Recently, we had the privilege to sit down with Wilson Hill French teacher, Sarah Soundron, to hear about her lifelong love of French and her eagerness to share her love for the language with her students.
Sarah started speaking French when she was just ten years old. She said her mother, who studied French literature in college, taught her simple French phrases: “I think she just wanted to bring me into her French world a bit.” Sarah also enjoyed attending a weekly French class in grammar school. “Between my mom and this little French class, I was pretty well hooked,” she said.
But while studying French in college, Sarah hit a roadblock: “I just felt like I had stagnated. I couldn’t learn French anymore in a classroom,” she said.
“I knew I had to either go live in France or marry a Frenchman. And I had the opportunity to marry a Frenchman before I had the opportunity to move to France!” she laughed.
Sarah met her husband at a French party in Boulder, Colorado, while he was living in the U.S. and working for a microelectronics start-up. “One very long conversation on the merits of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and our friendship was kindled,” she explained. He’s from Pondicherry, India, a former French territory—where the jam, Bonne Maman, is made!
1. Learning French is a great excuse to travel to France!
Soundron first visited France at sixteen when she stayed with a French family for a week: “I met all these interesting people, and it made me want to communicate with them because I’m a people person. I realized these words that I had been learning were connected to people who had life stories that I wanted to know!”
She added, “I learned that French dinners—besides being très bien—last a long time! They start at five in the evening, and it’s not uncommon to still be finishing up at 11 p.m. Everybody’s around the table and chatting about geopolitics for hours.” But these long conversations over dinner also build a rich sense of community.
After dreaming of living in France for decades, the Soundrons moved to France for five months in 2021. They made their home in Nantes, where they worked with a mission church and reveled in the luxury of the best baguettes in town.
Sarah was especially surprised to discover how much more interested the French people were in learning English than they had been when she visited as a sixteen-year-old. “When I was there as a student,” she said, “my new French friends weren’t asking me how to speak English. They were teaching me how to speak French. But our kids’ experience was entirely different. They were constantly being asked, ‘How do you say this in English?’”
2. Studying French enriches your English vocabulary.
Though many people know how Germanic and Latin languages have contributed to English, some people don’t know how significantly French has influenced our native tongue. Around a third of English words can be traced to French. Sarah said, “The number of cognates between French and English is profound.” The two languages share more than 1,700 true cognates—or identical words.
“If you’re speaking French regularly,” Sarah said, “cognates naturally arise. This morning, for example, I was talking to my mom about apprehending something, and knew I was using a cognate because I was thinking of the word ‘apprehender’ in French. Studying French has enriched my English vocabulary because so many words I consistently use in French have English cognates.”
3. Learning French makes learning other Romance languages easier.
Since French (along with Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) is one of the major Romance languages directly descended from Latin, students familiar with Latin find learning a Romance language like French easier. Moreover, learning French helps students learn other Romance languages because of all the similarities and shared linguistic features among these languages.
4. Studying French instills a love for art & art history.
In both French 2 and French 3, Sarah teaches students the timeline of art history and architecture. She said, “I interweave French grammar and vocabulary with French culture.” Students learn about influential French artists like Monet, Renoir, Degas and celebrated French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, who created the world-famous statue The Thinker. His most famous version is the six-foot bronze sitting in the Rodin Museum gardens in Paris.
French culture has been profoundly influenced by Christianity, and this is evident in various artistic expressions, such as religious paintings, sculptures, architecture, literature and music. By studying French, you can explore the works of renowned Christian artists, writers and composers who were inspired by their faith and contributed to the rich cultural heritage of France.
5. Studying French teaches you to love French music!
Sarah loves to help her students develop an appreciation for French music, beginning with the songs that the youngest children sing: “I teach classic nursery songs—little kid songs— because they are an important part of French heritage.”
She asks her students to learn one French song a month. They listen to it until they can sing part of it or until they can recite all of the words. Then they translate all the words and identify all the conjugations.
6. Studying French enriches your understanding of philosophy and church history.
By studying French, you can access and read original works by influential theologians, philosophers and historians who wrote in the French language like Blaise Pascal and René Descartes. Being able to engage directly with these primary sources can provide a deeper insight into the historical context, religious ideas and intellectual debates of the time.
France has a long history of Catholicism, and the Catholic Church played a significant role in shaping the country’s history and culture. By studying French, you can explore the history and influence of the Catholic Church in France, including its interactions with the monarchy and religious conflicts, which may provide insights into broader aspects of church history and the influence of the Catholic Church in different historical periods.
“John Calvin was French, and he was ousted; the French people resisted the Protestant Reformation, generally,” Soundron said. But the influence of Calvin and the Huguenot movement left a lasting impact on French history and culture.
7. Learning French teaches you to be a global citizen.
Sarah believes that learning French centers students in the world economy and in geopolitics. “We talk about French culture and geopolitics in every class. It’s important to me that the students understand the place of French in the world,” she said.
French is one of the major languages of international communication, commerce and diplomacy. It is an official language in 29 countries around the world and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. France has the world’s sixth-largest economy, and French-speaking countries collectively form a substantial economic force. Learning French can open up opportunities for students to engage with French-speaking markets, industries and multinational companies.
This year, Sarah asked her French 3 students to watch French president, Emmanuel Macron, address the French people about raising the retirement age to 63. “It was the source of massive angst, and the people were rioting in the streets,” she explained.
Besides helping her students learn more about this important current event and its implications, Sarah also used this as an exercise to test her students’ knowledge of the grammatical form of the subjunctive and the conditional. She asked students to watch and listen to the official address and note when they heard Macron use the subjunctive form in his speech.
8. Learning a new language helps you grow as a person.
Sarah calls on her students often. Most of her students at Wilson Hill share the same level of mastery of the French language, and they want to help one another learn, which sometimes requires humility and even courage. “In my class, there’s no shame in saying something incorrectly,” she said.
“The French always appreciate an effort made,” Sarah explained. “Maybe not in Paris,” she added, “But I don’t think that’s because of the language. It’s just because their life is stressful. So you can’t take a Parisian’s rudeness personally, any more than you would take a New Yorker’s rudeness personally.”
9. Studying French helps you appreciate the Gospel.
Studying French has helped Sarah understand that God’s heart is for the fatherless, the widow and the stranger among us. We are reminded of the words of Scripture: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18-19)
She said, “That third one [the stranger] has become like a theme in my life. I often think about the stranger and how to be hospitable, not just in having someone over for tea or offering them home-baked goods but also empathizing with those who experience the brain fatigue of regularly speaking a language that is not native to them.”
10. Learning French can help you share the Gospel.
Learning another language might help you succeed in college or a career. And that would certainly be an important benefit of learning a new skill like speaking French. But ultimately, the most valuable reward for learning another language is the opportunity you receive to help spread the gospel to all nations, tribes and tongues.
Sarah said, “I pray that my students come to understand that French is not just a subject, but it is a language connected to people who have souls, people who are created in the image of God. Embracing this truth could mean the blessing of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with another image bearer who speaks a different language.”