“Why bother learning to speak French? It’s a dying language.”
This was the test question my examiner asked of me for my finals after studying French language and culture at the University of Paris for a whole year. It seemed like too easy a question for a final exam – but I’ve often noted that examiners love to give students questions including just enough rope to hang themselves.
Because this coming week (until March 24th’08) is ‘French language’ week, I thought it might be helpful to talk about the benefits of studying French for any readers who are considering ‘Junior Year Abroad’ programs in France, or if you find yourself at a crossroads in life and you’re thinking about spending a few months in France to study the language.
My answer to the examiner was simple. French, along with English was the official language of the United Nations (at the time of the exam). The history of the French and English languages is inextricably interwoven ever since William the Conqueror crossed the Channel from Normandy to England in 1066. For hundreds of years French was the official language spoken at the English royal court. It is still considered a sign of good education (in England) to be conversant in French. Perhaps the last American first lady to speak French with flair was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The only French word I’ve heard Hillary Clinton pronounce during her visit as a first lady was ‘Merci’ in the Rodin Garden (when asked by journalists to say something in French).
On a more practical level, being able to communicate in French has been helpful, not only in France, but in our travels throughout Africa. Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Madagascar are some of the countries where French has come in handy. If you plan on traveling in parts of Canada’s Quebec province, you’ll find that being bilingual is a necessity.
One foreign student in Paris described English as the language of business and French as the language of politics and diplomacy. I would take that one step further and say that language is politics. By promoting one’s national language one is also promoting the nation’s world influence. If this is the case, France’s ‘language week’ might also be considered part of the its new image as one of the ‘movers and shakers’ on the Continent.
Learning to speak French has changed my life in too many ways to list in one short blog.
For anyone who loves words and conversation, you’ll find that conversation in France is an active sport. Many people start their day with a radio talk show and these are the topics that engender conversation at lunch and dinner. People caress one another with words or they slap you on both cheeks. They say goodbye to you after a dinner engagement and when you get to the ‘hope to see you again’ part the pertly pronounced ‘peut-etre’ means most definitely, ‘Never.’ If you like direct talk, you won’t like French. It’s a martial art, a sculpture class and mathematical formula wrapped up into one.
Past campaigns to shut out words like ’weekend’ have fallen by the wayside as the barrage of computer terms, slam, and advertising logos have been absorbed and morphed into slightly different meanings. When an English word like ‘challenge’ makes it into everyday French language, I’m always delighted. The closest word I could find for ‘challenge’ was ‘defi’ but it never seemed quite right. Meanwhile other new French/English meldings like ‘people’ and ‘peoplisation’ have taken on a level of disdain that needs to be savored along with your ‘aperatif’. Never was the gap between ‘les peoples’ and ‘le peuple’ so wide. It’s not revolution – it’s revulsion at its best.
Today’s story in Le Parisien (Patrimoine
Mais si, la langue française se porte bien
14.03.08 | 05:00) stating that the ‘French language is going like gangbusters’ is true. Come to France. Learn to speak French and your life will be all the more richer for it.
Take the ‘challenge’:
Coordinating with educational programs in your home country can be useful to avoid some of the hassles and red tape involved with applying to a language school once you’re in Paris. Add to that, the task of finding housing, you may want to consider some of the following options for planning your school program in Paris:
GSE Abroad offers programs with transferable credits at The Sorbonne and other schools in Paris including The American Business School.
As a graduate of the Cours de Langue et Civilisation Francaises, I can definitely recommend it for a useful foundation that will aid you for years to come. The Alliance Francaise is also very helpful for students of all ages.