Why Study a Foreign Language?

Brianna Marshall, Senior Writer

Alain-Philippe Durand, professor of French at the University of Arizona, spoke about the benefits of studying a foreign language on the post-secondary level. Durand visited the University on Sept. 25 to present “A Foreign Language, Don’t Leave Bucknell Without It.” Sponsored by the David Morton and Leanne Freas Trout Fund for Teaching and Research in French and Francophone Studies, the Student Lectureship Committee, and the Department of French and Francophone Studies Program, this lecture focused on the importance of studying a second language in college.

Durand addressed the widespread assumption that a language major is impractical or useless in the long-term.

“Which kind of job will it give you?” Durand said, assuming the tone of a concerned parent.

Durand said that this attitude is directly related to the perception of foreign language education in the media. As the Director of the School of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Arizona, Durand struggles with what he describes as “justifying” the need for foreign language departments even at a university level. He cites constant reports of failing language programs as opposed to stories highlighting the successes of language educators and their students. More specifically, interest in French has declined in recent years, a sentiment resulting from anti-French charged movements such as “Freedom Fries” by the U.S. public in response to French opposition to the war in Iraq.

Durand conducted widespread surveys of University of Arizona alumni who either majored or minored in a foreign language as an undergraduate. He found that these individuals are highly successful in a wide range of fields including engineering, business, fashion, and medicine. Durand emphasized that while careers in education and translation positions could be found among the surveyed alumni, the diversity of job options is much greater than these traditional foreign language-related career paths.

A language major, according to Durand, is “the perfect combination with any discipline” and that “advising, educating, and sending [this] message” is the key to securing interest in the future of foreign language study. Students who study language acquire very unique skills that can lead to future success.

“An ability to adapt to new situations, to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, to approach abstract and difficult tasks, and to critically write, read, and think” are a few points of excellence that Durand believes can be acquired through foreign language study.

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