Why Study French?

by  Dr. Kris Aric Knisely
Assistant Professor of French at the University of Arizona

What can I do with a university degree in French?

  • The francophone region of Quebec is a neighbor and active commercial partner of the United States
  • 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). Consequently, both the CIA and FBI now aggressively recruit instructors, agents, analysts, translators, and interpreters in a list of specific languages that includes French. Other government agencies and non-profit organizations are now more interested in employees mastering a foreign language such as French.
  • In 2004, the strong opposition of three nations (France, Germany, and Russia) to a military intervention in Iraq resulted in diplomatic tensions and extensive reporting, debates, and discussions in the American media. While France is smaller than both Germany and especially Russia and has a much smaller military than Russia, it is still the country that was rapidly at the center of all discussions, what would soon be named "French Bashing" by some journalists. The fact that the opinion of such a small country without much military power created so many reactions (for or against) in the United States proves that there is a long history of Franco-American relations (and a necessity to analyze these relations) that cannot be ignored. As with any debate, the people who are able to know and to master both sides will have an advantage.
  • 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 as follows: Majors: 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, Global Studies, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, Italian, Journalism, Latin American Studies, Linguistics, Marketing, Media Arts, Microbiology, Mining Engineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Music, Natural Resources, Near Eastern Studies, Nutrional 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 Science Colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Architecture, Eller College of Business, Engineering, Fine Arts, Humanities, Optical Science, Public Helth, Social and Behavioral Science, Science
  • French majors can also become teachers or professors.

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 (as any other foreign language) is good for you even if after you graduate you never use it again for the rest of your life (very unlikely though) in your career or in anything else you do because going through the process of learning 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; ability for critical thinking; manipulation of fiction and reality.
  • How many people do you know around you who speak French? Not those who took an occasional class in high school or in college or who listen to CDs in their car, I am talking about people mastering the French language. "Not too many" is probably the answer. Do you know why? Because learning and mastering French is difficult and not everybody has the motivation to do what it takes. Also, not too 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 indeed able to master something very difficult, they 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 since everybody speaks English around the world?

  • 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 to know that whenever they break into French (for instance using their cell phone) the other two will not understand what they are saying. In the second scenario, the American executives 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, 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)?

  • 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 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, they 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.
  • The UA French and Francophone Studies Program is a diverse community of students (current and past), 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 the fact that so many UA French majors double major in another discipline and 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, many activities (lectures, film series, etc.) and partnerships (Africana Studies, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies, among others) keep our program and 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 but always informative and practical training that will serve them well beyond their college years, regardless 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 but also to read and to 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.
  • Highly motivated and outstanding students may qualify for the BA + MA in French in five years offered at UA.
  • One final reason to major in French at UA: when you decide to invest such an important amount of money in a college education, you end up choosing a school and eventually a program that you trust. What you are doing is that you give this university your money and you expect in return to reach a certain level in your education that will allow you to have an exciting life and career afterward. This also means that you trust the professors and advisors of that institution to guide you and to help you in reaching that level. And you are right because this is exactly what the UA French faculty and advisors do. We cannot guarantee the jackpot or a specific job once you graduate. What we can guarantee, however, is 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 will learn in French 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@arizona.edu