Why Learn French?

(A map of regions where French is the main language.)

Why learn French? At least in the U.S. it seems like Spanish is everywhere, so why would you want to learn French? Now, I’d like to start off saying that whatever foreign language (or languages) you decide to learn I think you’ve made a great decision as long as that language and/or people group fits who you are. As I wrote in a previous post there are many benefits to learning a foreign language, no matter what language it is. But, since I’m a bit of a French geek myself, and it’s a language that I love to learn and to teach, I thought I would share with you why I chose to learn French and why you might want to consider it for yourself or for the people that you love.

To tell you the truth I didn’t start learning French until college. In high school I took four years of Spanish, and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I haven’t really kept up with it too much since, but whenever I do hear some Spanish I’m usually surprised at what bubbles up to the surface. I first learned a few French words before going on a Spring break trip to Montréal in the province of Québec, Canada. While the accent in Québec is quite a bit different from the average French (from France) accent, the sounds of the language really captured my heart and imagination. I know, it may be a bit ridiculous (I’m not above being ridiculous at times- just ask my students…) but the flowing melody of French with their bizarre nasal sounds and the strange ways in which they move their lips just caught my imagination. Once I heard it I just knew that I needed to learn it myself and make it a part of me. I was soon to discover that there’s at least a bit of an inner Frenchman in me that just needed to get out. (I think that most passionate language learners are that way because it enables them to find and/or create this other [oftentimes hybrid] identity that gives them a new way to express themselves and to explore the world.)

After going on that trip I decided to begin learning French at the University of Nebraska and I’ve since never been able to quit. My personal reasons for learning French are many. For one, I’m a bit of a romantic at heart, and I’ve always found French to be romantic. Let’s face it, for whatever reason, it’s a seductive language. I don’t entirely know if it’s because of the sounds of the language, the way that it’s organized, or the word choice, but whatever it is it does the job for me.

I’ve also had a passion for art (and the arts in general) for as long as I can remember and what language/culture says art like French? I don’t know of any. The French have a long history of top notch art and artists, and they invest in the arts to a level that puts us as Americans to shame. They consider their art a national treasure to an extent that many Americans just don’t understand. While I may not like all that art has to offer, I think that it’s worth our time to dig through the junk to find the works that speak to our minds, hearts, and souls.

After more advanced studies in French I’ve also become more appreciative of the sophistication of the French language and how it has improved my own vocabulary. French is not only grammatically complex (even to the point that native French speakers will literally get into arguments about grammar in the street- this is not a joke), but even common French vocabulary is often considered more sophisticated than common English. For example, the basic word for “starts” in French is “commence”. Yes, the pronunciation is different, but the essential word is the same. There are actually about 20,000 words that are the same (or close) in both French and English. Much of that has to do with the fact that France ruled England for awhile and England has ruled parts of France, and they’re neighbors, so there has been a lot of crossover in their love/hate relationship over the centuries. But, the fact is that if you learn French it’s likely that your English will sound more sophisticated because of the influence of the French language.

Here are some other reasons for learning French that I’ve found over the years:

  • French is spoken by more than 200 million people, on five continents, is the second most popular learned language (behind English), and is the 9th most widely spoken language in the world. This makes French extremely useful for travel as well as business.
  • French is the language of culture. It is the language of  cuisine, theatre, fashion, art, film, literature, dance, and architecture. Not only is it the language of culture, but it’s the language of haute couture (high culture). France has won more Nobel prizes in literature than any other country in the world.
  • French is an official working language for many international organizations such as the Red Cross, the United Nations, and the International Olympic Committee.
  • Many of our friendly Canadian neighbors speak French. (You may have noticed that many of our products our labeled in both English and French because of that.)
  • French is the second most common language on the internet.
  • France is the world’s fifth largest economy. So, if you’re interested in business it’s definitely worth taking a look at.
  • Learning French will give you a leg up on learning other Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.
  • France is the most visited country in the world.
  • French is actually easier for English speakers to learn than Spanish. This is mainly because there are at least 20,000 words that are essentially the same, plus there are many other common roots. (French pronunciation is another matter…)
  • Surprisingly, French-speaking countries are growing faster than English-speaking and Mandarin-speaking countries. One study, by Natixis, an investment bank, postulates that French may be the most common spoken language by 2050 in the world. Whether that actually happens or not, it’s quite certain that French is not a dying language like some might assume. Much of this is due to the growth of French-speaking countries in Africa.

I most certainly won’t be offended if you choose to learn another foreign language instead of French, but if you do decide to learn French I do want you to know that there are a lot of good reasons to do so. Have fun learning French and know that it is an investment that has more benefits than just helping you to sound snooty when you want to. (Though that’s fun as well!) If you want to learn French with me, check out my online course or classes in Missoula starting in late September. Bonne chance (good luck) in your adventures in French!

References and websites for further information:

 

2 Comments

  1. Gabriela

    I too love the French language.
    I appreciate what you said about a language being an expression of who we are. I had never thought of it that way.
    When I study French, I often find it easier to switch my brain to Portuguese, my native language. A lot of the structure is similar… But you make an excellent point about English having some connection to French due to the history of the people who speak these languages ( and the proximity of the countries too! )

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