In some circles, the French language is considered a frivolous pursuit.
“Sure, it’s all right as a hobby, but what are you going to do with it? Read Molière while sipping red wine in your parents’ basement, where you’ll live because you didn’t study something useful?”
Actually, learning French to read Molière is a fine idea, and don’t be afraid to say so!
Clinging to the idea of French as a mainstay of the lax, preening intellectual is like attending a fashion show in last year’s clothes.
Granted, learning the language for any stereotypical reasons (its romance, its beauty, its…je ne sais quoi) or just for the sheer love of it is totally legitimate. However, if you need assurance that your time spent on French will be a good investment, or just want to know how to fend off naysayers, look no further. We’ve got you covered.
Myths and Misunderstandings About the Practicality of French
Those of us who grew up studying French in American schools during the past three decades or so were told time and again that learning Spanish was more advantageous, period. We were told Spanish would offer countless opportunities, while French would offer none. We were also told Spanish was far easier.
While Spanish is a wonderful language and learning it comes with many benefits, none of the above is inherently true. Spanish grammar is sometimes simpler, and the accent is generally considered easier, but French gives English speakers a break in other areas, such as vocabulary. There also may be more jobs for Spanish speakers than French speakers, but there are more Spanish speakers, so supply and demand factors in as well.
Another idea heavy in the Western consciousness is that the French language is dying out. So many French people are learning English, and French is getting all cluttered up with English words! What’s even the point in learning French anymore, right?
One word: Africa. The majority of French speakers today are not living in France, and some key areas in which French is being spoken (African countries chief among these) are poised to gain importance on the world stage.
Also, those who complain about French being corrupted by English often neglect to mention that English owes nearly half its vocabulary to French, which brings to mind the proverb plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).
Still, things are changing, and it pays to think modern and global. Let’s explore the exciting reality of what French has to offer today.
5 Reasons Why Learning French Is an Even Better Idea Than You Thought
1. French has secured its status as a top international language.
First, the basics. The French language is spoken on five continents. It has official-language status in 29 countries, including Belgium, Haiti, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Monaco, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Canada, Mali and more. It’s one of six official languages of the UN.
If the French language were a credit card, it’d be MasterCard: inherently valuable and almost universally accepted. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what was ever going to happen, a language with that much influence and that much spread is in no danger of disappearing within the foreseeable future.
2. Learning French gives you access to the world.
Due to French history and the amount of exposure France has had to other cultures, as well as the amount of influence it has had on other cultures, you can use French to better connect to the world as a whole.
Here are a few ways to do this:
- Witness current events through the French lens. Learning French gives you access to many major news media sources, including the global television network TV5MONDE, which broadcasts international news and other French-language content all over the world from France, Switzerland, Belgium and Francophone Africa. You can easily find French-language newspapers online that report on events around the globe, including Le Monde and L’Obs (previously known as Le Nouvel Observateur). Adding these to major English-language sources like CNN or the BBC will help diversify your perspective of world events and keep you better informed. There’s also FluentU, if you don’t want to just stick to one particular news source.
- Let France bring the arts to you. The French are excellent curators. They pay attention to what’s going on in the arts on an international level and bring the latest right to your doorstep. In the English-speaking world, we are often given the impression that the best of everything in arts and entertainment is available to us. But according to recent statistics, there is around nine times more foreign literature available in France than in English-speaking countries! France is also home to the Cannes Film Festival, the preeminent international film festival that brings attention to new films from all around the world every year.
- Use the French language as your passport. French opens up your travel options like crazy. Of course, you can still travel to countries where you don’t speak the language, or don’t speak it well, but being able to communicate and understand will enhance your experience. You’ll be able to get around not only in Paris and the rest of France, but other great vacation destinations like French Polynesia, Québec or Switzerland.
3. French is on the rise.
Francophone Africa is a popular place to do business.
There are a lot of understandable reservations regarding what recent Chinese investment in sub-Saharan Africa really means for Africans, but regardless of what else, it means a chance for the rest of the world to pay close attention to Africa. It opens the door for the Western world to consider the African individual, the African worker and the African consumer.
And with things potentially moving in this direction, it’s worth considering that French just might explode in the same way Mandarin has. It’s worth looking into, and maybe even getting involved in!
Francophone populations are growing rapidly.
Along with the changing state of modern Africa, French-speaking African populations are some of the fastest-growing in the world.
In addition, France’s birthrate suggests that by 2025 French will surpass German to become the most-spoken language in Europe!
A recent study by the investment bank Natixis projected that, due in part to the factors stated above, French will overtake other top languages worldwide in coming decades, including English. This projection was notable enough for both USA Today and Forbes to take notice and run articles discussing the possibility.
4. French is a favorite among language learners.
After English, French is the most-learned language worldwide. This means that there are a huge number of resources and communities available to the French learner.
It also means that by learning French you’re opening the door to communicate not just with native French speakers, but other people like yourself who have studied French. This can especially come in handy when traveling. If you already speak English, and add French to your repertoire, you might be surprised how many people you can talk to, even in countries where neither English nor French is an official language.
One of the greatest benefits to learning French is that it remains a real international lingua franca.
5. For an English speaker, French has a great difficulty-to-benefit ratio.
Spanish has been more frequently taught than French in the United States for quite some time now and looks like it will soon overtake French in British schools as well. As this is happening, keep a couple of things in mind:
Taking the less popular option will make your skills more valuable when someone really needs them.
This whole time we’ve been talking about how French is much bigger and stronger and has a better future than people realize. However, since the popular perception hasn’t quite caught up to that, we can take advantage of French’s perceived weakness in the meantime. It’s not cheating, it’s strategy!
It’s likely that while jobs in your area looking for Spanish speakers may come in a more steady stream, the ones looking for French speakers—when they do come up—may find fewer qualified candidates. So you may have to keep out a sharper watch for employment that would take your French skills into account, but once you do find something, chances are that your knowledge will weigh at least a little heavier than if you were applying for a job requiring equivalent Spanish skills. It will also make you harder to replace!
Diversification is rarely a bad idea.
If you want to learn both French and Spanish, you might want to consider starting French first. While French will likely be more intimidating to speak initially, its shared vocabulary with English will help lessen the difficulty of memorization. Then, the lexical and grammatical similarities between French and Spanish make it easier to move from one to the other.
French is also a great confidence builder as a gateway to more challenging languages. A lot of the more difficult aspects of French lie in finicky grammar rules that you’ll have to work on perfecting, but that won’t necessarily hamper your ability to use the language in the meantime. In this way, French can whip you into shape for higher linguistic challenges while at the same time providing quick gratification along the way.
Whatever your goals, if you want to get started learning French, nothing should stop you now. If anyone suggests you’re a dreamer with a head full of cheese and baguettes, you can reel off thoughtful, well-constructed arguments until they’re forced to back down under the sheer flood of your impressive knowledge.
Or if you’re not in the mood to argue, you can just doff your beret and respond, N’importe quoi! (“Whatever!”)