I'm thinking of applying for a Fulbright - how well do I REALLY need to know the language?
July 19, 2012 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of applying for a Fulbright - how well do I REALLY need to know the language?

I'm considering applying for a Fulbright research grant to France. The program's website says that my knowledge of French should be "commensurate with the requirements of the project." Since this is sort of nebulous, I'm wondering if anyone has experience with Fulbright language requirements - either in France or elsewhere. Do most successful candidates have fluency or close? I don't (my reading is very good, but speaking is less so) and I can't tell how much it might hurt my chances.

This is info I haven't been able to find either via googling or on Metafilter, so any advice or personal experiences would be greatly appreciated - thanks, in advance!
posted by lxs to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't actually know much about fulbrights, but aren't they given for a specific project proposal?

The website actually says Fulbright candidates must meet the language requirements necessary for their proposed study, research or teaching assignment and adjustment to life in the host country.

So - do you think you can get along in France? (Sounds like)
More importantly, what's the project you're planning? Will it involve contact entirely with professional English speakers, or will you be attempting to talk to reclusive grandmothers who only speak a strangely accented old French? This is the important bit. If your project involves speaking to people who don't speak English, are you actually going to be able to do that? Would you need an interpreter for a meeting? Will your inability to talk to people make you an ineffective choice for doing the work you're signing up for?
posted by jacalata at 4:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

there may be more than one website, I was looking at the State.gov page
posted by jacalata at 4:01 PM on July 19, 2012

You gotta be able to do what you say you'll do. Interviewing? Teaching?
posted by k8t at 4:14 PM on July 19, 2012

For student Fulbrights, it's commonly very dependent on the country. Some places assume near-native fluency; other places assume you'll be learning the language in a kind of crash-course before the program begins.

For France, I expect nearly all successful applicants will have very high competence in the language; there are so many young people who speak French in the US that they'll have their pick.
posted by gerryblog at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2012

Now, if you're applying for a Fulbright as a grad student or prof, I think you'd definitely have to have high competence, but I have less familiarity with that.
posted by gerryblog at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2012

I had a Fulbright to France. The language requirement is a funny one. I had an interview with someone on my campus before departing who submitted a report about my skills, but that was it. Nobody from the commission verified the report, and it never came up again. What's more important is that you show a familiarity with the culture and especially with your proposed project. Why are you specifically qualified for this project? How has a whole life been a vector to doing this thing in France? What makes the project timely? If you can't speak French and you're proposing a French intensive project, you might have a hard time answering these questions.

For the record, too, like gerryblog says, I have friends who have had Fulbrights to other, less desirable countries who barely spoke the local language at all. If you don't speak French and have a project that could be transferable to another country, where the odds are better, you might consider trying there. Feel free to me-mail me if you need any more advice.
posted by vecchio at 5:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a Fulbright-Hays (the Fulbright for doctoral dissertation research). Language competence counted for a specific number of points in the overall score -- more so in the case of certain languages deemed important to U.S. national interests (I don't believe French is one of these). Certainly for such a fellowship, successful applicants need to demonstrate that their language skills are sufficient to carry out the research project which they are proposing to undertake.

For a Fulbright IIE, language competency seems less important -- those whom I met who held Fulbright IIEs were not, shall we say, particularly functional in the local language.

There are also Fulbrights for teaching, but I can't speak to the requirements there, as everyone I knew who held those Fulbrights spoke nothing of the local language, but that was okay, since they were working in English-medium schools. I suspect the situation in France would be very different.
posted by artemisia at 6:00 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there someone at your college/university/alma mater who works with scholarships and fellowships? If so, talk with them!
posted by papayaninja at 9:47 AM on July 20, 2012

Seconding those (gerryblog) who say to move your project to another country where the same research can be done. This is good advice for everyone who wants a Fulbright. Do you want to say I Am In France On A Fulbright? Or do you want to do a project? I'm not saying you're that person, but think about it.

Based on my friends who got Fulbrights, no, you don't have to be that good (as per vecchio). BUT with languages like French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, I can't see you getting too many allowances made. This is not directed at you personally, not at all, but there's no reason why an educated person in the U.S. who is interested in FRANCE should not speak French well. It is not a hard language. What you want is your Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary. Look at the application stats on the Fulbright website and go from there.

That said. Here is a different angle. Find out when you will have to interview and just make your French better meanwhile. You can do it! You'll have to if you go to France. This is not Cornish. French TV, radio, Alliance Fran├žaise, language exchange with a native speaker from Craigslist, etc. Watch out for conversation groups, as I myself do not find it helpful to talk with other beginners.
posted by skbw at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2012

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