This is the question I was pondering--well, more like grumbling--to myself as I struggled to stay awake, doing French homework, in the wee hours of this morning. I admit I ask myself this question often enough (particularly when my teacher is trying to explain the pronunciation difference between the words "tu" and "tout"). Having grown up in California, I'm quite aware that Spanish--or even Chinese or Arabic--is the more useful language. Who on earth speaks French in the middle of Utah, after all?
And I remembered everything that's always drawn me to French. The way the vowels flow over the consonants, the gentle lilt of the words. The way it sounds foreign and exotic, but yet inspires some form of deja vu, some distant memory prodding my consciousness, a whispered call from an age of romance and castles and knights in armor.
My dad spent two years in France before he was married, living among the people and learning the language. I remember occasionally asking him at the dinner table to say something in French. He would indulge me, his voice lowering to a gentle murmur. I remember just the way his voice would change, even the way his expression would change, as though he were a different man. Then, of course, I would ask him what he said, and it would always be something like "you have smelly feet." But even my father's silly phrases had the delicate beauty of French.
I knew I wanted to learn French when I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. She writes about her love of Italian; she loves the way it sounds and she's determined to learn it even though it's only spoken in one small country. Every word is delicious to her. I feel that way about French (when I'm not having conjugations pounded into my brain). It's not just about being able to talk to people. It's about having this language, a central piece of a cultural puzzle, burned into your being. Learning a language changes who you are--and every language has the potential to change you in a different way.
Now, there are certainly practical reasons for learning French. France is the most visited country in the world, so it's a very important language in the tourism industry, which is where I'm hoping to go with my career. French is very valuable for an English major; much of the Western canon was originally written in French (much more so than Spanish). But at the core of it is that I love French. I want to master the sounds and the words and that subtle, lilting tone. I want the words to come spilling out of my mouth without any effort, a rhythmic singing. I want French to be part of me.
So I trudge through the tests. And the pronunciation. And the conjugations. And the grammar. Why? Because it's worth it.