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Oct 15
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Gérôme Truc National September 11 Memorial & Museum | Auditorium on the Atrium Terrace Level 200 Liberty Street | New York, NY 10281
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French for
Professional Purposes

French for Professionals ▾

A general trend shown by a 2017 report by the think tank New American Economy, Not Lost in Translation, The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market, found that language skills are now essential in many professional sectors and mastery of French is a key advantage. For example, nearly 22,300 job offers published online in 2015 in the United States were looking for candidates proficient in French compared to 9,500 in 2010. French is the third most requested language on the American labor market, particularly in sectors such as insurance, healthcare, finance, and humanitarian aid. Supporting the teaching of French as a professional language therefore represents a challenge and opportunity in higher education for the future of French in the United States.

Universities have gradually recognized the demand for French for business, and have been slowly but surely transforming their course offerings over the past twenty years to include professional French courses. Business French is now the most widespread course, but there is also a strong interest in French for international relations and French for healthcare.

One of the reasons for this new impetus is the unprecedented development of French dual language education in elementary and secondary schools. For these bilingual Francophone generations, it is imperative to develop university courses that meet their new needs. These students will seek ways to leverage their bilingualism in their studies and future careers. French for professional purposes is the most promising path, whether in the form of double majors (international relations / French; pharmacy and medecine / French; engineering / French) or optional courses related to a major (business French for a business students for example). Many universities are already moving in this direction.

To accompany this change, the French Embassy in the United States is supporting the development of French for professional purposes, notably through facilitating two annual training courses for university professors in French for professional purposes didactics, in partnership with the CCIP (Chambre du Commerce et de l'Industrie de Paris Ile-de-France). In 2019, three French-language career fairs will be held in Atlanta, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Other academic actors are also involved, such as the Center for International Business Language Education and Research (CIBER) which regularly organizes convenings, such as the International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes (ISLPS). 

This renewed interest in languages is supported beyond the domain of higher education. What is striking today is that this message is being widely disseminated. In 2017, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the largest organization supporting language teaching and learning in the United States, launched a national campaign to promote multilingualism: Lead With Languages. The purpose of this campaign is to encourage Americans to learn foreign languages. The first argument put forward is economic: without a multilingual workforce, the United States loses momentum in a global economy. 

Although momentum for language learning is building, English is still considered the lingua franca of the international markets. However, as the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron recalls in his speech for the strategy on the French language at the Institut de France, on 21 March 2018: “the temptation to make English the language of work must give way to an effort to promote multilingualism and intercultural exchanges, without which companies themselves will be won over by a linguistic, and therefore cultural, uniformity that is largely contradictory to the world as it is.” The French language may still suffer today from clichés about its use and usefulness in the United States, but a change in perception is underway. This takes time, but an economic Francophonie is asserting itself more and more strongly in the United States and is bringing with it a renewed interest in the learning and teaching of the French language.