French is the international language of dance, architecture, the visual arts, theatre, fashion and haute cuisine. It’s spoken by over 200 million people, making it the ninth most spoken language in the world. Right now, approximately 750,000 people are learning it. If you can read it, you’ll be able to dip into the original works of such luminaries as Jean-Paul Sartre, Molière and Michel Foucault, and admire the words of Edith Piaf’s belting choruses. It’s a language of diplomacy and sophistication, and an official language of multiple institutions, from the United Nations to the European Union and the International Red Cross. If you’re looking to learn a language, French is a great choice. Here are five of the top reasons for learning French.
Reason 1: Because it’s part of who you are
The French and English languages have a pretty mixed-up history. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, Norman French was adopted as the language of power on the British Isles. For the next 400 years, French was the language of the nobility and of most official documents. King Henry V put a stop to that when he went to war with France, but because the two languages existed in parallel for so long, the English language is peppered with words of French origin — almost half of them can be traced back to French roots. This means that you actually already know a lot of French, even if you don’t think you do.
Reason 2: Because it’s not that difficult
We anglophones don’t have the greatest reputation for speaking foreign languages, but French is the one language in which many of us can at least utter a few words. This is due not only to the aforementioned similarities, but also to the fact that it’s taught widely in schools, French-speaking countries continue to be popular tourist destinations, and French words tend to pop up sporadically in high brow texts that are trying to be a little more high brow. Admittedly there are a few finicky grammar rules to learn, but generally speaking, English grammar corresponds relatively closely to French grammar.
Reason 3: Because French is more than just France
It would take a lifetime to discover the abundance of delights that France has to offer — from the magnificent chateaux that line the Loire river, to the tremendous opportunities for hiking and skiing in the Alps and the Pyrenees, and the world-renowned galleries and museums nestled in virtually every major French city. A knowledge of French doesn’t only give you access to all of this, but also to countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium, where French is also an official language. And if you’re keen on warmer climes for your vacations, consider also that there are many countries in Africa and the Caribbean where French is spoken, including Madagascar, Morocco, Tunisia and the Seychelles.
Reason 4: Because learning French is a stepping stone to other languages
One of the most interesting things about learning a foreign language is how much you learn about your own language. As mentioned, French was very much the language of haute société, and many of the words of French origin enable you to map out an understanding of differences in register that still exist in English today. The knowledge you gain about your own language equips you with a plethora of tools you can use to learn further languages, and if you choose to learn another romance language — Portuguese, Spanish or Italian, for example — then you’ll recognise a host of grammatical and lexical similarities.
Reason 5: Parce que je t’aime
The accent is arguably the most difficult part of starting to learn French. Consonants toward the end of words have an unsettling tendency to disappear. Once you’ve tuned into the language, however, you can turn knees to jelly with the mere utterance of a simple sentence; is there anything more romantic than the soft, whispered sound of “Je t’aime”? According to a survey we carried out with over 10,000 participants, French really is the language of love, beating its romance rivals Italian and Portuguese to assume the much coveted position of sexiest language in the world. We suggest you back the winner.
UPDATE: We were so convinced by these five reasons that we set ourselves the challenge of learning as much French as possible in seven days – while also working our normal day job! We made a short, light-hearted, two part documentary about it. Check out part one below, see the diary and part two here, and read some top tips to learn a language with an app here.