On the Importance of Knowing French

The French language's separateness from Latin was recognized in 813, a long before French became a national language. Just as the related Anglo-Norman language exerted itself, by conquest, in the formation of English, so the the tongue of Ile de France also exerted itself by conquest, treaty and acquisition over similar tongues in the area which became France. The influence of the language was extended by exploration, colonization, further conquest, diplomatic, economic and cultural interest.

In a post-colonial world, French maintains a well deserved place of importance, for a number of reasons:

I offer on this page a number of links in support of the viability of French, in hopes that American students will understand the importance of this language.

The Argument for French

The Francophone World

The French Language and Its Supporters

French Inventions

France, the focus of many French language and culture courses, has the largest concentration of French-speaking people in the world. Since many seem to set it apart by its cultural distinctions (culinary, literary, and philosophical), I thought I would present an aspect of French culture which brings it very close to the heart of many Americans: the brilliant inventiveness of the French. The French, along with the British, were the pioneers of western patent law; they both borrowed from each other's strengths. Perhaps it is the drive to invent that makes France NEARLY THE TOP country of the world in Research & Development expenditures. Its civilian research budget for FY97 was US $10.5 billion. Here is a roughly chronological list of over 40 French inventions and inventors. I have cheated slightly by including two Swiss francophones, but I promise a more complete picture, to include inventors from many French-Speaking countries. For additional and more detailed informtion, please consult the site:

Inventors and Inventions from France


What do we know about leadership among nations? We know that nations which focus their energies narrowly on creating a powerful and threatening military, those whose chief desire build the biggest or most artistic monuments, those who simply devote themselves to business or farming or fishing can never claim a true leadership position. On the the other hand, democratically oriented nations, with relative respect for the rights of their citizens, and which hold leadership rank in many specific areas of endeavor, develop a legitimate claim to a more general leadership status among nations. I hope that patrons will consider the following world and European leadership ranks for specific endeavors and situations to determine for themselves if France deserves that general place of leadership among nations.

France and the World

  • FIRST in the production of trains
  • World's largest manufacturer of television sets
  • FIRST in the production of luxury goods
  • FIRST in the production of lavender oil, and leader in lavender trade
  • FIRST in food processing
  • highest per capita consumption of wine and cheese
  • world leader in secure smart-card solutions
  • highest percentage (44%) of online shoppers who have purchased leisure travel services over the web
  • highest labor productivity of any nation in the world (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • LARGEST recipient of U.S. foreign investment
  • FIRST exporter of perfumes in the world
  • FIRST exporter of wines in the world
  • FIRST exporter of cheese in the world
  • FIRST importing country of Scotch
  • SPOT Image (Toulouse) has the largest constellation of geospatial imaging satellites
  • FASTEST passenger plane (Concorde)
  • Air Liquide, (Paris) the world leader in industrial and medical gases and related services
  • TGV holds the speed record for rail -- 320 kmh
  • Most extensive network of high-speed rail lines
  • World leader in proportion of electricity produced by nuclear power (70-75%)
  • largest turbine ever made for tapping tidal energy
  • highest percentage of women graduating in Engineering
  • FIRST in the production of sugar beets
  • FIRST trout producing country in the world
  • Largest number of wines classified as being of guaranteed quality and origin
  • Largest number of different cheeses
  • Number one for the total control of the production cycle in shellfish farming
  • Highest population of Arabic speakers outside the Arab world
  • greatest number of religious martyrs of any country
  • Largest number of Christmas carols to its credit
  • World leader in non-English rap music
  • World leader in gastronomic terms
  • Largest and most prestigious film festival (Cannes)
  • Highest rate of magazine readership
  • Greatest number of chateaux
  • France is the world leader in medical research
  • World leader in homeopathy
  • World Leader in Artificial Insemination
  • World leader in security and safety on the skiing slopes
  • Largest ski area (8000 km of slopes)
  • Highest number of hunters, per capita
  • Sederma, based (Le Perray) is the world leader in bioactive ingredients for skincare
  • SECOND in overall military budget
  • SECOND in commercial and military aircraft production
  • SECOND in agribusiness and food processing
  • SECOND exporter of agricultural goods in the world
  • SECOND exporter of automobiles in the world
  • SECOND exporter of services in the world
  • SECOND to the US in the enrollment of foreign students
  • SECOND-largest oil drilling country
  • SECOND exporter of raw hides
  • SECOND exporter of tulips
  • SECOND in paragliding
  • THIRD among weapons sellers
  • THIRD in control of software market
  • THIRD in terms of the number of franchised networks
  • THIRD manufacturers of electronics equipment
  • THIRD largest market for kosher foods
  • FOURTH largest Gross National Product in the world
  • FOURTH exporter of medicines in the world
  • FOURTH exporter of women's clothing in the world
  • Paris is the world's fourth largest financial hub
  • FIFTH largest defense spender
  • FIFTH in the world for export volumes
  • FIFTH largest consumer of motor vehicles in the world
  • FIFTH exporter of computers in the world
  • SIXTH in overall industrial production world-wide

