Why study French?

French is a “global language”. According to the 2018 survey conducted by the International Francophone Organization (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, or OIF), over 300 million people in the world today speak French fluently, a number that is projected to more than double by 2050. Of those French speakers, approximately 235 million use it on a daily basis (59% of them on the African continent alone), making it the fifth most spoken language on earth, after Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, and Arabic. 

A major influence on world culture

French has had, and continues to have, a major influence on world culture. Whatever your academic interests may be, now or in the future, it is likely that knowledge of French will be a valuable asset.

French thinkers René Descartes and Blaise Pascal were pioneering mathematicians and metaphysicians who changed the way Europe thought about complex ideas in physics, calculus, philosophy, and theology in the Classical Period (17th century). A century later, Enlightenment philosophers like Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert created the first modern Encyclopédie. At the end of the 19th century, Émile Durkheim invented the discipline of sociology and is widely considered, alongside Karl Marx and Max Weber, to be one of the fathers of social science itself. Meanwhile, Swiss thinker Ferdinand de Saussure was pioneering the field of linguistics, and his work served as the foundation for Roland Barthes’s literary theory, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology, and Jacques Lacan’s contributions to psychoanalytic theory. Barthes, Lévi-Strauss, and Lacan were among the first victims of “deconstruction,” a critical approach founded by Jacques Derrida, whose notion of citationality—along with insights from French theorist Michel Foucault and numerous French feminists, beginning with Simone de Beauvoir—have provided the groundwork for concepts like “performativity” in gender studies. “French Theory” and, especially, Francophone movements such as Négritude and Créolité have contributed significantly to the development of subaltern studies, hybridity, and other anti- and postcolonial discourses.

Our students also have ample opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary work in politics, comparative studies, popular culture, and other disciplines. For example, those interested in graphic novels and comics may already be familiar with the influential work of Belgian and French artists such as Hergé (The Adventures of Tintin), Goscinny and Uderzo (Astérix et Obélix), as well as the huge, global, contemporary world of Francophone “bande dessinée” in Europe, Africa, and North America. Which is all to say that your interests are probably more French and Francophone than you think!

How to study French at Kenyon


If you have studied French before, you can find the appropriate level by taking our placement test during Orientation, or by prior certification (Advanced Placement exam, International Baccalaureate, etc.). Students with little or no prior instruction in French take our Intensive Introductory class, and build from there.

Types of courses

As well as the beginning and intermediate language sequences, we offer a choice of courses covering a wide range of literary and cultural topics, from classic works of French and Francophone literature, to post-WWII French culture, Francophone graphic novels, and more. In some years, a course in English may be available for all students, including those who do not have the required proficiency level to take our advanced classes taught in French.  View course offerings

The Minor

Minoring in French requires a minimum of five courses, including two at the 300-level, for students who begin their study of French at the 100- or 200 level. Students who place directly into the 300 level only need to take a minimum of four courses at that level to complete the minor. Students must also take a language proficiency test administered in their senior year. 

The Major

Majoring in French requires a minimum of eight advanced courses for the “Track I” (single-language) major, ten courses for the “Track II” major (with a primary and secondary language), and ten courses for the “Track III” major (French combined with one or more other disciplines). Senior majors must also take a language proficiency exam, and complete a research-based or creative capstone project.

Please see the description of the Major and Minor in Modern Languages and Literatures (in the course catalog) for more detailed information. 

Examples of recent Senior Capstone projects

  • “Le langage corporel : une réorganisation de la hiérarchie humaine à travers le théâtre” (on the dramatic arts theories of Antonin Artaud)
  • “Alf layla wa layla et Les mille et une nuits: une relation” (on the relationship of the French version of 1001 Nights and its Arabic sources)
  • La BD: “En chair et en os” (creative project: graphic novella in French)
  • Les Personnages de Sarraute: Tropismes à travers une Lentille Théâtrale (analysis of Nathalie Sarraute’s novel Tropismes from the point of view of theater)