Study Abroad Student Handbook
France France
Center for Global Education

Why Learn a Language?

"C'est la vie." "The painting possesses a certain je ne sais quoi." Don't be so gauche." "He lives at the end of the cul-de-sac." Whether we realize it or not, French has worked its way into our everyday English language. Some phrases, like je ne sais quoi and comme ci comme ça are more notably French whereas words such as cul de sac, mayonnaise, liason, menu, entreé, boulevard, avenue, faux pas and double entendre are used so commonly in English that often we do not even realize their French origin. The influence French has had on our language and culture is indisputable and learning the language can only make your understanding of English that much more complete.

However, there are other reasons why it is a good idea to learn this highly influential Romance language. If you are interested in history, politics, music, architecture, science, agriculture, art and countless other subjects, you will find that speaking and understanding French gives you a deeper appreciation of your field and opens up innumerable opportunities for employment and research. French is the official language, along with English, of at least 10 major international organizations (among them the United Nations, UNESCO, NATO, and the International Red Cross) as well as being the language of choice in the European Union and the European Court of Justice. Furthermore, French is frequently listed as a language of choice in international job listings for professions ranging from politics to engineering, translation, marketing and investment. Knowledge of French will serve you well any type of international business, politics, humanitarian aid, or research, or even if you simply want to travel - it is the official language of 33 countries, and is the only language apart from English that is spoken on 5 continents.

Since the invasion of the Normans in England in 1066, French has been recognized as the language of the elite and the educated. Throughout the Middle Ages, the baroque period, the romance era and into modern times, some of Western culture's most influential poetry, plays, literature, philosophy, fashion, science and art has been written, explained or debated in French. In fact, French has been so overarching in so many different avenues of culture that for centuries, the children of anyone who could afford it were required to learn and speak French - without it, one was not considered truly educated.

French literature such as "Le Misanthrope" and "The Second Sex," operas like "Carmen," the poetry of La Fontaine, Banville and Prévert, theories and discoveries by the likes of Pasteur, Curie and Descartes, and philosophical treatises by Voltaire and Rousseau (which still influence the way we operate politics and view the role of the government in the United States) have all been enormously influential throughout the Western and non-western world. However, you cannot read or experience these works in their original language without being fluent in French. Artists still travel in droves to France to study amidst the world's greatest painters, sculptors and photographers; and in general, many still consider French a necessary part of a well-rounded education. French cinema is often considered ground-breaking - indeed, the avant-garde movement in art, dance and cinema originated in France - and films like "Amélie," "L'Auberge Espagnole," and "Belle de Jour" have gained recognition from mainstream American audiences.

It is uncontestable that French is still a language in wide demand, and your time will certainly never be wasted studying it. Bonne chance et au revoir!

Read on – Why Study Abroad and find answers how study abroad can affect your personal growth and career path.

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