumas of severe violence and displacement from their home countries. As well as strengthening students’ speaking and listening skills, the accompanying booklet also introduces them to the basics of writing. The RFI website provides additional materials, including brief summaries and transcripts, as well as a database of key vocabulary words that students can access if they have an internet connection. Both the booklet and the website can be used independently by learners or under the guidance of a teacher in a classroom.

Similarly, Learning French Through Film trains programme facilitators to empower learners and encourage them to summarize what they have seen and heard. They integrate scenarios and simulations for students to practise the French that they have learned. As well as providing exposure to French vocabulary and pronunciation, the films allow students to learn the non-verbal gestures that accompany certain words, thus preparing them for everyday interactions with French speakers (e.g. greetings, introductions, and socially accepted expressions).

Each session (comprising the film screening and post-viewing language exercises) lasts about two hours. To encourage regular attendance, the Learning French Through Film programme provides small gifts to learners who participate actively and/or show significant improvement. The curriculum is evaluated on an ongoing basis. Facilitators are asked to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the sessions after each screening. This feedback then determines whether the film will be screened at other sites or removed from the curriculum.  

Recruitment and training of facilitators

Each film screening is led by one facilitator. The programme has approximately 50 volunteer facilitators, who receive a monthly stipend. In addition, the Learning French Through Film programme employs paid staff (see Table 1).



Oversees the programme

USD 300  


Facilitates lessons before and after the film screenings

USD 200  

IT secretary

Manages the technology needed to screen the films

USD 150  

Security guard

Safeguards the programme’s technical equipment

USD 100  

Curriculum developer

Designs teaching methods to improve literacy in French  

USD 100  

Table 1. Paid programme staff and their respective monthly salaries. Source:  

The programme also provides professional development training for facilitators and other local French teachers, of whom there are more than 120 in Nyarungusu camp. During the training, educators learn how to:

  • teach language through play and theatre/storytelling;
  • use Le Talisman Brisé in their teaching; and
  • utilize online learning materials provided by RFI Savoirs and the French television network TV5Monde.

Technology: Infrastructure, management and use


The Learning French Through Film programme’s ICT equipment typically includes a computer, a sound system, a large screen, a video projector, a TV receiver, DVDs, USBs, an internet modem and a VSAT antenna (to send and receive satellite data). In locations lacking a reliable electricity supply, the programme also uses fuel-powered generators. These crucial infrastructural resources are funded primarily by donor partners and is used exclusively to screen films – it is not required during the learning exercises that follow each screening. Moreover, students are not required to possess digital skills, since they do not use the technology themselves; instead, IT secretary monitors the set-up and deals with any technical issues that may arise. When the equipment is not being used, it is stored in a facility protected by a security guard employed by the programme.

Programme impact and challenges 

Impact and achievements

The programme prides itself on reaching large numbers of learners. While screenings attract 140 viewers on average, as many as 267 people have attended a single screening in Nyaragusu.


I began learning French when I started kindergarten, aged five. We spoke French in kindergarten and, until now, I have been speaking French at school and even at home. I am used to it because I watch Francophone TV: France-Monde, France 24. We also listen to RFI. I like speaking French because I find it an inspiring language. … My dad is a French language teacher, and his professional journey is inspiring for me. Thanks to French, my father developed his network, travelling to France, Belgium and other places. He has created a lot of resources for learning French: more than 100,000 students and 800 teachers benefit from his work. In my opinion, French is a language of culture and solidarity and social cohesion.

— Angélique, programme learner


Weather events, scheduling difficulties and a lack of public transport continue to present logistical challenges. Film screenings are sometimes held outdoors in order to accommodate more viewers; however, inclement weather can disrupt these events. Moreover, many refugees have no access to transportation, and even within a single refugee camp, a learner may have to walk five miles to attend a screening. This limits the regularity with which a student can attend screenings. The programme has made some adjustments to alleviate challenges relating to accessibility, such as hosting screenings on Saturdays to accommodate schoolchildren who are unable to attend sessions during the week. However, reaching all areas of often vast refugee camps remains a challenge.

A further challenge faced by the programme involves training learners to read and write in French. To date, the programme has focused mainly on listening and speaking skills. Plans to incorporate a writing component overseen by two additional staff members have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic has had a serious impact on all of the Francophone Unit’s education programmes. Without infrastructure in place to support online learning from home, many students fell behind in their French-language education. The Learning French Through Film programme also came to a halt when public viewings were prohibited under strict, country-wide lockdown measures. After restrictions were lifted, screenings resumed but were limited to a maximum of 15 viewers per session. This has severely affected the programme since it relies on reaching a large number of viewers.

Stakeholders and partnerships

In addition to RFI, Learning French Through Film partners with Les Écrans de la Paix (Screens of Peace, a non-profit organization that shows films to displaced populations), the Consulate of the DRC, TV5Monde, the World Bank, and the French Ministry of Education’s International Centre for Pedagogical Studies (CIEP). These partners share the goals of promoting the French language through film, and of using film as a source of both entertainment and education for marginalized learners.

Future plans

The programme is currently seeking funding to expand its services with regard to teaching approaches and content that fosters reading and writing skills, and, geographically, by screening films in further locations outside the United Republic of Tanzania, including refugee camps in Gatumba (Burundi), Lusenda (DRC), Kiziba (Rwanda) and Nakivale (Uganda); the Panzi Hospital (DRC); and children’s shelters in Goma (DRC).

Furthermore, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in an attempt to reach teachers remotely, the Francophone Unit is intensifying efforts to advertise its online French lessons and teaching approaches more widely through RFI Savoirs[2] and TV5Monde.[3]


IRC (International Rescue Committee). 2021. Surrounded by conflict: Tanzania. [online] Available at: https://www.rescue.org/country/tanzania [Accessed 5 November 2021].

Kamagi, D. 2020. Tanzania: Over 1bn/- given to promote French language. Tanzania Daily News, [online] 10 March. Available at: https://allafrica.com/stories/202003100726.html [Accessed 5 November 2021].

Romtveit, G. 2019. 6 things to know about refugees in Tanzania. [online] Available at: https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2019/6-things-you-should-know-about-refugees-in-tanzania/ [Accessed 5 November 2021].

Shinyaka, A.A. 2020. Does movie subtitling enhance second language learning in Tanzania’s secondary schools? Insights from English subtitles of Bongo movie[s]. Mkwawa Journal of Education and Development, 3(1), pp. 25–41. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342953882_Does_movie_subtitling_enhance_second_ language_learning_in_Tanzania's_secondary_schools_Insights_from_English_subtitles_of _Bongo_Movie  [Accessed 8 November 2021].

UIS (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). 2021. United Republic of Tanzania: Education and literacy – Participation in education. [online] Available at: http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/tz [Accessed 5 November 2021].

Uwezo. 2017. Are our children learning? Uwezo Tanzania annual learning assessment report 2017. [pdf] Dar es Salaam, Twaweza East Africa.

Available at: https://twaweza.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Tanzania-Report-2017-Web-Version.pdf [Accessed 5 November 2021].

World Bank. 2021. Individuals using the internet (% of population) – Tanzania. [online] Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.USER.ZS?locations=TZ [Accessed 8 November 2021].


[1] See https://www.rfi.fr/en/general/20150709-rfi-club-charter.  

[2] See https://savoirs.rfi.fr/en/our-mission-to-promote-french-learning-and-teaching.

[3] See http://www.tv5monde.com/cms/-/--/p-5854-lg3-Learn-and-Teach-French.htm.

For citation please use

Last update: 31 January 2022. Learning French Through Film, United Republic of Tanzania. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 10 June 2023, 01:09 CEST)

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