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Is it silly (read: impractical) to study French?


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My daughter (just turned 9) is very interested in learning French. This is mostly because she takes ballet, which she loves (and where all the words are in French) and because she's always loved Fancy Nancy, lol. For months, she has been checking French picture dictionaries out of the library and copying down pages and pages of vocabulary words and their translations. She has expressed that she would love to learn it more formally. 

 

So, this is great, right?! My only hesitation, though, is that I can't help feeling as though Spanish would be so much more practical. I realize that, theoretically, she could learn both, but I don't see that working very well in reality, at least not at this stage. (I am but one homeschooling mother and two foreign languages plus Latin--which I am considering also--is just too much for me to take on.)

 

Would you forge ahead with French simply because it is beautiful and she is excited about it? Or would you insist on Spanish because that is more useful and practical? (Or, third choice: Do you think it ultimately doesn't matter because we're native English speakers and since we know English, other languages aren't "essential" anyway, beyond college admissions requirements?) Thanks in advance for your input!

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At 9, turn her loose on DuoLingo or Mango (if your local library has it), and let her play with French :). It will help if she decides to learn Spanish later, and she wants to do it. I studied French and Latin, and had little trouble getting to a reasonable speaking level in Spanish when I had need to use it. You can always require Spanish in high school ;).

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She is motivated and excited.  Run with it while she has that enthusiasm.  Let her go as far as she is interested.  Absolutely.  

 

Later on, if you really want her to learn Spanish, she can pick that up in late middle school/High School.  Spanish will be easier if she has had French.  They have a great many similarities since they are both Romance languages.

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It all depends on how you want to use it.  My dd was attracted to it initially because she was into ballet and art and the book Madeline as a little girl.  :)

 

I let her go with it, and it has served her well.  She was fairly fluent by the time she entered college, and was able to pass out of all French grammar classes and directly into French literature, writing, etc.  So, right away that saved her time on her major, so she was able to work on a double major at the same time.  Then, she was able to get a French scholarship that completely paid for her semester abroad to French-speaking Senegal.  Then, it got her her first job after college (which she has just completed), a year-long teaching position in France.  She'll probably return for another year.  

 

We live in a quite small town, but somehow get international travelers here.  People in town knows she speaks French, so if they have a French visitor who doesn't speak English well, my dd sometimes gets called to translate or to even just hang out with them for an afternoon and show them around.  (She has actually made some good friends that way!)

 

She travels a lot, finds herself in airports a lot, and works in a national park every summer where there are always foreign visitors.  She has been used as a spontaneous French translator many, many times at those places.  Just last night she was telling us about her travels to Ecuador.  She had to see a doctor at the local clinic, and a Haitian couple was there with their very sick daughter.  She just happened to be standing in line next to them as they were frantically trying to tell the front-desk nurse what was wrong.  They couldn't understand each other (the couple spoke a type of French), but my dd was able to jump in as the translator.  The doctor was so grateful for her help that he didn't charge her for her appointment.

 

So yes, in her case, it has served her quite well!

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I studied Spanish because it was practical.  I would use it so much ... wrong.  It is one of the few educational regrets I have.  I would have preferred to study German or French because I love the culture and the people but that just wasn't practical.  I have never used my Spanish and have at this point forgotten most of it.  On the flip side, I have had tons of opportunities to use French or German (travel, books, business) and am now slowly trying to teach myself.  Huge regret.  Encourage the kid to study French if it's her interest. 

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Spanish can be pick up at high school or even much later if the need arise.

 

From a practical point of view, my pediatrician speaks spanish and two other languages but rarely need to speak spanish because it is a big group practice and there is a latino pediatrician. My school district's student population is 34% hispanic/latino but the teachers and admin can't speak spanish. They have a translator/interpreter at the district office to translate official notices that they can call for help. The construction foreman of the team renovating my condo complex speaks spanish because the workers speak little english.

 

So if you are looking from a job prospects point of view, not a good enough reason to drop french for spanish. Besides there are so many latinos in my region that if a spanish speaker is required, there is much more supply than demand. French tutors on the other hand are slim pickings, and public and private schools offer AP French so the demand for french instructors/tutors/teachers are there.

