We invited Hannah, President of Durham University's French Society, and Laura, Secretary for interview to learn more about the events they hold and the importance of the role they play in the student community.
Laura: I study French and Italian whilst Hannah, the President, studies French and Spanish.
What is the mix of students studying French and those studying other subjects in the society?
The ratio is around 55% French students, many of whom do degrees other than Modern Languages and just study French as an elective module in first year.
What is the percentage of native French members of the society?
The remaining 45% of the society are generally French natives or Erasmus students from France, (along with several Erasmus students from Italy).
So why French language and culture? What is so special about it?
French is incredibly important, being the second most widely learned foreign language after English, and the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. A knowledge of French also opens the doors of French companies in France and other French-speaking parts of the world in countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, and parts of Africa. As for the culture, France has one of the richest in the world- it is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture. As well as being the language of many great writers, namely Victor Hugo, Molière and Jean-Paul Sartre, which have had a huge influence on the world.
What kind of events do you carry out in the society to encourage language learning?
We are currently in the process of arranging a French film night for anyone to come along and watch (with English subtitles provided), which we think will definitely help listening skills in an entertaining way. We’re also organising a book club for both French students, natives, and lovers of French literature to partake in, encouraging an appreciation and exploration into French literature.
What kind of events do you do in the society to encourage more cultural awareness?
Depending on the kind of films we show on the film night, this could also provide a cultural experience as well (especially if it refers to a French historical event/period). As well as this, our other events are based around experiencing French everyday life through its cuisine, including Cheese and Wine Evenings, ‘Crepe and Cidre’ soirées, as well as a potential ‘Croissants et conversation’ mornings to encourage people to come and try as much of the French cuisine as possible.
What do you think is the importance of language learning in the world today, particularly French?
Despite the fact languages are decreasingly taught in schools nowadays, language learning hasn’t lost its importance. Many parts of the world still don’t speak English, and even those that do often don’t to a really high standard, and would understandably always prefer to have a conversation in their native language, hence why we shouldn’t take our knowledge of the English language for granted. French in particular as due to its proximity historically and geographically to England, making it almost intertwined into many aspects of British culture without us even realising, therefore definitely a country we should respect and admire through continuing to learn their language.
Have you done any collaboration with any other language societies?
So far there hasn’t really been any, other than the Romance Languages Ball which was introduced for the first time last year. Other than that, it’s only been collaborations with other societies such as Wine Society for our Cheese and Wine Evenings, as well as the Politics Society when we carried out a debate on the French Presidential Elections last year.
What is the one thing you would say about France that would convince someone else to go?
Laura: For me it’s definitely worth it for their cuisine, in particular their cheeses, given that so many are made on French farms and are much more authentic than the ones in England, which can be said for the majority of French food in my opinion.
Hannah: It’s worth it for the landscapes and scenery and all the medieval towns which we don’t really get here at all. Particularly those off the coast of Normandy which are full of historic architecture unique to certain parts of France.
Do you think there is any risk of French regions trying to follow Catalonia and start edging towards independence?
It’s very unlikely this will happen, at least not in the near future, mainly because there isn’t as much disparity across France compared to Spain in terms of language and dialect variations. Also, a lot of the French regions aren’t in as good an economic position as Catalonia (due to Barcelona), so will probably find it difficult to do so. France has also always a key supporter and promoter of national unity, especially after the attacks, and so are unlikely to want to start separating now.
France has just ended their ‘state of emergency’ after the Paris attacks two years ago, how do you think the attacks in France in the past years have impacted the country, and why do you think the country has been targeted more highly than some other European countries?
I’ve heard they’ve had a major impact on tourism, and the figures were something like 1.5 billion euros will be lost this year due to the terrorist attacks, having significant economic impacts from this as well. As for the French people themselves, we think, despite how they seemingly carry on with their lives and it doesn’t stop many of them living how they always have done, there is still and increased awareness of things and people around them, knowing an attack could be imminent at any moment, especially in cities like Paris. As well as this we’ve both heard of the ever-increasing hostility towards the Islamic religion, leading to the formation of many prejudices in French society.
This may be primarily due to the French patriotism and desire for a national identity, which means they often don’t hold back on criticising and mocking other nationalities. A good example of this is the Charlie Hebdo incident, which targeted such others on a much more personal and offensive level. As well as this is how their negative feelings are expressed in French culture, such as the criticism of the Hijab and Burka in public, which are likely to have sparked this revolt from Islamists.
Thank you, that’s a very insightful answer. We will finish on a lighter one, so what is your favourite French word?
For both of us, our favourite words are ‘pamplemousse’ (French for grapefruit), just because it’s fun to say and doesn’t sound anything like what it actually is, whilst most French fruits are actually really similar to the English. Our other favourite word is ‘enchanté’, purely because it’s the most French sounding word and one everyone understands, emphasising the sophistication of the French language and culture.