Did you know that French is the third most important language for business, after English and Chinese? French is also the language of global diplomacy with treaties registered with the United Nations translated into both English and French, and while English is favored at U.N. headquarters in New York, French is more widely used in the U.N. second largest office in Geneva.
According to Stéphanie Boulard, associate professor of French in the Ivan Allen College School of Modern Languages at Georgia Tech, French is the second most widely studied language in the world after English and is spoken on five continents. Boulard cited a 2014 study by investment bank Natixis that suggested French might be the most widely spoken language in the world by 2050.
“French is, in fact, a language of international diplomacy, a global business language, and the third most widely used language on the Internet, so our students should start now because French is the language of the future!” said Boulard.
These benefits of learning the language were promoted by the French program and the Georgia Tech French Club through its annual French Day celebration on October 20, 2016. The event was attended by French and Swiss consulate representatives and featured a French food contest, live music, screenings of two French films, and information sessions co-hosted by the Office of International Education and the School of Modern Languages’ signature Language for Business and Technology (LBAT) program.
“Our students benefit from learning French at Georgia Tech because our French language program offers an interdisciplinary approach, with a focus on culture and language across the curriculum and on international business and science,” said Boulard.
The French program currently has 31 majors and 26 students from across Georgia Tech working toward a minor in French. The program focuses on interdisciplinarity and immersion with all classes taught in French. Two study abroad LBAT immersion programs are offered in France and Senegal.
Boulard highlighted the diversity of careers pursued by alumni of the French program. These include consulting/business services; business manager; financial analyst; city and regional planning; cyber security research and development; environmental and social consultant. Alumni have obtained positions with companies such as with Kaiser Permanente, Chick-fil-A, and IBM, and French-based companies such as Sun Technologies. Others pursue doctoral degrees.
“One alumnus, Benjamin Bennett (IAML - French, 2012), is completing a master's program in International Public Management at Science Po Paris (or the Paris Institute of Political Studies). Another was just accepted in the doctoral program in French at Brown University: this is very prestigious for us considering how hard it is to enter in that graduate program.”
Bennett said that studying French at Georgia Tech “is a valuable experience because the professors teach their courses with a marked emphasis on the cultural and historical contexts.”
“These insights in to the rich, diverse francophone world fueled my desire to study abroad in Paris, and it gave me the confidence I needed to adapt to a new cultural environment,” Bennett added. “Reflecting on my time at Georgia Tech, I know I would not have been able to pursue my dream of living abroad today without the foundatoin of my French studies at Tech.”
Boulard believes that the rich heritage of French offers great advantages in one’s personal life for culture, travel, and education, and as a means to appreciate French literature and cinema, cuisine, and lifestyle, but she emphasizes the advantages of foreign languages skills in the workplace and in access to information around the world.
“I cannot stress enough the importance for our Georgia Tech students to dive into a foreign language, the French language particularly. It opens up so many opportunities and it also fosters the development of critical thinking skills since it gives them the intellectual skills necessary for reasoning through complex issues.”
“We often talk of language as though it could be divorced from thinking, as though it could be gathered up by one person and given to another in the form of a collection of sentences to remember. When we talk in this way we forget that language, by its very nature, depends on thought. I mean, critical thought. In our classes we teach students to see the connections between language, thinking, and learning, between understanding content and thinking it through, between intellectual discipline and education.”
In the globalized, interconnected world, foreign language skills are more important than ever before, and yet studies show that Americans do not tend to study enough foreign languages.
Boulard notes a 2014 global talent survey that found that 11 percent of U.S. mid- and large-size companies are actively recruiting candidates with foreign language skills and that 35 percent give an advantage to multilingual candidates.
“There are many good reasons for our students to learn French at Georgia Tech, including culture, career opportunities, and global citizenship.”
The School of Modern Languages is one of six schools in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.