The New Republic's John McWhorter recently came out with an essay on why we should stop pretending French is an important language.
The piece comes in response to a New York Times article about a new initiative from the French government to increase the amount of French instruction in American schools.
To be sure, it's a little heavy handed for a foreign government to be attempting to quasi-infiltrate another country's education system.
But here's why McWhorter's wrong, and why everyone should learn French, even if this guy's the one telling you to do it:
1) For English speakers, French is the easiest language to learn.
You may have heard it's Spanish. That cannot possibly be true though, because English is actually the mutant stepchild of German and French, and it got most of its genes from its Gallic side. In fact for several centuries French was the official language of the English court. The list of English words with French roots is basically infinite.
2) And learning French makes learning Spanish way easier.
If you're reading this, we probably don't need to spell out all the socioeconomic benefits that come with learning a second language. We again assume America's natural inclination is to learn Spanish (we'll exclude Chinese). Since French and Spanish are the mutant step children of Latin, you can practically cut out a step if you ever decide to take up Spanish. And If you already know Spanish, it requires very little effort to make the jump to French.
3) All over Europe, French is still the main second language taught in school.
Forget about the Nordic countries, who've consciously abandoned their own languages for English — their languages were never important to begin with. When I lived in France, I found it impossible to communicate with the kids from Italy, China, Japan, and Mexico in anything other than French. Nor was English an option when I traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic.
Here is how the French government defines what it calls "the sphere of French language." It's much larger than you think: