Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why I'm glad I learned French

I have posted much on Facebook about my attempts to learn Spanish, so my Facebook friends know a lot about my interest in the language. But I have not posted as much about French, perhaps because I learned it long before I ever joined Facebook. I'm not often asked why I learned Spanish, because the local usefulness of the language is well known here; but people sometimes wonder why I learned French. Thus, I decided to write this post to explain.

I am a language nerd

First of all, I am a language nerd. I would want to learn other languages even if there were no chance of using them on the job. I'm learning Ancient Greek, for example, and I can be certain that I'll never meet a native speaker of this language. I've only ever met one person who's studying it as a second language. But I just like learning foreign languages, so I thought this would be fun.

Why I originally took French

But why French, rather than some other language? There are a few reasons for this. One of them was that the only languages my high school offered were Spanish and French; and at the time I started learning French, I was taking a bit of a gamble that I would be able to learn Spanish on a mission. As it turned out, I did not serve a mission, because I was honorably excused for medical reasons; but during my high school years, I had reason to believe I would go. There was a significant probability that I would go on a Spanish-speaking mission, because Spanish is one of the more common mission languages. Therefore, I decided to take French during high school, and continued to take it during my freshman year of college. (In all, I took the equivalent of two years of college French.)

Should I have taken Spanish first?

I have sometimes regretted not taking Spanish during high school instead, because when I graduated from college and started job-hunting, many of the online job ads mentioned that they preferred fluency in Spanish. I had difficulty finding stable full-time work, and sometimes wished I'd learned Spanish instead. But with the terrible Obama economy, this might have happened in any case, and so it probably wouldn't have made much difference. I might well have been unemployed in any case.

Probably not, for these reasons ...

And there was one other consideration: I was able to take Spanish classes after graduation, which were offered at Yavapai College where I lived - unlike French, which Yavapai was no longer offering due to budget cuts. (That terrible Obama economy again.) The only foreign languages they offered for credit were Spanish and American Sign Language. They'd offered French for credit during my freshman year of college, and I had taken Yavapai's second year of college French at that time. But if I'd learned Spanish earlier, I could not have learned French at Yavapai after graduation; whereas with my learning French earlier, I was able to learn Spanish at Yavapai after graduation. Thus, it might have been better after all to learn French first.

Canadian flag

Practical reasons for learning French

Though French is not useful in Arizona, it does have economic importance elsewhere. It is one of the two official languages of Canada, and it is spoken widely there, even outside of the French-speaking province of Quebec. Canada is one of the United States' biggest trading partners, owing to the two countries sharing a border; and so French has importance in North America. The United States also does a lot of trade with the European Union, which has English and French among its three main languages (the other being German). Even focusing just on France, the language's importance can be seen, as France is one of our top ten trading partners. French still is not as important to Americans as Spanish or Chinese, it must be admitted; but it still has importance in the world.

European Union flag

The geography of French

French is spoken on every continent but Australia and Antarctica, owing to the large amount of colonization that France did earlier. Thus, French might be said to be a language spread throughout the world. Spanish is spoken mostly in Europe and the Americas (and is particularly important in the Americas), while the geography of French is more widespread. I'm mainly interested in European and Canadian French, because of their economic importance to the United States; but I've often thought of how French is useful in other regions as well.

Norman Conquest, 1066
(as depicted by Bayeux tapestry)

French helps to understand English

The final reason I'm glad I learned French is less practical, but nonetheless important to me. English has borrowed a lot of words from French, and so learning French helps to understand the origins of English words. During the Norman Conquest, England was conquered by the French-speaking Normans, and so English borrowed a lot of words from the conquerors' language. English has also borrowed many words from Latin, which French is a descendant of; and so French helps to understand these words as well.

So these are some of the reasons that I've often been glad I learned French. I hope this has been helpful to those wondering why anyone would learn this language.

Update to this blog post:

Since first publishing this, I read a book in the original French which was first published in 1748. The book was Montesquieu's "De l'esprit des lois" ("The Spirit of Laws"), which I discuss in another blog post. (Here if you're interested.)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

My educational experiences with French

My experiences with French (after graduation)

A sample of my French writing (a.k.a. the only thing I've bothered to publish in French)

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