Skip to Content

French as a Subject and Language at United States' Universities

The United States is continually shaped and influenced by its many comprising cultures and languages. As such, foreign language study has long been an integral component of many primary, secondary, and university level education systems. Both historically and in modern times, one language (other than Spanish) has maintained consistent enrollment rates, particularly at the university level: French. By evaluating different university French departments throughout the United States, this study sought to understand potential distinguishing characteristics that have led to the language’s academic success. The study evaluated departmental perspectives through academic research and qualitative staff interviews, as well as student perspectives through a qualitative online survey. These interviews and survey suggest that French as a subject continues to move away from more traditional language study to the study of French’s fundamental role in the Francophone world. Both faculty and student perspectives demonstrate an increasing interest in the opportunities that French language makes available. French’s increasingly important role in a rapidly globalizing world is a leading catalyst for this shift. Additionally, foreign languages are experiencing significant enrollment decreases at the university level. Many departments hope that this shifting model will attract more students, while it simultaneously embraces the true nature of French’s role in the modern world. French’s historic prevalence in United States’ culture has allowed it to maintain a certain power at many universities, but it still suffers from similar enrollment struggles. Further research is needed to better understand student motivations for enrolling in language courses such as French, as opposed to those that increasingly choose not to. Not only would such research help struggling departments recover enrollments, but it is important for contextualizing cultural and linguistic understandings in an increasingly globalized world.