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I regret studying French.  I grew up in the midwest and had no idea there were so many Spanish speakers in this country!  I'm still waiting for all those French-speaking immigrants to cross our borders so I can talk to them, lol!  

 

But if your dd wants to study it, you should let her.  

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Spanish can be pick up at high school or even much later if the need arise.

 

From a practical point of view, my pediatrician speaks spanish and two other languages but rarely need to speak spanish because it is a big group practice and there is a latino pediatrician. My school district's student population is 34% hispanic/latino but the teachers and admin can't speak spanish. They have a translator/interpreter at the district office to translate official notices that they can call for help. The construction foreman of the team renovating my condo complex speaks spanish because the workers speak little english.

 

So if you are looking from a job prospects point of view, not a good enough reason to drop french for spanish. Besides there are so many latinos in my region that if a spanish speaker is required, there is much more supply than demand. French tutors on the other hand are slim pickings, and public and private schools offer AP French so the demand for french instructors/tutors/teachers are there.

 

Yes!  I live in the midwest and we have a large Latino community in my city.  That said, those kids are going to speak Spanish and English much more fluently than my kid ever would with five or six years of Spanish classes.  Those are the kids that will (and should!) be hired for the jobs that require being bilingual. 

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I think I would probably go with French, since she wants it, and it is closely related to Spanish.

 

The only caveat I might make is if the place where you live has a lot of opportunities for a more immersion type experience in Spanish - that can make such a big difference to teaching.

 

One possibility could be to do Spanish for school but let her play with French on her own.  We do French - it's a required school subject here as it is an official language and also we have some immersion opportunitues, and it make a big difference to employability.  Dd11 has been happy with it too.  But she was also interested in German, so she has been doing that, pretty much on her own, on Duolingo.  I'll remind her she wants to do it, but other than that it is up to her.  If she keeps it up, I will look into finding her some other resources, but for now it will still be second to French.

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If my kid was copying down pages and pages of dictionary translations for a language I'd happily make it part of their curriculum, even if it was Swahili or Navajo or something else that would be unlikely to be 'useful'.

 

Now, I do come from a country where everybody has to take at least 2 foreign languages in secondary school; 3 if on the pre-university track, and then Latin and ancient Greek are optional additions on top of that (I did take 3 foreign languages + Latin, could not take ancient Greek because of scheduling issues). So, Latin & French & Spanish doesn't seem like a big deal to me. I get that it may be too much for you to handle at this point, but you can start with French and add in Latin and Spanish whenever you're ready... your daughter is 9, you've got a ton of time.

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There is much to be said for a child's motivation in learning a language. I agree with others that if she wants to learn it, give it to her. Depending on where you live, she will have opportunities to pick up Spanish. If not, you can make it a requirement in high school if it is that important to you.

 

We live in a bilingual Spanish/English household. For us, Spanish is a requirement, but I also feed other language interests. My youngest is very interested in learning German (we had a neighbor who spoke it), so we do a lot of videos and sing a song in German. My oldest has been interested in Japanese, French and Italian at different times, and I fed those as well.

 

The more motivation there is, the more receptive the child is to learning it and others.

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My oldest DD studied French in high school. She's planning to pick up a French minor in college to complement her nursing studies, with the hope of doing medical missions work in a French-speaking country (her school has an affiliation with a few programs in Africa).

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Not everything in school should be useful.  School is the last place where questions of utility can take a back seat to those of beauty, the Good, etc.  Let hear learn French.

 

Best,

LMC

Edited by LMCme
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My 10 year-old is trying to teach herself French.  She's been going at it for over a year now.  I say, go for it!   :coolgleamA:  I did my job successfully if my kids are able to identify something they're interested in and teach themselves.

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French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It's every bit as practical as Spanish - not that practicality is the reason to learn something.

 

On the subject of learning two languages, I read a study this year stating that it actually is easier to learn two languages at once than just one language. Have her do one language formally, and the other via duolingo or mango languages.

