The French language gave me an entrée into another culture. It allowed me to discover different means ofexpression, a different way of life, different values, a different system of thought. Because when you’re a judge and you spend your whole day in front of a computer screen, it’s important to be able to imagine what other people’s lives might be like, lives that your decisions will affect.

—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

Courses in the French & Francophone Department target fluency in the language of France and French-speaking countries and open doors to cultures that are rich in tradition and have pivotal roles to play in a rapidly diversifying Europe and a rapidly contracting world. With few exceptions, our courses, elementary to advanced, are taught in French. The subjects we teach in literature and culture span ten centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present. In addition to covering a broad cultural range, our courses are designed to help students develop anumber of critical life skills—linguistic, analytical, interpretive, expressive, creative.

Why French? Because French affords access to cultures—both historic and modern—that are vital and that offer a fresh perspective on our own time and culture. Becoming a sensitive observer of a French-speaking culture means learning to understand and respect its unique set of values, and, by extension, to embrace many different kinds of otherness. A student who has mastered French well enough to enter sympathetically into cultures different from her own has learned to push beyond what currently exists and to express herself in a new way. She is likely to be more complexly understanding, more subtly perceptive, more keenly articulate,more expansively communicative, a better collaborator and a better listener than a classmate who has not. To move freely and securely among multiple frames of cultural reference, to inhabit the alternate personae that come with mastery of another tongue, to have the sounds and songs and idioms of French in one's head—these are all deep intellectual pleasures. They are also highly useful tools in the real world. As the above quote from Justice Stephen Breyer points out, the ability to project oneself into the attitudes and expectations of others, to step into their shoes and see reality from their standpoint as well as from your own, is an extraordinarily valuable skill in today’s world—in diplomacy, business and politics, and, of course, in human relations.

Beginning in our language courses, students work with materials from different parts of the world and from historical periods that range from the medieval to the contemporary, in a variety of genres and media. They acquire skill as well in a number of different approaches to reading and analyzing texts: historical, sociological, psychological, and literary—including the perspectives of race and gender. Students who graduate from our program have gone on to further study in areas as diverse as the law, medicine, international relations, museum science, art and art history, English, French, and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as to careers in publishing and on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Graduates who are professionals in industries from tech to finance to media routinely report that their skills in French are a significant asset in their careers.

Our courses prepare students for study abroad programs in France and in French-speaking countries, among them Senegal and Morocco. The French department’s Wellesley-in-Aix program offers courses in a variety of fields in humanities and the social sciences, and courses in political science and international relations through our collaboration with the Institut des Sciences Politiques (Sciences Po). 

French & Francophone Studies Department Information

The French Department offers two majors, one in French and one in French Cultural Studies. A description of the major in French Cultural Studies and directions for election appear at the end of the French curriculum.

Students who begin with FREN 101-FREN 102 in college and who plan to study abroad should consult the chair of the department during the second semester of their first year. 

The numbering of certain 200-level courses does not denote increasing levels of difficulty; FREN 206 through FREN 209 may be taken in any sequence and 200-level courses above FREN 209 may also be taken in any sequence. Students planning to major in French will need to take FREN 210, FREN 211, or FREN 212, which develop skills in literary analysis and writing in preparation for the major; they should complete one of the three courses as early as possible, after consultation with a member of the French Department to determine which course best suits their needs and interests. Students planning to study abroad will need to take at least one class at the upper-200 level (210 or higher).