While the United Nations observes French Language Day only once a year, BJU students ponder the language weekly. From elementary French to surveys of French literature, students explore the language and its culture every semester.
In the 2018–19 school year, the University upgraded its French program by adding a bachelor of arts degree to the existing electives and minor.
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Dr. Jeremy Patterson, chair of the University’s Division of Modern Language and Literature and the French program coordinator, is pleased with the growth of the French program. His goal is for students to effectively connect and communicate through French. To do so, students must take upper-level classes on special topics and independent study courses. By their junior or senior year, a French major should have a particular interest—business French, contemporary literature or a specific French public figure, for example—on which to base their independent studies.
The program includes an Advanced Language Proficiency Seminar. Students demonstrate the level of proficiency they’ve reached, advanced low being the standard for a French major.
“This year we had two [French] majors achieve advanced high in proficiency,” said Patterson. “We even had one major go beyond that and achieve superior proficiency.”
One of the greatest things about the new program, according to Patterson, is the opportunity to study abroad. While study abroad credits are not mandatory, Patterson believes in the value of developing the skills necessary to communicate interculturally.
“What language is about is teaching culture and communication,” he said. The trips include learning objectives, activities and intensive projects geared toward making students more culturally aware.
Associate professor of French Rob Loach agrees that study abroad “is really one of the most powerful parts of our program. The feet on the ground immersion is vital for language proficiency.”
Many students don’t know how they will use French after graduation. “I think the Lord doesn’t let any of our experiences go to waste. Language is going to be a door opener for students. … Having that tool in their toolbox is going to make them that much more effective,” Loach said.
For many BJU graduates, the language tool has opened multiple doors, even doors they were not aware of. Sara Griggers, a 1998 BJU graduate, was a French major and German minor. She was hired straight out of college by a tech firm to start up their German call center. The company was willing to hire her without any computer knowledge because of her language skill. They couldn’t teach German to a computer expert, but they could teach Griggers everything she needed to know about their business.
At times, God has plans for French learners outside of any language they’ve learned before. Michael Schmid, a 2003 alumnus, moved from Germany to study French at BJU. He later completed a master’s degree in translation in a European context at Aston University. After finishing his linguistics studies, the Lord called Schmid to Chihuahua, Mexico, where he works as a Bible translator for The Gideons International and translates for the Tarahumara people.
Other times, the Lord uses the language in very explicit ways. Patterson was a French minor during his undergraduate years at BJU. He spent the summer between his junior and senior year in Paris soaking up the language and the culture. The classes he took at BJU and his experience abroad encouraged his passion for French. After completing his bachelor’s degree, Patterson pursued a master’s degree in translation, a doctorate in French, and a PhD in comparative literature. Loach invited Patterson to teach French at the University in 2015.
Taking on such a specific major may seem intimidating or limiting, but like these alumni used their language skills, there are multiple ways to use French. Patterson recommends joining the French program because of the doors it opens in the business world. “Anyone who does a degree in language, like a French major, is going to have all kinds of employment opportunities, not to mention them being bilingual—or multilingual.”
French has the particular advantage of being spoken on all five major populated continents. According to Patterson, “It’s projected to be close to the most spoken language by the middle of the century.” This allows a bilingual French speaker to work anywhere from Madagascar to Belgium to the Caribbean.
“It’s a skill and a degree that you can use in almost any profession,” said Patterson. He acknowledges that French “is more specific than some general degrees,” but “it’s also a skill that a lot of companies and employers are looking for.”