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I got my first professional job because I spoke French. It's a major world language, and many companies need French speakers. There is relatively little competition for those jobs in the US, which is absolutely *not* the case for Spanish-speaking jobs (where there is a TON of competition, as there are so many Spanish speakers). Now, I would have the opposite problem if we lived back in Canada (where I grew up), but in the US it has definitely been an asset!

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My daughter (just turned 9) is very interested in learning French. This is mostly because she takes ballet, which she loves (and where all the words are in French) and because she's always loved Fancy Nancy, lol.

 

I just had to reply because my daughter (7) wants to learn French for the exact same reasons - ballet and Fancy Nancy. How funny!

 

She's so young I decided I don't care about being practical yet. I think it is important for my kids to be able to study subjects that personally motivate them. We live in AZ so Spanish is definitely more practical, but I'll worry about that in high school. This year I'm planning to buy Getting Started With French for her.

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There is much to be said for a child's motivation in learning a language. I agree with others that if she wants to learn it, give it to her. Depending on where you live, she will have opportunities to pick up Spanish. If not, you can make it a requirement in high school if it is that important to you.

 

We live in a bilingual Spanish/English household. For us, Spanish is a requirement, but I also feed other language interests. My youngest is very interested in learning German (we had a neighbor who spoke it), so we do a lot of videos and sing a song in German. My oldest has been interested in Japanese, French and Italian at different times, and I fed those as well.

 

The more motivation there is, the more receptive the child is to learning it and others.

We are also a bilingual English/Spanish household. I am a native Spanish speaker and I brought my girls up bilingually. My college daughter is adding a second foreign language, possibly Italian. My 12 year old is also thinking of adding either Italian or French this summer. I am refreshing both languages myself just for fun. With the Internet all this is so much easier these days!

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You know, EKT, looking back I see that my oldest also had triggers wanting to learn the different languages. For Japanese, it was because I knew some and wanted to introduce a foreign language (early childhood). French was, like your daughter, because of ballet (elementary and middle school mostly). I really don't remember what triggered the Italian motivation, but it may have had to do with cooking. She's now in dual enrollment culinary classes at the local community college and is looking forward to a possible trip to Italy next summer, even though she didn't continue with Italian.  :lol:  Maybe that will motivate her to pick it back up again. I really did want her to have a better grasp of another language (other than Spanish) for such opportunities.

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My Dd wanted to study French when she was in 3rd grade. She is now able to handle conversations that include topics like politics and religion. She is currently reading an abridged edition of Les Mis in French. She is planning on majoring in it! She loves it. There is something to be said about pursuing something you love!

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Another vote for French, at least for now!  Ballet is a great reason to learn it; it really helps you to understand the steps, making this a language she can use in her life NOW.  And Fancy Nancy knows that the fashion world is French-oriented; your dd may very well end up doing something in that arena.  And of course New Orleans and northern Maine are French-speaking communities.  Not to mention our neighbors to the North!  

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I bought my 4th grader First Form French and turned her loose. I don't actively teach it, but I help her with it when she needs it. She's highly motivated to work through it, I have to remind her it's an "elective" and comes AFTER her mom-mandated classes!  She watches tv and movies in French and loves French music CDs. I buy her kiddie books in French and we read those at bedtime so she can work on pronunciation and dialogue.

 

The philosophy I had with my older homeschooler is:

 

Latin in upper elementary through high school.

Language of your choice in middle school - conversational, not a formal study

Language of your choice in high school - formal study (grammar, etc.)

 

He's going into his 8th year of Latin.

He's conversational in Spanish, a lot of which has to do with where we live!

He's formally studying German through dual enrollment.

 

My daughter is more of a language person in general. She's the only one interested in my native language, and the only one of my kids conversational in it. She "taught" herself basic sign language in 2nd grade by working through a picture dictionary. Both her dad and I are multilingual and she appears to have inherited the desire and ability. Even if she never uses these languages as an adult, the practice of studying a language and the drive to self-teach it are priceless. These are skills I wish all of my kids had!

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I'm helping Youngest learn about the most less practical language in the world. Toki Pona. His brother is also willing to learn it, but Youngest is the driving force. 

