A lot of people—most, actually—are shocked when I reveal that I am a double major in English and French. It is actually quite frustrating. Most college students—even coworkers and family members—laugh and ask, “What are you going to do with an English major, let alone a useless French major? Are you going to be a teacher? ‘Cause that’s all you can do with that these days.” My favorite questions though are, “Why? Why would you do that to yourself? Are you crazy?” Maybe I am. But these two departments have changed the way I view the world, regard other people, and make connections. These two concentrations, both in language, overlap, build upon each other, and expand my cognitive reach.
Let me start with being an English major. I have learned more about humanity and the human experience, I think, than those who are in the Humanities courses. Literature both reflects and influences the times, and it is literature that captures history. The English track is often scoffed at because it is associated with old croons who sit in dark offices reading novels and romanticizing Great White whales and pioneers crossing distant mountain ranges. It is often forgotten that literature is a study of history, a study of the human mind and evolution. Moreover, those of us pursuing English are forced to learn new modes of communication: different writing styles, writing for various audiences, presenting ideas and connecting them, etc. These skills are mandatory for us—a breakdown in communication is the ultimate failure. We deal in facts, theories, ideas, all of which are weaved within a literary polysystem that makes up everything that the human race relies on—communication.
The study of English is also the study of history; literature records events, ideas, and people. As an English major, I have read extensively on the wars Americans have fought and died in, domestic and foreign works that build on one another, biographies and autobiographies of historic figures, influential texts that have shaped our present, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and so much more. This vast amount of literature enables me to recognize connections between times, movements, continents, and peoples—with the critical thinking skills I have obtained in my pursuit of my education, I am more able to connect my thoughts and make my own conclusions.
This is where my concentration in French comes in. Let me answer some questions before they’re asked: yes, I speak French fluently; yes, I write essays in French; yes, my presentations and conversations are in French. It may seem obvious, but believe me, common sense eludes most people these days. My French concentration, like English, has also pushed vast amounts of literary works. I have read Voltaire, Molière, Balzac, Zola, Proust, Camus, Baudelaire, Verne, Dumas, only to name a few. And yes, I read their works in French. These brilliant authors, like the English-speaking ones, also expand my knowledge on cultural and historic movements, ideas, etc. More interestingly though, French literature and English (and American) literature often overlap and influence one another. Have you ever wondered why, even though English is a Germanic language, French words seem to be the root of so many English words? Two words: The Renaissance. Because of my two majors I have learned about the evolution of language in both English and French, which, in my humble opinion, is amazing.
Being able to connect ideas, events, and cultural revolutions across continents and times may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things. But, it truly is. Critical thinking and logic work hand in hand with both English and French concentrations. To many, it may seem as though I am a sponge overflowing with useless information, but I disagree. We English, and French, majors have become sponges, overflowing with information and ideas that allow us to make connections that others can’t. We are more able to communicate—more so than those of other majors—because we take the histories, lessons, and theories learned throughout literature and apply them to the present.
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.