France and Europe

  • Lowest death rate from heart attack and stroke
  • Lowest rate of cardiovascular disease
  • Highest life expectancy for women in the EU
  • Highest overall level of scientists per thousand employees
  • lowest rate of carbon waste
  • highest number of public vending machine
  • FIRST in number of pets, with an estimated 47 million
  • Highest rate of pets (52% of families own a dog or a cat)
  • Highest consumption per capita of baby foods
  • Highest production of electricity with nuclear power
  • Highest meat consumption
  • Largest stock of housing, when measured on a number per thousand population basis
  • FIRST market for salmon
  • FIRST market for theme parks
  • Highest proportion of young Internet users
  • Highest percentage of broadband users in Europe (1 in 16 online households having a broadband connection)
  • Largest cattle herd
  • FIRST in shellfish farming
  • FIRST producer of oysters
  • France has the largest pair trawling fleet in Europe
  • Highest proportion of forested land in the EU
  • Highest level of public spending in the Eurozone
  • Highest number of police
  • Greatest number of judges per capita (8.45)
  • Lowest union membership
  • Shortest work week
  • Longest vacation
  • Largest temporary help market
  • highest number of Jewish citizens in Western Europe
  • Largest Armenian community
  • highest percentage of women in management positions
  • Largest host country for foreign students
  • Largest reservoir of art
  • Largest number of movie screens
  • Lowest emigration rate
  • Highest volumes of motorized travel per person per year
  • Most extensive railway system (= 31,536 kilometres)
  • Largest road network
  • Largest share of the West European diesel vehicle market
  • Largest market in Europe for travellers to the Caribbean
  • FIRST host country in the Eurozone, with a cumulative direct investment inflow of $128 billion between 1993 and 1998

Other Competitiveness Concerns

  • The U.S. is the largest destination for French investment, which was at $19.3 billion in 1999
  • More than 1,200 French companies employing over 500,000 Americans have subsidiaries in the U.S.
  • France is the U.S.'s fourth-largest scientific collaborator
  • French Imports from the US have risen nearly 22% while French exports to the US are up 53% since 1990.
  • The US is the SECOND largest exporter to France.
  • In 1997, France contributed 5.7% in merchandise and 10.7% in services to the world export market, making it the 4th overall exporter in the world. Overall, the French export more per capita than the Japanese and more than twice as much as the Americans.
  • With a 2.15 percent of GDP devoted to Research & Development, France is ranked fifth among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

Issues of Rank

Here is a collection of short articles about aspects of France's rank in specific endeavors and cultural conditions. These "Issues of Rank" are an attempt to go beyond the above lists for selected statistics. Each "issue" sets statistics in their specific context, to help us understand why we need to pay close attention to what is happening in France. Read my 2007 essay, How BEST to Consider France.