 

He wants to learn it so that one of the creatures/things my boys created in a make-believe world can have their own language to speak.  We are watching youtube videos for it, then we are going to use this book:

 

https://aiki.pbworks.com/f/tp+in+76+lessons+English.pdf

 

 

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My dd is going to be taking Spanish 4 and Latin Readings this year and I wish we had done French instead of Spanish for a number of reasons, but mostly because I can't see that there is going to be any real demand for Spanish speakers in this country. Learning French would have been more of a special skill to have, imo. I started her in Spanish in elementary because it was the only language I was able to find decent homeschool materials for. Online classes were just starting to become available and weren't even on my radar at the time. A few years ago, she wanted to add in French, but she has agreed to wait until she finishes AP Spanish and Latin. Two languages are time-consuming enough in high school for a child who also has other interests.

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I'm so glad you posted this!  I was planning to teach my children Spanish because I thought it would be so much more useful.  However, I myself studied French for 6 years and would feel so much more comfortable teaching them that.  We'll see what they want to do when the time comes but I'm thinking I should be more flexible and take interests into account.

 

PS - my daughter loves Fancy Nancy too.  She loves to say "Ooh la la!!"  lol

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Can I add something? You've probably moved on, but just wanted to share. 

 

I did not grow up in a bilingual household, I learned on my own (kinda). As a teen we stayed in Germany for 2 years. There I learned some German that I still remember to this day. In school there, I took Spanish, but didn't remember a word of it.

 

In college, I again took Spanish, but in my free time was learning Japanese and Mandarin with friends of mine. I took to the Japanese because it was very interesting (to me) and I was motivated to learn it. It got to a point that I started recognizing Japanese sentence structure (in hiragana, the phonetic writing) without being explicitly taught ( I would ask, and my friends would explain it when it came up). I was in a particular part in Texas, so Japanese was not a practical language. I just liked it.

 

A year after being in those Spanish class I moved, and I met my Spanish-speaking dh, in a place where Spanish is spoken often. I didn't remember much out of the classes except how to conjugate verbs! But, after a few months of immersion daily, we were getting by (he spoke no English). There was motivation, so I learned it.

 

Interestingly, in those early days after I moved, the language I came across more often besides Spanish was Japanese! I still remember when I worked in an ESL family literacy program for kids of parents taking evening English classes. There were so many Spanish-speaking kids, that the teachers took to speaking Spanish except during English lesson times. Then, we received a Japanese student. I was the only one with enough background to reach her, and help her feel comfortable to start wanting to learn English. We would often sit together looking at books, sharing words and phrases in English and Japanese. It was fun for the both of us, and I'm glad I learned a language due to interest rather than practicality.

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Definitely a case of "strike while the iron is hot". Yes, embrace French. If Spanish is important to you, save it for high school. The French will roll right over into Spanish and she'll pick it up quickly.

 

All of my friends who studied Spanish never, ever use it. It's sad, really, considering they live in a very Spanish heavy state.

 

I live and breathe French... Through a series of seemingly unrelated decisions, I have found myself living in a French speaking region, with my French speaking husband, our bilingual kids, my French speaking friends... You never know. :-).

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You have a lot of years ahead of you. I wouldn't worry about practicality at this point.

 

Also, French may be more practical than you think. There are many French speakers in the world.

 

When I was working as an engineer before kids, I once spent some time on a project for Daimler-Chrysler. My group had a guy that was fluent in German because at meetings with the big D-C engineers, German was spoken most often. So this guy used German in his daily work, despite German not being nearly as common as French or Spanish.

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Definitely check out Duolingo. It's like Rosetta Stone but free. I've been studying French with it for a month and I love it. I'm pretty amazed at how effective it is, especially since I'm learning the language cold. For instance, I just composed this sentence from scratch:

 

J'ai appris français pendant un mois et je l'aime.

I learned French for a month and I love it.

 

(Edit: I know this isn't grammatically perfect, but it's a pretty good attempt for only 32 days of study.)

 

Classical Academic Press just released French for Children too.

 

Keep in mind that French Canada is just a stone's throw away. You could even fly to Montreal or Quebec City for some immersion at some point.

