A few months ago someone wrote about how French is supposedly becoming a "mostly pointless" language, while someone else rebutted his argument with ways that the language is still a useful one to know. There were plenty of comments to each article expressing both sides of the debate - and I agree with those that say that there's still plenty of ways that French can be useful (especially at the global level). There are also plenty of intangible ways that knowledge of French can be beneficial - such as being "the language of love and romance" and an important one in the arts (which are reasons some people enjoy learning it - and it's easier to learn a language that interests you).
Because of the perception of French no longer being "important" and other languages being perceived more so (like the last and next ones I'm covering) its relative popularity (not necessarily absolute, since the number of students learning a foreign language in general has risen over the past few decades, likely tied to the general globalization phenomenon) in the U.S. as a foreign language has dropped in recent times. However I'm predicting that may somewhat reverse once the New Silents become of age to take high school and college foreign language courses for a couple of reasons (once again putting my non-linear generational-based hypotheses on the line):
1. The francophobia from the post-9/11 and War on Terror era when France refused to join us will likely be less present (or virtually not present at all) in this generation that doesn't remember it. (For the same reason I'm predicting they will rebel against many of the "Homeland Security" practices that have since been enacted - which is why "Homelanders" is a term I've decided not to use; but that's a topic for another time. Links are to posts on the Fourthturning.com message board.)
2. In terms of generational archetypes I think that Adaptives/Artists and Idealists/Prophets are more attracted to the things the French language is known for (in the last sentence of the first paragraph) than Reactives/Nomads and Civics/Heroes (the latter two being more drawn to practical/tangible aspects). Since "practicality" is more important during a Crisis era than other turnings, that will also lessen the relevance of that factor for those that won't be finished with school until the new saeculum begins.
The next installment will focus on a language that has quickly grown in popularity in recent years - (Mandarin) Chinese.