Cross-Cultural Conflicts in Education Between Francophone and Anglophone Countries

How many continents are in in the world?  The answer is not as straightforward as readers might imagine.  This is only one example of a cross-cultural conflict in education between countries.

As an American teacher, I was extremely shocked when I was criticized by parents in the Francophone country in which I was teaching, for teaching “incorrect” information.

In the English-speaking world, we are taught that there are seven continents:  North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.  One year while teaching this to my third-graders (age eight) in an American International School in the Middle East, I was informed by a parent that I was incorrect!

French Map of the Continents

The parent told me that there are only five continents, and went on to inform me that these were:   America (North and South being included together as one continent, and telling me that both were on the same plate–which is incorrect, by the way), Eurasia (I could go along with this one), Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.

After some discussion, I discovered that the entire French-speaking world teaches that there are only five continents, and that is what this parent had been taught in school as a child in a Francophone country.  She didn’t believe me when I told her what English-speaking countries teach, until I showed it to her in a text book.

We were both surprised by what we learned from each other.

So any more, when I get this question, I have to answer by saying, “That depends upon whether you want to take an Anglophone or Francophone perspective.”  I then tell my students if you go to England or America, they consider that there are seven continents, while if you go to France, or a French-speaking country they teach that there are only five.

American Map of the Seven Continents

If any of my readers happen to know what is taught in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, South America or Asia, or Russia, or any other parts of the world, I’d be very interested to know, and have them share it here in the comments below.

–Lynne Diligent

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2 Responses to “Cross-Cultural Conflicts in Education Between Francophone and Anglophone Countries”

  1. lupita Says:

    Spanish-speaking countries use the five (inhabited) continent model. “América” (the Americas) is subdivided into three: North, Central, and South America.

    A Latin American would never refer to, say, Panama or Nicaragua as being in North America as shown on your first map.

    I was as surprised as you were when I first realized that the whole world does not categorize continents as I had learned them. Now I teach my students that there are different ways to categorize continents, peoples, eras, etc. so they are not surprised as we were when they encounter a novel classification.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Thanks so much for leaving this comment. I really did wonder what was
      taught in Spanish-speaking countries. It sounds very much like the
      French-speaking countries.

      In the U.S., we do also refer to Central America when speaking of anything
      between below Mexico and above Colombia. However, since Central America
      isn’t considered a continent, if pressed, we’d put it into North America
      geographically. (However, if speaking culturally, and wanted to lump it
      together with South America, that’s when we speak of Latin America, which
      also includes Mexico.)

      Thanks for reading!

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