Edited by Epicurean
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Yes, learn French. While I have nothing against learning Spanish, French has many of the same advantages and even has an edge over Spanish in some areas.

 

1- French is a research language, meaning that it is used for publications in an academic setting. So is German, English is a huge one. Spanish, not as much as the others.

 

2- Literature. So much great stuff in French.

 

3- All continents have a country with French as an official language.

 

4- It's in second place as the most-learned second language in the world. Meaning that with English and French, you can get by in a lot of places.

 

5- Culture. She loves it already, and any good French program is going to teach about the culture of France (and sometimes Quebec and Africa) as well as the language.

 

6- English literature often uses French terms, so it will support her literature studies at some point.

 

7- Ballet, music (it's an operatic language as are German and Italian, Spanish isn't as much), cooking.

 

I could go on. My mother is a French teacher, so I'm pulling some facts from memory of many conversations. But the basic point is, French is useful. Do the language she loves.

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If you want practical, Spanish would not be the way to go. Chinese is way more common in this world. 

 

Forget practical. Spanish is no more practical than several other languages. Your child is not going to learn enough of a foreign language to be so fluent at it that your child can become an interpreter. French is an excellent choice. Also, so many people study Spanish and very few study anything else that when it comes to mission trips, it is difficult to find anyone who can go anywhere except Spanish speaking countries. And trust me, studying Spanish in the US is not going to make you a great enough speaker to go elsewhere and use it really. The child would have to enjoy it enough to study for years. And sounds like your child wants to study French, so she would probably not enjoy Spanish.

Edited by Janeway
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OP: I agree. Spanish comes second in terms of practicality; only next to Chinese.

 

Yet, I also agree with the PPs. There's a higher chance of learning a language to speak it like a native when interest, passion and motivation are present. Go with French for your DD. It has certainly worked in our case. (DD studies French even though it is very impractical given where we live)

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I would support your dd learning any second language that she is motivated to learn. Learning about other languages, hearing the different sounds and trying to reproduce them, is wonderful at young ages. It lays a foundation that you can build on latter in life, by going deeper into that one language, or adding another (or several) languages. 

 

I studied French from age 8 through to University, and took advantage of a few immersion learning opportunities. I really enjoyed French, and it's been a practical language to have living in Canada and the hard work did pay off in that I was able to get a couple jobs because I had a pretty solid background in French. However, the language that I developed a huge passion for and which ultimately allowed me to live and work in Europe was Norwegian. There are only about 4 million people in the world who speak it, so it's definitely NOT a practical language. I loved learning it, though, and had an amazing time living in Norway. I didn't start learning Norwegian until I was 20, but still became fluent. I'm sure that all those years of studying French helped me learn another, completely different language in a relatively short time. Once you learn how to learn one language, it's much quicker to pick up more. 

 

My dc have learned some French, Spanish and Swedish, but the language that they have been really excited about for the last 3 years has been Latin. I'm in full support of this, as I know that there will be so much information that will transfer directly to them learning other languages.

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I would say that Spanish is more useful in most of the US; except near the Canadian border where French is more useful. However, French has been more useful when traveling in Europe and even a couple of Caribbean Islands. The bad thing about learning French, as I did, is that it is too easy to lose...not many places to practice it and keep it fresh...so I had forgotten most of it by the time I could use it. 

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I would say that Spanish is extremely useful where I live. I hear it every where I go (in California) and a lot of the 1-800 numbers say "Para Espanyol ..." when I call them. Knowing French can help if dining at an expensive local French restaurant :)

 

But, your daughter is very motivated to learn French and for that reason alone, you should let her learn it. I have seen that it is a lot easier to learn a language because of inherent motivation (I speak 5 languages and I picked up 3 of them because of my interest). My SIL learned advanced french in an area where nobody else speaks french - she later went to culinary school where it was useful. But, outside of that, it is considered elitist in her neck of the woods (she also has an elitist mindset, which is why she learned French in the beginning). She never uses it (she quit her job and works in IT now), but teaches her kids French (again, in a town where there are no French speakers).

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