Studying French As A Second Language

My vacation in Paris, France was a great success and fulfilled one of my dreams. You can read about my travels on my personal blog at:

I’ve decided to learn French as a second language even though I did not need to know any French in Paris. Learning a foreign language requires a huge commitment of time and effort, far more than is necessary to learn a programming language. You need a really good reason to learn a second language. As a programmer I am all too familiar with the temptation to learn many computer languages which you’ll never actually use. It can be a waste of time to learn a programming language. I’ve already decided that life is too short to learn Java.

It is actually quite hard to think of a good reason to learn French. Most of the reasons given for studying French as a second language don’t make any sense, especially if you don’t plan to move to France. For example, it does not matter how influential France is as a nation. You don’t need to know French to follow the international news relating to French foreign policy. You also don’t need to know French to vacation in France. That may infuriate the French, but it doesn’t make sense to spend years learning a language just so you can use it for one week when you’ll really need it, occasionally.

The main reason I’ve decided to learn French is to explore the uncharted territory of their geek culture. It may surprise you to learn that there is such a thing as the French geek. The stereotype of the French as artists and intellectuals conceals a far more extensive culture. The French also love comic books, science fiction, horror, video games, and pop music. Their comic book industry, known as bandes dessinées or BD for short, rivals the Japanese manga but is virtually unknown here in the United States. I was in a Borders bookstore last week and saw an entire aisle devoted to Japanese manga in paperback books called tankōbon. There was a smaller bookshelf for Marvel, DC, and other American graphic novels. However I did not find a single bandes dessinées at Borders.

In addition to an unexplored world of graphic novels, the French also publish many science fiction novels which are never translated into English. Some of this science fiction uses historical references to the reign of Louis XIII and the periods of French Baroque and Classicism in a way that is really bizarre and amusing. There are also spy novels and other forms of pulp fiction that will never be shared with the Anglosphere (i.e. the totality of (English-speaking) nations).

I think it would be fun to explore this world of trashy French culture because it goes against the stereotype of the French as sophisticated snobs. I’ve become pretty bored with American culture and its predictable output.

So what does this have to do with programming? Well, programmers are often geeks so I’m staying within my culture with this new obsession. I also intend to visit many more French web sites and I’ll keep an eye out for any innovative uses of technology that have not made it to the English Internet. 


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