Nothing worse than bad arguments for a good idea

Business Insider, which gives Steve Keen a platform and therefore, when in doubt, should be considered sensible, has felt the need to publish a piece “Why we still need French” (a while back). This in reaction to an NYT piece that was arguing that learning French as an American were pointless.

I’m fine with arguing in favor of learning French, if only the arguments weren’t such bullshit:

1) For English speakers, French is the easiest language to learn.

You may have heard it’s Spanish. That cannot possibly be true though, because English is actually the mutant stepchild of German and French[.]

Note the dismissive reaction that already indicates that this point has not been thought out. I am not sure what the easiest language is that English speakers can learn. But following the writer’s argument, I’d actually assume it’s Dutch – lots of overlap with words, very similar spelling, and less challenging grammar than the other “parent” – German – or than French, for that matter.
But even w.r.t. Spanish: an immense difference is that Spanish is spoken as it’s written, something that no one could ever accuse French of, so simply in terms of acquiring new vocabulary, Spanish should be easier.

2) And learning French makes learning Spanish way easier.

Now, as the writer himself states:

And If you already know Spanish, it requires very little effort to make the jump to French.

This is actually not exactly true, for the spelling (and pronounciation) reasons given above, but yes, knowing Spanish makes learning French easier. So why not Spanish first – easier to learn, more useful in the Americas, and helping with French later one? One could of course argue that picking up a harder language first is the better idea (and I’d be very willing to consider this argument) but then this would go against the first argument.

3) All over Europe, French is still the main second language taught in school.

That’s just plain nonsense. Now, the author states:

When I lived in France, I found it impossible to communicate with the kids from Italy, China, Japan, and Mexico in anything other than French. Nor was English an option when I traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic.

But apart from the fact that two Asian countries and one North American one somehow make it into “Europe”, this might have been true back when the author lived in France but nowadays, English is basically the second language. Also in Eastern Europe, and also in Italy and Spain.

4) If you want to understand modern China and Russia, you need to know French.

For all the good stuff it led to, the French Revolution gave the world its first glimpse at totalitarianism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was basically an attempt to reenact that part of the French Revolution. And Mao’s Communist revolution in China was basically an attempt to reenact the Russian Revolution.

Modern France is very different from modern Russia and China, the Russian revolution was indeed a bourgeouis one like the French one, China’s however wasn’t (in fact, it wasn’t even a revolution but rather a civil war following a war against an invader)…I’m afraid I’m wasting bytes here.

5) Half of Africa speaks French.

To continue on the China point: As you’ve probably heard, Chinese corporations have begun flooding into Africa, where deals are cheap and resources are abundant. French speaking countries, Algeria top among them, comprise a significant chunk of that investment. Half of the top-10 fastest growing countries in Africa have French as an official language. We can thus expect Africa to be an increasing focus of global trade and international relations.

I am too lazy to get the numbers right but is this supposed to mean that roughly 500 million Africans are an argument for French, yet 200 million in South America, 120 million in Mexico, and some portion of 100 million in the Phillipines are not an argument for Spanish?

The last two points are pure ridiculousness. All in all, this reads like a satire – the problem is that with this outlet, there will be people who take this seriously. And spreading misinformation is always a disservice.

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