Undergraduate subject guide – French/languages

studying languages french

By Nicole Correia,

Le Français is undeniably a love-hate subject whether you enjoy a pain au chocolat or not. There have been lots of reports in the media about a lack of language students ready to persevere with studying a language degree, but for those interested in foreign language and culture, what better language to learn than that spoken across the pond, in France.  


French is one of the many Romantic tongues spoken in Europe, and is ranked as the second most influential language spoken on the continent. French is a fantastic language to learn at university; and becoming bilingual not only boosts your career prospects and opens your choice of application for jobs, it also opens up a new world for students and encourages tolerance, interest and respect. Wherever you are in the world and whatever you are doing, communication is essential for success.

What types of French degrees are available to you?

French language degree options are incredibly varied. Employers today want graduates to be culturally aware as well as confident in a second language, especially if a company does business internationally. There are plenty of opportunities and modules on offer to study surrounding cultural topics in France further complimenting the intense study of the language. Study France’s history, politics and literature to satisfy all cultural curiosity, much of the teachings linking into Europe’s development and other nations.

At the end of a degree in French it is likely that you will be fluent in the language and very comfortable with expressing yourself clearly using it, as would a native. Many universities offer opportunities to study for a term or year in a Francophone country, or alternatively working on a placement there, to encourage personal development as you grasp the language and communication. This is something unforgettable for many students and highlights a particularly great experience in their time studying at university. It is also an aspect that many employers show an interest in, as it is inevitable that the individual had to be extremely independent whilst living alone in a foreign country; the experience shapes better people and more impressive, savvy and self-motivated candidates.

There are also degrees that complement the learning of the language with a different skill or interest, ensuring that graduates appear broad-minded and incredibly well-skilled before immersing themselves in the world of work after university. For example joint honours with French can permit a student to satisfy interest as well as develop academic skills.

Putting the hours in

When asked how long it takes someone to become fluent in a language the response will no doubt be very vague as it is dependent on exposure to the language, dedication and ability. Many people define fluency different too - is it when you can say and understand every word? Is it when you can get by independently? Or is it when you dream and think in the language without realising? Once more this is dependent on the individual’s aims and hopes for learning French at university. Language courses will teach you the skills but it really is about putting the extra effort and perseverance in. Then, one day, voila! On peut parler francais!

It is important that French and language students attend all of their contact hours as this increases exposure to the language and provides them with helpful information and resources to use outside of the lecture theatre to improve their linguistic ability. Contact hours vary between universities and degree combination, but further hours outside contact time will need to be put in. Listening, reading, writing and speaking all must be treated individually as every language students has their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning French grammar and using it correctly is essential and takes time and, more importantly, effort. If a student is dedicated to the subject it is sure that they will soon pick up the language and with ease they will reap the benefits of being bilingual.

Exams

Much like GCSE and A Levels students will be assessed on their communicative abilities in French - there will be an oral exam, in similar conditions to what they have previously experienced. Oral exams encourage spontaneous use of the language and can only be revised for through broad practice in speaking - there are no real topics that must be soley focused on. A French language degree develops and progresses students for French communication in the real world, rather than just for an exam, which is exactly what French students and graduates will be thankful for.

Writing ability is assessed in an exam for most universities but throughout the year coursework and feedback is provided, in order for students to understand the areas in which they must individually work on. Contact time is social, and importance is placed on listening, speaking and accuracy of language. All language skills improve with time and it isn’t long before the students themselves recognise this and are spurred on, alongside each other, to continue improving.

Getting a job

In studying French you are not limited to working in France, nor in a job that involves communicating in French - quite the opposite. French graduates are able to apply for all jobs that require degree level entry, yet they have an advantage of a bilingual’s ability against other graduates. Many students chose to work within companies that remain in the UK, using their French when necessary, whilst others chose to search for jobs that make the most of their bilingual abilities and need both languages in communication, as others apply for jobs that solely rely on their linguistic skills. There are so many positions that can be covered; the world really is a French graduate’s oyster.


Work experience and studying in France or a Francophone country not only increases “networking” opportunities for graduates but gives them confidence in approaching and negotiating opportunities through the independent skills learnt there. It is also something that many employers regard highly.

Examples of French language degrees

University of Aberdeen

  • Economics and French
  • French and History
  • French and Management

University of Edinburgh

  • French and Classics
  • French and English Literature
  • Chinese and French

The University of Warwick

  • Politics and French
  • Italian and French

University of York

  • French and Linguistics
  • French and Philosophy
  • French and German
  • French and Spanish

University league tables: the best universities in the UK to study a language course

Below is a list of the top twenty places to study a language degree, including not only French but German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, south Asian, African, Australasian, modern Middle Eastern languages, literature and linguistics.