Tuesday, December 21, 2010

French: A Useless Language?

We knew about France's grandeur et décadence, but somehow learning French as a foreign language still had cachet. No more. "Out of the 6000 languages in the world, why is it so vital for smart people to learn the one spoken in one small European country of ever-waning influence and its former colonies?" asks The New Republic, adding, "Is knowing French really so obviously central to engaging what we know in 2010 as the world, or is it that French is a kind of class marker?"

French daily Libération takes umbrage at the argument, retorting that, regardless of France's position as a political, cultural or economic power, French is still the native and first foreign language of close to 200 million people in 54 countries, the official language in 14 countries, and one one of the official languages of the UN, NATO Red Cross and Olympic Committee. Yet the reality is there: the world's axis has shifted, and with it the relative importance of, and interest for, the French language.

The solution to save French from being regarded as a frivolous pursuit, an elitist "class marker," is not to confine it to a single department, to the language for the sake of it, but rather to teach it across disciplines, as a language but also a unique approach to life, culture, and the issues the world is confronted with. Taken holistically, "Frenchitude" still has a lot to offer.

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