French Science

Of course, French thinkers have made their mark in discovery as well as in invention. Sadi N. L. CARNOT (1796-1832), physicist, was among the founders of modern thermodynamics (reversible Carnot heat engine cycle). Claude BERNARD (1813-1878), physiologist, was the founder of experimental medicine. André Ampère (1775-1836) formulated laws of electrodynamics and circuit force law. Charles A. Coulomb (1736-1806) established experimentally the inverse square law for the force between two electrical charges. George Cuvier (1769-1832) was the founder of paleontology and comparative anatomy René Descartes (1596-1650) invented the cartesian coordinate concept, and was founder of analytic geometry. Antoine L. Lavoisier (1743-1794), founded modern chemistry and discovered the role of oxygen in plant and animal respiration. Here is a web site with biographies of some the best known French scientific thinkers and another about the French tradition of scientific research:

Famous French scientists

Famous French People

Science and Research in France

It is little wonder that the French have compiled an excellent a record of Nobel Prizes:

France and French in the Western Hemisphere

There are well over 20 million native French-Speaking people in the Americas. This includes Martinique, Guadeloupe, St-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Guyane, Québec, the rest of Fracophone Canada, Haiti, French-speaking parts of the US, French enclaves of Central, South America and the Caribbean.

Strong and Sustained Historical Presence in the US

French explorers like Jacques Cartier (1491-1557), Samuel de Champlain: (1570 -1635), Etienne Brulé (1592-1633), Jean Nicolet (1598-1642), Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (1656-1730), Robert de LaSalle (1643-87), Jacques [Père]Marquette (1637-1675), Louis Joliette (1645-1700) and others like them, mapped or described in their journals much of the North American continent.

The French and the British were the first two European groups to move here in large numbers. The French were the first to explore the Great-Lakes region, Mississippi river, from Minnesota on down, and first to colonize Louisiana and to take a census there. The first farms in Missouri were established around 1725 by French settlers in the Ste. Genevieve area, but the exploration of "Le Pays des Illinois" (Mid-Mississippi Valley) had begun in the 1670s. French coureurs-de-bois developed the fur trade and explored the Rockies, leading the way for English traders and settlers. The French were the first to challenge Spain in South Carolina. There was significant migration of French Huguenots into this country, and a sigificant migration of Frenh-Canadians to work in New England factories.. Even the Portland and Seattle regions were first explored by the French, though first settled by Germans and Scandinavians. See the following page for exhaustive information on these:

Links to Franco-American Cultural and Historical Facts

The maps linked below show the extension of French interests through the middle of the eighteenth century.

French Expansion to 1697 (map)
French Expansion 1698-1713
French Expansion 1714-1744

We must not overlook the massive migration of exiled Acadians, or French speakers from what is now the Maritime Provinces of Canada, arriving in Louisiana mainly between 1765 and 1768. Much of this history is covered through

L'Espace Cajun / Acadien @ Globe-Gate
CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana)

