Majoring in French or Italian prepares you for a career
According to a recent survey conducted by the alumni association, 100% of our department's graduates are employed. Some of our graduates work in conventional settings for language majors (teaching and translation), but many more have found work in business, graphic design, law, and real estate, for example. Still others go on to seek graduate degrees in many areas (as an example, 13% of students in BYU's MBA program were Humanities majors).
JP Morgan's website offers career advice to undergraduates. The investment bank's website notes that the undergraduate years are a perfect time to "study the humanities in depth" and encourages undergraduates to "study abroad for a semester, maybe two. Learn another language, maybe a third." Consulting firms who visit and recruit at BYU have asked our campus representative to send them more humanities majors because they speak foreign languages and bring unique perspectives to the workplace.
All this suggests that businesses like to hire people who are able to think broadly and bring unique, even global perspectives to the workplace. Specific technical training is often gained in graduate school or in training programs on the job. French and Italian majors learn skills (language, analytical writing, critical thinking, cultural fluency) that are broadly applicable and last a lifetime.
Majoring in French or Italian prepares you to be a good citizen
When you major in French or Italian, in addition to learning a foreign language, you will be immersed in the study of a foreign culture and in the history of cultures that shaped the way we view being both a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution were well versed in the writings of leading European philosophers of their day. In the first half of the eighteenth century, the French thinker Montesquieu envisioned the three branches of government that were written into the American Constitution. Rousseau wrote extensively on the equality of man. And Cesare Beccaria's work on law was read by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. If you are an American citizen, a knowledge of these authors and an understanding of their cultural context can serve to enrich your understanding of your country.
Additionally, an understanding of a foreign language and culture will help you be a better citizen of the world. The ability to relate across national boundaries has never been as critical as it is today. Consider the impact of the international market on Utah's economy: Utah companies do approximately $20 billion worth of business via international trade (55% of this is with Europe) and France is the number three overseas market for tourism in Utah, and number one when it comes to visiting Utah's National Parks.* With the ease of communication and travel in today's world, chances are very high you will interact frequently with people of different nationalities whatever your profession may be.
Majoring in French or Italian prepares you to understand the human condition
Finally, when you study French or Italian, you will read literary texts written by authors who have deep insights into what it means to be mortal. These authors describe the failure, triumph, struggle, joy, doubt, and faith that make up the human condition.
While you will not live through all the experiences described in these great works of literature, reading them can help you be more sensitive to people of different backgrounds: as you serve in the Church, these stories will help you have compassion on the people in your ward or stake who may be suffering; they will give you strength—or perhaps an ability to laugh—when you face the trials that life inevitably sends your way.
A degree in French or Italian will provide the opportunity to read texts that range from Dante and Molière to Primo Levi and Marcel Proust. It will force you to think carefully about what it means to be human.
*From a talk given by Franz Kolb, Regional Director of the State of Utah for International Trade and Diplomacy, at the SLC Chamber of Commerce, 2009.