Why should you learn to speak French? After all, you have no intentions of visiting Paris. Your family all speaks English. There are more Spanish speakers in your neighborhoods. And while French may be the language of love, English has served you just fine in the past. So why should you learn to speak French?
While English is considered a Germanic language, most words in our language come from the French. After the Norman conquest of 1066, England was ruled by the French speaking Normans. Middle English emerged during the following years as the two cultures slowly melted together. As a result 50-60% of all modern English words are derived from French or Latin (from which French is derived). French learners are thus able to score much higher on the English portions of standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT.
According to the 2000 United States Census, 1.6 million Americans over the age of five speak French at home. The only other more commonly spoken languages in the US are English, Spanish (28.1 million) and Chinese (2 million). Most native French speakers in the US live in New England and Louisiana, but other pockets exist.
While the British settled primarily in New England, French immigrants settled large parts of Canada to the north and the Gulf to the south. As more French settlers arrived in the New World, exploration and settlements spread up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, nearly 100,000 Europeans and slaves had settled the area, nearly all of whom spoke French.
Though descendants of the French settlers from learned English, their customs and cultural influence never left. In my home state of Missouri, which was settled by the French in 1750, large pockets of French influence exist in the St. Louis area, Ste. Genevieve and the Ozarks. You may visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in St. Louis, attend the annual French Heritage Festival in Ste. Genevieve or in rural Ozarks follow the French custom of kissing friends on the cheek when greeting.
While Missouri French may be a dying dialect, it still influences local vocabulary and pronunciations. For example, few people in rural areas of the Ozarks pronounce the last consonant of words ending in consonants. (Ex. parking becomes parkin'.) When living in France, my Missouri accent was often mistaken for a southern French accent as they follow similar patterns.
While the United States and France hold great business ties, France is only one of many French-speaking countries to do so. Nestle, the well known chocolate and other foods company, is headquartered in the French-speaking town Vevey, Switzerland. The US also has growing business relations with French-speaking African countries such as Cameroon and Senegal.
French is also the official language of organizations and international government agencies such as the Untied Nations, the International Red Cross, the International Olympic Committee, UNESCO and NATO.
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