It is little wonder there are so many French and francophone place names in the United States, as demonstrated in the partial list below (some of which were proposed by FLTEACH listmembers), and in the web link to a French place-names atlas: Abbeville AL, Bayou La Batre AL, Dauphin Island AL, Luverne AL, Labouchere Bay AK, Dumas AR, Fayetteville AR, Gravette AR, LaGrange AR, Maumelle AR, Tollette AR, Beaumont CA, Lafayette CA, Le Grand CA, Louisville CO, Montville, CT La Crosse FL, Tavernier FL, Abbeville GA, Fayetteville GA, Girard GA, Louisville GA, Boise, ID, Dubois ID, Bartonville IL, Beaucoup IL, Belle Prairie IL, Belle Rive IL, Belleville IL, Bellevue IL, Carondelet IL, Du Bois IL, Fort Crevecoeur, Fort De Chartres IL, Girard IL, La Fayette IL, La Grange IL, La Harpe IL, Louisville IL, Lyons IL, Maquon IL, Marcelline IL, Marquette Heights IL, Marseilles IL, Maunie IL, Modoc IL, Prairie du Rocher IL, Renault IL, St. Anne IL, Ste. Marie IL, Terre Haute IL, Vergennes IL, Busseron IN, Dupont IN, Dupont IN, La Fontaine IN, Lagrange IN, La Porte IN, Metz IN, Napoleon IN, Orleans IN, Terre Haute IN, Vincennes IN, Belle Plaine IA, Bellevue IA, Des Moines IA, Fontanelle IA, La Motte IA, La Porte IA, Le Claire IA, Le Grand IA, Le Mars IA, Leon IA, Le Roy IA, Marne IA, Marquette IA, Belle Plaine KS, Belleville KS, Belpre KS, Belvue KS, La Crosse KS, La Cygne KS, La Harpe KS, Le Roy KS, Lyons KS, Marquette KS, Auxier KY, Bellefonte KY, Bellevue KY, LaFayette KY, La Grange KY, Versailles KY, Abbeville LA, Anse-aux-Pailles LA, Arnaudville LA, Baie Côte Blanche LA, Baton Rouge LA, Bayou Bourbeux LA, Bayou Cane LA, Bayou Cocodrie LA, Bayou Coteau LA, Bayou des Allemands LA, Bayou des Glaises LA, Bayou Gauche LA, Bayou Grand Caillou LA, Bayou Maurice LA, Bayou Noir LA, Bayou Petit Caillou LA, Bayou Terrebonne LA, Belle Chasse LA, Belle Rose LA, Bienville LA, Bossier LA, Boutte LA, Broussard LA, Butte LaRose LA, Côte Gelée LA, Cortableau LA, Chataignier LA, Chauvin LA, Choudrant LA, Dos Gris LA, Coulee Croche LA, Goudeau LA, Grand Cane LA, Grand Coteau LA, Grosse Tete LA, Isles Dernières LA, Jean Lafitte LA, Lac des Allemands LA, Lafayette LA, Lebeau LA, Le Blanc LA, Le Moyen LA, Loreauville LA, Marais Bouleurs LA, Marais Castille LA, Maringouin LA, Meraux LA, Mermentau LA, Mer Rouge LA, Napoleonville LA, Paincourtville LA, Plaquemine LA, Plaucheville LA, Pointe-aux-Chênes LA, Pointe Noir LA, Port Barre LA, Provencal LA, Theriot LA, Thibodaux LA, Belanger ME, Belmont ME, Bernard ME, Calais ME, Caribou ME, Cape Rosier ME, Carriveau ME, Castine ME, Chamberlain ME, Charlotte ME, Costigan ME, Crouseville ME, Daigle ME, Deblois ME, Detroit ME, Dufour ME, Fayette ME, Fournier ME, Frenchville ME, Grand Isle ME, Guerette ME, Isle au Haut ME, Lac Frontiere ME, Lagrange ME, Larone ME, Levant ME, Lille ME, Masardis ME, Merepoint ME, Minot ME, Ouellette ME, Plourde ME, Portage ME, Presque Isle ME, Rosemont ME, St. Croix ME, Sebec