April 14, 2011 | French

Does French Matter?

At a Columbia University event, people from different walks of life conclude that yes, it does.

This morning at Café Margot, there were to my delight two tables full of French-speaking women, unfortunately separated from me by one table, at which there was another foreign language being spoken: Hebrew.

If I had been studying Hebrew, I would have been very happy with this situation, but because I am studying French, I kept willing the Hebrew-speaking woman, who was on her cell phone, to leave so I could scoot over and talk to the French-speaking people. Totally unfairly, I became irritable when she persisted in sitting there and drinking her coffee, as was her absolute right.

Entering Columbia University

Entering Columbia University

Last night I went to an event at Columbia University’s Maison Française (French House). The topic was: “Why French Matters.” And it was free!

This was the public description of the event: “Does French still matter? If so, why? This roundtable discussion is a response to recent concerns about the status of the study of French and other foreign languages and cultures in U.S. higher and secondary education at a time of increasing globalization. Five leading voices in different fields bring a variety of perspectives to bear in a lively discussion about why French matters today.”

Those five leading voices were the writer Adam Gopnik; Charles Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development in D.C.; Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, based here in New York City; Souleymane Bachir Diagne, professor of French and philosophy at Columbia; and Antonin Baudry, cultural counselor at the French Embassy in the U.S.

The Stately Columbia Campus

The Stately Columbia Campus

Maison Française

Maison Française

Perhaps you will not be surprised to hear that the presentations favored the notion that French still mattered, and for a wide variety of reasons: political, cultural, social, linguistic, etc. What did surprise, and please, me was that the room was packed with people who clearly cared about the fate of French, and of foreign languages generally.

It was so packed, in fact, that latecomers were forced to stand, and that the room became rather unpleasantly hot.  In case you’re really curious (I myself am generally a fan of going to events rather than watching recordings of them), here’s a recording of the event in its entirety.

P.S. The back of the head on the left is me, so if you do watch any of it, I sincerely hope I didn’t do anything embarrassing.

P.P.S. I know this is going up well after the 14th of April, and I apologize for that, and for backdating the entry, which is kind of a violation of the spirit of a blog, but my back has been killing me, which has seriously slowed down my editing and posting process, and I have several entries to post, and I don’t want to post them all on the same date, because that would be an intolerably long entry.

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