America is once again debating the relevance of teaching children French. A New York Times piece sparked the discussion when it revealed that the French government is financially backing a push for more bilingual elementary schools in New York City which has resulted in more bilingual elementary schools in New York City. With 1000 students across 8 public schools, French is now the city’s largest dual-language program behind Spanish and Chinese.
Of course, this has led to arguments against and for learning French. The title of a New Republic article is blunt: “Let’s Stop Pretending that French is an Important Language.” A direct response to that piece can be found in Business Insider, with a piece that gives 7 reasons to learn French. And for a more general discussion, you can find a short piece on The American Conservative that simply asks “Why Learn French?” at the end of which, the author claims the discussion contained in the comments section proves we still need the language.
This is a familiar dance: France wants to promote its language and culture because it loves its language and culture. America asks, “Yeah, but how is French going to ensure my children’s financial success?” It’s art vs. entertainment; it’s the difference between je ne sais quoi and “I have identified the quoi and I’m going to bottle it and sell it and make a million bucks.” And I would contend that this dance in and of itself is vital and that creative tension that arises during this argument justifies the existence of both points of view.
By the way, you know these new French bilingual programs that are being sponsored by French people and the French government? They aren’t replacing other bilingual programs — they’re putting access to a second language where there wasn’t access before. They are allowing kids to acquire a very marketable skill at a very young age. And if you don’t know what to say in response to that, how about “Merci?”