ME, Seboeis ME, Solon ME, Violette ME, Tarantine ME, Tulouse ME, Havre de Grace MD, La Vale MD, Barre MA, Gibertville MA, Orleans MA, Pocasset MA, Touisset MA, Alma MI, Au Sable MI, Bois Blanc MI, Cadillac MI, Calumet MI, Charlevoix MI, De Tour MI, Detroit MI, Eau Claire MI, Grand Blanc MI, Grandville MI, Grosse Ile MI, Grosse Pointe MI, L'Anse MI, Lyons MI, Marquette MI, Menominee MI, Montague MI, Napoleon MI, Sault Ste. Marie MI, St. Ignace MI, Claudette MN, Belair MN, Belle Plaine MN, Champlain MN, Grand Marais MN, La Crescent MN, Lac Qui Parle MN, Lafayette MN, Laporte MN, La Prairie MN, La Salle MN, Le Roy MN, Le Sueur MN, Luverne MN, Lyon MN, Mille Lacs MN, Marine on St. Croix MN, Nicolette MN, Ranier MN, Roseau MN, Benoit MS, Bourbon MS, D'Iberville MS, D'Lo MS, Dumas MS, Ecru MS, Fayette MS, Gautier MS, Le Tourneau MS, Louisville MS, Alma MO, Belgique MO, Belle MO, Bellefontaine Neighbors MO, Bellerive MO, Bourbon MO, Cape Girardeau MO, Chamois MO, Champ MO, Creve Coeur MO, Dardenne Prairie MO, Des Peres MO, Des Arc MO, Desloge MO, Laclede MO, La Due MO, Florissant MO, Frontenac MO, Ladue MO, La Grange MO, Noel MO, Olivette MO, Peruque MO, St Louis MO, Stainte Genevieve MO, Bainville MT, Butte MT, Chadron NE, Du Bois NE, Louisville NE, Marquette NE, Orleans NE, Pinardville NH, Bayonne NJ, Dumont NJ, Lambertville NJ, Au Sable Forks NY, Cape Vincent NY, Centre Island NY, Champlain NY, Le Roy NY, Roessleville NY, Valatie NY, Beaufort NC, Cape Carteret NC, La Grange NC, Lenoir NC, Des Lacs ND, Bottineau ND, Souris ND, Belcourt ND, Napoleon ND, Alliance OH, Bellefontaine OH, Champaign OH, Fayette OH, Fayetteville OH, Gambier OH, Lafayette OH, Lagrange OH, La Rue OH, Lorrain OH, Louisville OH, Mariemont OH, Marietta OH (for Marie Antoinette), Montpelier OH, Petitsville OH, Racine OH, Strasburg OH, Terre Haute OH, Versailles OH, Chouteau OK, Poteau OK, Prue OK, Lafayette OR, La Grande OR, Lyons OR, Bellefonte PA, Belleville PA, Bellevue PA, Bonneauville PA, Conneautville PA, DuBois PA, North Versailles PA, Volant PA, Abbeville SC, Beaufort SC, Bonneau SC, La France SC, Belle Fourche SD, Pierre SD, Enville TN, Fayetteville TN, Heloise TN, Lafayette TN, La Follette TN, La Grange TN, La Vergne TN, Bellaire TX, Bellevue TX, Bellville TX, Dumas TX, Estelline TX, Grand Prairie TX, LaCoste TX, La Grange. TX, La Marque TX, La Porte TX, Duchesne UT, Fayette UT, Calais VT, E. & N. Calais VT, Barre VT, Grand Isle VT, Isle La Motte VT, Lamoille VT, Montpelier VT, Orleans, VT, Vergennes VT, Chantilly VA, La Crosse VA, Purcellville VA, Beaux Arts Village WA, La Crosse WA, Ronceverte WV, Allouez WI, Alma WI, Belleville WI, Bellevue WI, Blanchardville WI, De Pere WI, Lac du Flambeau WI, Lac La Belle WI, La Crosse WI, Eau Claire WI, La Farge WI, Fond du Lac WI, Lafayette County WI, La Valle WI, Marquette WI, Portage WI, Poynette WI, Prairie du Chien WI, Prairie du Sac WI, Racine WI, Trempealeau WI, La Grange WY.

