Why Study French?

by  Dr. Kris Aric Knisely
 (knisely@email.arizona.edu), Assistant Professor of French at the University of Arizona

What can I do with a University degree in French?

  • French is actively used in cultural, literary, and scientific theories. 
  • French is the Second most used language on the Internet. 
  • The Francophone region of Quebec is a neighbor and active commercial partner of the United States. 
  • Paris, France is the number one tourist destination worldwide
  • The French language is widely spoken on all continents including Antarctica (Dumont d’Urville, Terre Adelie), on and under water (Cousteau Foundation and Comex), in space (Ariane Espace and Airbus), and in Cyberspace. 

According to the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission Report (Norton, 2002): “There is a third [problem] [...]: The limited pool of critical experts- for example skilled counterterrorism analysts, and linguists” (page 401); “Recommendation: The CIA Director should emphasize developing a stronger language program, with high standards and sufficient financial incentives” (415); “The FBI should fully implement a recruiting, hiring, and selection process for agents and analysts that enhances its ability to target and attract individuals with educational and professional backgrounds in intelligence, international relations, language, technology, and other relevant skills” (426).

From these conclusions and recommendations, both the CIA and FBI now aggressively recruit instructors, agents, analysts, translators, and interpreters in a list of specific languages, including French. Other government agencies and non-profit organizations are now more interested in employees mastering a foreign language such as French. 

French double/dual degree majors are very marketable when looking for jobs and when applying for law school, medical school, and other graduate programs. At the University of Arizona, our French majors double major or pursue dual degrees in 51 different majors in 10 different colleges. Some of the popular colleges where French majors choose a dual degree or a double major are Agriculture and Life Sciences, Architecture, Eller College of Business, Engineering, Fine Arts, Humanities, Optical Science, Public Health, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Science. 

Popular degree programs students choose as a double major or dual degree include: Accounting, Animal sciences, Anthropology, Architecture, Art History, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Classics, Communication, Creative Writing, Dance, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Economics, English, Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources, Finance, Geosciences, German, Media Arts, Microbiology, Mining Engineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Music, Natural Resources, Near Eastern Studies, Nutritional Sciences, Optical Sciences and Engineering, Performance (Voice), Philosophy, Philosophy-Politics-Economy-Law, Political Science, Psychology, Public Health, Retail and Consumer Science, Russian, Science Education, Sociology, Spanish, Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, Studio Art, Theater Art, Veterinary Sciences.

Ok, that sounds good. I do love French, but I know that I will never live in a French-speaking country, I do not want to teach French, and I do not want to work for the government nor in international business…

French gives you skills and qualities that are useful and very marketable no matter what you do: memorization, reading, and writing skills; ability to analyze, evaluate, and communicate with any individual; experience and adapt to unfamiliar environments and situations; critical thinking ability, and manipulation of fiction and reality. French, as any other foreign language, is good for you even after you graduate; even if you never use it again for the rest of your life, in many areas of your life and future career. 

How many people do you know around you who speak French? Not those who took an occasional class in high school or those who listen to CDs in their car; I am talking about people who have mastered the French Language. “Not too many” is probably the answer. Do you know why? Learning and mastering French is difficult, and not everybody has the motivation to do what it takes. Additionally, not many people speak French as their first language in the United States. This means that any student who ends up mastering both the English and French languages in this country will send the message that they are able to master something very difficult, and can handle and work in a foreign, challenging, and demanding environment. Finally, when these graduates apply for positions seeking a specialist in French or Francophone culture/language in the US, they will rarely be in competition with native speakers who were born and raised in that language and culture, thus increasing their chances to be hired. 

Why should we bother learning French when everybody around the world speaks English?

It is precisely because the entire world speaks English that now more than ever knowing another language, such as French, gets you ahead. Let’s take two American executives coming to France to negotiate with two French executives. First case scenario: all of them speak English but only the two French executives speak French. Second case scenario: all of them speak both French and English. In the first scenario, the French executives will have the advantage, knowing that whenever they break into French, such as using their cell phone, the other two will not understand what they are saying. In the second scenario, the American executives will have the liberty to decide if they will let their French counterparts know they speak French. Even if the entire meeting is conducted in English, the French executives will know that whatever they say in either French or English, that their counterparts will be listening in. In conclusion, if everybody speaks the same language, you need another language that only you and your associate will understand when needed. 

Why study French at the University of Arizona?

UA has hundreds of French majors and minors. Unlike other institutions, UA and the French and Francophone Studies Program make it possible for students to double or triple major and obtain a double degree (BA/BS) with most majors offered on campus. The diverse UA French Faculty has the highest respect and interest in their students and their progress. French majors are assigned personal advisors and mentors with whom they meet privately on a regular basis (at least once per semester) throughout their studies. The French faculty not only helps majors select their classes, but also advise them on study abroad, internships, jobs, and graduate school. Seniors get extensive support from the French faculty concerning their post-graduation plans and the various options available to them at that crucial time in their life. Highly motivated and outstanding students may qualify for the BA and MA in French in five years offered at UA. 

The UA French and Francophone Studies Program is a diverse community of current and past students, scholars, and friends who share the same passion for and unremitting commitment to the study of France and the rest of the Francophone world. Because of that fact, so many UA French majors double major in another discipline. Additionally, because of the many study abroad opportunities offered around the Francophone world, our students get to meet people from many different places and with many different interests. 

The UA French club Voilà, our active network of alumni, French program listserv and social networks, as well as many activities (lectures, film series, etc.) and partnerships (Africana Studies, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies, among others) keep our students informed and immersed in Francophone cultures. 

In the UA French and Francophone Studies program, the Faculty and students believe that high expectations of students are strongly linked to their persistence, graduation, and to learning itself. Consequently, UA French courses and instructors are very demanding, providing students with a rigorous, informative, and practical training that will serve them well beyond their college years, regardless of what they end up doing. 

All UA French majors love French, of course, but most importantly, they do not settle for less. They work very hard at being able to do whatever it is they are interested in, but doing it anywhere in the world. They are expected to speak French as well as to read and write extensively at all levels. They know how to conduct research and they know where the library is. The typical UA French majors and alumni have traveled, studied, and worked in many areas of the world. They have been offered positions in a wide range of careers and they have been accepted in some of the most prestigious graduate programs. They have been taught to be humble and respectful, but most of all to NEVER give up and to keep their head up. 

One final reason to major in French at UA: when you decide to invest such a substantial amount of money in a college education, you hope to end up choosing a school and eventually a program that you trust. What you are doing is giving the University your monetary investment, and in return you expect to reach a certain level of education that will allow you to lead an exciting life and career after graduation. It also means that you trust the professors, advisors, and institution to guide you towards reaching that goal. This is exactly what the UA French faculty and advisors strive to do. We cannot guarantee the jackpot, or a specific job once you graduate; however, we can guarantee that if you become a French major at UA, I, and all my colleagues in the French and Francophone Studies program, will be there for you from day one until the day you graduate and beyond. We will do our best to train you in such a way that it will increase your chances of choosing your future once you graduate. It is our strong belief that the skills you’ll gain as a French Studies major will help you accomplish any other task more effectively, hence increasing your chances for a bright future. 

Dr. Alain-Philippe Durand
Dean, College of Humanities
Professor of French
PO Box 210067 
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721-0067
Tel: 520-621-9294
Email: adurand@email.arizona.edu

Group of students walking on campus

Meet Our Students

Whether it's a passion for languages, literatures and culture, a calling to serve others around the world, or a desire for a dynamic career, see why we choose Humanities.