Foreign language prep.
April 8, 2009 10:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a humanities field and I will likely need to learn multiple languages. As a Master's student, I'm scheduled to take around 3-4 courses each semester, with much of my second year devoted to research and writing a master's dissertation. My question concerns foreign language prep....when is the optimal time to do that? Do I travel abroad this summer and shore up on what I know? Or do I take care of the problem during my first few semesters? What are the pros and cons of traveling abroad vis a vis taking care of the problem domestically (e.g., either at my school or some other program in the states, unaffiliated with my school)?

Another angle I'd appreciate some perspective on: I intend to apply for a PhD program at the conclusion of my master's, how would experience abroad (albeit it will only be for a month) look differently than studying in the states? Does length of stay matter, as well? Thanks in advance. -Genco
posted by Genco_Olive_Oil to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Immersion programs are fantastic. You can get done in three weeks what it would otherwise take you a year to do. And it's a blast. You'll be so ready to get down to it, all refreshed and motivated after jumping into a whole different culture, having an adventure, and succeeding in going from zero to conversational.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:23 PM on April 8, 2009

Response by poster: @ Tamkimiam

Thanks, from the sound of look like you've been in an immersion program...?

Also, for others, I should point out that I have a background (3 semesters) in the language I seek to study. FYI
posted by Genco_Olive_Oil at 11:29 PM on April 8, 2009

If you have 3 semesters up, immersion is absolutely your best option.
posted by Wolof at 11:37 PM on April 8, 2009

If at all possible, travelling abroad (whether part of a formal immersion program or not) is by far the best way to learn a language. The longer the better, of course, but even if you're only going to be abroad for a month, that month will be far, far more valuable for your langauge acquisition than a month spent taking foreign language classes domestically. I really can't overstate what a difference it makes to be surrounded by the language (spoken by native speakers) every waking moment.
posted by ubersturm at 12:01 AM on April 9, 2009

Is there a humanities field that requires multiple languages that doesn't value (and often expect, though those expectations are rarely made explicit) time overseas? There must be exceptions to this, but I can't think of them off the top of my head. So yes, time overseas (and the greater language proficiency that will be assumed) is very, very good for your doctoral applications.

And, as said above, immersion is the way to go for language learning. Instead of one hour a day, three times a week, you get it 24/7. But make sure it is a good program where you live with native speakers of the language you are studying, not a program where you spend every moment hanging out with and chatting to other English speakers.
posted by Forktine at 4:31 AM on April 9, 2009

What is the goal of the language requirement? Academics in my field publish research in French and German, so it is useful for us to learn another language as soon as possible. I'd also point out that reading formal, scholarly prose can be quite different from conversational everyday usage of the same language. Some specialized work may require familiarity with languages no longer spoken. In short, I suggest figuring out what tools you need, and how you plan to use them since that could influence your time-table and learning method.
posted by woodway at 6:01 AM on April 9, 2009

I agree with woodway: unless your department is going to be testing you on conversation rather than translating passages of academic prose, you might want to think twice about an immersion program. Obviously, if you have time to do the immersion thing, it will help. But it sounds to me like you've got a very busy schedule with your courseload and thesis, and none of the humanities grad students I know (especially those who already have semesters of language classes behind them) haven't felt the need to go abroad to pick up the requisite skills. So I think that your decision to go or not should depend more on the instrumental value of time abroad when it comes to applying.
posted by Beardman at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2009

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