Sometimes there is a French enclave where you may not expect it, as the following links demonstrate:

Some Old French Place Names in the State of Arkansas
Land Between the Waters: The French History of Illinois
The French in Illinois
French Lifestyle on the Illinois Frontier
French Peoria in the Illinois Country, 1673-1846
The French in Indiana, 1700-1760: A Political History
French Michigan (issue of Hirtory for Kids)
La Salle's French Fort in Texas
Wisconsin's French Connections
History of the French Community in Los Angeles
Maine's French Communities
The French Heritage of St. Louis: 1764 - 1804
L'Alliance Française @ Globe-Gate [the first section]

The French played a key and friendly role in our Revolutionary War, principally through the alliance of 1778, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Treaty of Paris (1783). With one of the most powerful armed forces in the world, France has a long history of military cooperation with the US. Currently, more than 100 French military officers are permanently stationed in this country.

French Opens Doors in Canada, Our Top Trading Partner

Trade with Canada is NAFTA-facilitated. Canada is bilingual (English/French), trade is regionally conducted in French, and labeling must include French. 25% of Canada's population is native French speaking, and 5.2% of Canadians are native French speaking people who don't live in Québec. The trading relationship between the United States and Canada is, by far, the LARGEST in the world. Two-way trade in goods and services accounts for approximately $1 billion (US) per day, every day of the year.

The U.S. share of total Canadian imports is about 71% and the United States remains by far Canada's LARGEST export market, taking 76% of total Canadian exports. There has been vigorous sustained growth in both exports to Canada and imports from Canada since 1993.

Québec is the SECOND largest concentration of French-Speaking people in the world. Located within our largest trading partner, Canada, Québec would, by itself, constitute the SEVENTEENTH largest economy in the world. In the past 10 years, Americans have invested in Québec to the tune of over $11 billion Canadian (representing over 40% of foreign ventures). The United States is both Québec's major foreign customer, receiving more than 82% of Québec's exports, and its major supplier, accounting for 45% of all imports.

There is French in English

Early French languages, such as Norman, have had enormous influence in the evolution of the English language. They radically altered the character of English from its Anglo-Saxon roots between 1066 and the late fourteenth century, while a language related to French (Anglo-Norman) remained the official language of the English nobility. But French influence extended well beyond that period, where whole French vocabulary systems were borrowed in certain areas. There were periods of renewal in this inluence,sparked by historical events, such as the 100 years war in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the reign of Charles II Over 20,000 English words are cognates in French, while over 30% of our words have are derived French or Anglo-Norman roots. We can see in the following studies that French lexical influence continued beyond societal and administrative transformations in the wake of the Norman invasion:

Chaucer's tell-tale lexicon: romancing seinte cecyle - Geoffrey Chaucer
Contact with French: The two periods
How French Has Influenced English
The Language from Chaucer to Shakespeare - Influence of Romance languages

All of this borrowed vocabulary can work both ways for students: a good knowledge of English can be extremely helpful in learning French, and a knowledge of French can help students discern the meaning of English words they have not previously encountered. The vocabulary ties are particularly strong in the government, law, military leadership, postal work, dancing (especially ballet), art, agribusiness, bio and nuclear technologies, food preparation, fashion, law and hotel management. French is lexically more like English than is any other Romance language (including Spanish).

In its 1992 report, "College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers", the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged four or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied four or more years in any other subject area. Nancy Rhodes, secretary of the Network for Early Language Learning, an organization that advocates foreign language study, points to research among third and fourth graders in Louisiana. Those who studied French scored higher in English testing than students in the control group who did not. Of course, studying any foreign language can give you special insights into and an advantage in perfecting English, but why not choose to study a language like French, whose affinity with English is so rich that what you know about one language is bound to help you with the other?!!

French is one of few official or working languages

In a number of Important International Organizations

In a number of Important Regional Organizations


Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Algeria, Tunesia, Morrocco??

Africa, where US businesses have more than doubled their direct investments since 1990, and where economists predict a 20% late '90s economic growth, is the future of the Francophone world. French-speaking Africa represents an area larger than the United States. There are 18 African countries where French is the official language, one where it is one of two official languages, and then there are the three countries of the Maghreb, where, for solid political reasons, Arabic alone is the official language, but where French has a powerful presence. The total population in these countries is over 254,000,000 people. Other countries, like Egypt, have official ties to the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie. In spite of the fact that only those who are literate actually communicate in French in most of francophone Africa, French is directly and indirectly the communication key to a quarter of a billion people in an enormous expanse of this great continent.

Tune in to the AATF for information on National French Week , November 5-11, 2007 & 2008, and a powerful national acvocacy campaign.

This is all very interesting, but can knowing French really help me land a job?

Does a bear sleep in the woods?

Try searching for "French" in careerbuilder.com, or in Monster.com

More to Come

TennesseeBob Peckham
Director, the Globe-Gate Project
Department of Modern Foreign Languages
University of Tennessee-Martin