En Français, S’il Vous Plaît

A master’s program prepares students to use French in professions outside the classroom.

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If students want jobs after graduation, what foreign language should they study? Arabic? Chinese? Maybe Spanish? For graduates of a one-of-a-kind UW program, the answer is French.

Since 2000, the Professional French Master’s Program has prepared students who love the language — but don’t want to teach — to work in careers outside the classroom. Language study is combined with coursework in marketing, education, or other areas of interest, along with a required professional internship that gets students off campus to experience the world of work, from business to tourism to wine-making, as they complete final master’s projects.

“It’s student-centered, and it’s really based on the individual,” says executive director Ritt Deitz MA’90, PhD’94. “And we do it better than anybody in the United States.”

The program has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, which lauded its goal “to introduce practicality, or at least employability, to the liberal arts without losing those disciplines’ focus on intellectual skills.”

This pragmatic approach to graduate studies of foreign language is a convincing case for the relevance of the humanities. “It has upped the numbers of graduate students in French at a time when nationally those numbers are in danger, and programs are closing in high schools and some universities,” Deitz says.

Christopher Beaver MFS’05 chose the UW’s program over traditional French graduate paths that focus primarily on literature because the UW prepares students for life outside academia. Beaver speaks French daily as an international customer service representative, working primarily with distributors in northern Europe and southern Africa, for Trek Bicycle Corporation, based in Waterloo, Wisconsin. His internship was at a government office in Bordeaux, France, but after returning home he got the job, in part, by networking with a Trek employee he met at a party with former classmates.

“Students both learn to be better communicators and become more self-sufficient professionally,” Beaver writes in an essay he contributed to Post-Francophile: Stories from the Professional French Master’s Program. The book’s release coincided with an announcement by the president of State University of New York-Albany that — in the face of massive budget cuts — the school plans to suspend French, Italian, and Russian. Other institutions are contemplating phasing out foreign language programs, too.

“Part of editing and publishing this book was a gesture toward the profession at large, a friendly one,” Deitz says. “I think [the UW program] is something that we all should be doing.”

Published in the Spring 2011 issue


  • HOUSSINE June 2, 2011


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