Workshop to help teachers make a stronger case for French language

They teach what Bloomberg Rankings has identified as the third-most-important business language in the world, after English and Mandarin. Yet, as budgets for public education continue to tighten, teachers of French are struggling to keep their programs off the chopping block in Wisconsin and across the United States.

An upcoming workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison aims to bring teachers of French in Wisconsin together to talk about these challenges and prepare them to be more effective advocates for French instruction.

While pointing out that Spanish remains the most popular world language taught in U.S. schools, the Bloomberg Rankings rates French a couple of notches higher in importance for business, according to a report published August 30, 2011. The measures used to calculate the business importance of a language included number of speakers, number of countries using it officially, “financial power” and education and literacy rates.

“French continues to be an important language in international business and communication, diplomacy, scientific discovery and achievement,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of the UW–Madison Division of International Studies, vice provost for globalization, and Pickard-Bascom Professor of French.

French is the official language of 29 countries on five continents and joins English as the official working languages of many international organizations, including the United Nations, UNESCO, NATO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Olympic Committee.

Yet, as school districts in Wisconsin and elsewhere grapple with shrinking budgets, many are cutting world-language offerings, often to a single language—usually Spanish.
In response to the declining support for their programs, teachers of French have mounted national campaigns through the American Association of Teachers of French, but they continue to be increasingly frustrated by those who wrongly portray French as lacking in relevance and a ‘luxury’ we can no longer afford.

“Americans who speak French well are usually surprised by the professional opportunities it offers,” says Ritt Deitz, executive director of UW–Madison’s Professional French Masters Program (PFMP).

UW–Madison’s Division of International Studies and Center for Interdisciplinary French Studies are inviting French teachers to Madison for a half-day workshop, “Strength Through Networking: Making the Case for French,” on Saturday, January 21, at the French House, 633 N. Frances St., the popular French-language student residence on Lake Mendota.

The workshop—from 9 a.m. through lunch—aims to prepare teachers to reach out and inform various constituencies—including students, parents, administrators, school boards and local media—about the practical uses of French.

Sessions will feature local and regional world language and international business experts who interact regularly with the French language. One panel will offer advice on identifying stakeholders, and another will focus on existing local and regional resources, including the many French-language business resources available through the University of Wisconsin.

The program will conclude with lunch at the French House and a presentation by Deitz on “The Case for French in a Post-Francophile America.” The talk will include stories from the Professional French Masters Program, in which students apply their advanced proficiency in French to practical professional concentrations in business, education, European Union affairs, international development, international education, and media/arts/cultural production.

To sign up, teachers should email Andrew Irving, director of the French House, at atirving@wisc.edu. There is no charge for participation and lunch is included.

– by Kerry G. Hill

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