Dennis BeaverJuly 24, 2019 • By Dennis Beaver 

This foreign language offers unique benefits to:

1. College students who want an educational advantage when seeking employment, and;

2. American business looking for new, overseas markets.

Can you guess what it is?

It is French, the language of romance, culture, style, fine food and terrific business opportunities, as you’ll see, but first: If you were a Family Law judge, how would you rule in this case?

“Mr. Beaver, my wife has physical custody of our 16 year-old daughter Jeanine who has gift for learning languages. After two years of high school Spanish, she speaks it at a level of someone who has majored in the language at university, and is teaching herself French, using a college text and audio dialogues. She will graduate shortly after turning 17.

“Wanting to major in business and work internationally, Jeanine would like to study at a university that has a strong French program — and there is nothing like that nearby. But her mother admits to being terrified of Jeanine leaving home, refusing to allow her to attend school out of state. I am prepared to pay for her to study anywhere. If I asked a court to give me full custody for the educational benefit of our daughter, do you think I would have a chance? Thanks, Rob.”

A huge advantage
Taking French at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, spending a year studying in France and getting married to a lovely French women he met in New York, “changed my life in so many wonderful ways,” columnist and author John von Sothen told me recently.

For the past 15 years he’s lived in France, and with a marvelous sense of humor has distilled “the French experience” into what is both a touching and hysterically funny book, Monsieur Mediocre, subtitled, “One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French.”

His book is really a love-letter to France, and is on the New York Times list of summer reading suggestions. I asked him, “So, what’s in it for the American college student? Why should Americans study French?”

“There are old stereotypes about French, for example, it is considered as a romantic, classy language. There is still a feeling that if you know French, then you are an educated person, or that’s the image in any event. But today — especially today — in our global economy, French is tremendously important,” he strongly maintains.

“In France we see Africa in a far different way than it is shown on American evening news programs. In the States, the view of Africa is almost exclusively as a needy Third World continent, a place to give money to. But in France, it is seen as a trading partner, and a means to exert positive, global influence, raising the standard of living of its people. So the relationship that France has with Africa is very different.

“There are enormous business opportunities, especially in North Africa. Is there poverty? Yes, of course, but you do not see skyscrapers and factories when you watch CNN. You do see stories of refugees, disease, and misery, but not the economic powerhouse this region of the world has become.”

Language a game-changer
I asked the same questions about the value of French to Herman J. Cohen, who served as United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former Ambassador to Senegal and Gambia in West Africa. He is the author of “The Mind of the African Strongman, and Intervening in Africa: Conflict Resolution in a Troubled Continent.”

I have had the pleasure of being on several live Voice of America French to Africa broadcasts with him.

“Africa — especially French-speaking Africa — is taking its place on the world’s economic stage. Knowing French — even some French — will be a great benefit to companies wanting to do business there,” he points out.

“When it is clear that you’ve taken the time to study another person’s language — especially if you speak it well — this raises your credibility. People want to do business with those who they feel comfortable around. Knowing French will open doors for American college students, and far-sighted American business.”

Change custody?
So, if Rob goes to court, will a judge give him custody so that Jeanine can attend a university that has a good French program? Is there a better way, a win-win for the family?

I ran these facts by family court judges who are friends of this column, and all agree that a mediator should be brought in before litigation. Yet, they were quick to stress that custody can be changed where the educational needs are strong enough.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.