You rant? Well so can I: my response to McWhorter’s response to why we shouldn’t learn French

Not only is the article “Let’s Stop Pretending That French is an Important Language” faulty in grammar and punctuation, but it takes on a narrow-minded approach to language-learning. The author, John McWhorter, linguist and political commentator, rants (yes “rants,” not “preaches”) about how he should have learned a useful language in school (Chinese or Spanish) instead of French. According to him, French should by no means be a learning priority for children because of its lack of “use.”

Wake up!

McWhorter is connecting language-learning to usefulness, which in his case, is tantamount to power. He mocks those who can read French literature by saying sarcastically “all the power to them,” while he himself recalls but a few phrases pomme de terre, je m’appelle, and hélas.  Has he ever considered that learning a language isn’t just for business transactions? He’s a linguist for crying out loud, and he is discouraging his 2-year-old daughter from learning French because it’s “outdated.”

Paris pendant I made.  Deal with it, McWhorter.

Paris pendant I made. Deal with it, McWhorter.

It’s hard to respect a man who reasons this way because he fails to recognize the beauty and linguistic/cultural uniqueness of where a language might come from and the people who speak it. The only positive thing we get from learning French, according to McWhorter of course, is occasionally not having to read the subtitles of movies we may occasionally watch.

For me, learning a language is an access card to seeing life through another perspective. And by this grand cliché, I mean everything: formality, food, love, respect, relationship to nature, religions and spiritual beliefs. Taking time and energy to see how someone else views the world is a form of respect for those of the target culture and for yourself. But unfortunately McWhorter doesn’t seem to have respect for the individuals who are interested in languages other than the ones that are currently politically powerful.

I am disappointed that there are people who think this way.

How do you respect someone like that?

How do you respect someone like that?



  1. I'm not lost, I'm just exploring · February 14, 2014

    I love how you described language learning as an “access card to seeing life through another perspective”. I completely agree. Learning French has helped me bridge and make comprehension connections with other languages like Spanish, Italian and even Portuguese. Not to mention opened my eyes to different ways of thinking, speaking and describing things. I can’t believe a linguist would discredit French!

    • Stephanie · February 20, 2014

      I concur. I’m bilingual and being fluent in French helped tremendously when learning Spanish, which in turn significantly boosted my comprehension in Italian. I can even pick out some Portuguese, though I’m not exposed to it much.
      And I’m becoming more and more aware of how being fluent in more than one language is incredibly broadening for the mind. Living abroad also helps.

  2. A French American Life · February 18, 2014

    I’m linking to your blog, because you express so well why this article by Mcwhorter deserves massive discrediting. Thank you, Nika!

  3. Pingback: Why You Should Learn French | A French American Life
  4. Pingback: Why On Earth Would You Ever Want to Learn French? «The Great Big World- As Told By Dana The Great Big World- As Told By Dana


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