New French Scholarly Journal of Science Fiction

I saw this news about a new French science fiction journal come across the IAFA and H-Utopia listservs today:

NEW FRENCH SCHOLARLY JOURNAL OF SF

Professor Irène Langlet of the Université of Limousin is establishing a new French scholarly journal devoted to the critical study of science fiction.Initially, its format will be online-only as part of the “revues.org” consortium in France. She is currently seeking sf scholars from around the world who would be willing to serve as editorial consultants and outside readers. To qualify, you should have some expertise in science fiction, sf theory, and the ability to read French. Although familiarity with and/or interest in French science fiction would be helpful, it is not required. If you would like to learn more about this opportunity, please contact her at: Irène Langlet, Université de Limoges, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences humaines, 39E rue Camille Guérin, 87036 Limoges, France,
<irene.langlet at unilim.fr>.

I Passed the French Language Exam at KSU and So Can You

On Wednesday, April 14, I spent four hours translating Lydie Moudileno’s “Pas de romance sand finance: la construction du couple moderne dans les romans sentimentaux de l’Afrique de l’Ouest” from Sites 6:1 (2002). I have included my experience with the exam and preparation tips for others who will have to take their language exam at Kent State.

Professor Maryann De Julio selected the Moudileno article for me to read prior to our conversation about it, which constitutes the exam itself. I couldn’t have asked for a better essay, because it was very much connected with some of the other things that I am thinking about in my PhD exam studies, namely the influence of capital on the cultural construction of identity. In this case, Moudileno argues in the case of francophone romance novels in the 80s and 90s written and published in French-speaking African countries present a non-African ideal of Westernized romantic love embedded in circuits of capital and brand recognition. Following a structuralist analysis of a particular collection of these kinds of Westernized love stories in Adora, Moudileno demonstrates how these stories and romance novel book covers exist in opposition with the realities of patriarchy in much of Africa. However, she does end by considering the possibility of how a universalized idea of love presented in these novels, which apparently sell very well in many African capital cities and bookstores, do offer a form of resistance to male dominant societies despite their heteronormative message.

The exam itself went very well. Professor De Julio, Professor Mack Hassler, and I had a wonderful conversation that began with the article but traversed into French film history and the science fictions of Phillip K. Dick.

The four hours of translation on the other hand was nerve-racking. I translated the whole document verbatim just under the 4 hours, and I made a one sentence summary of each paragraph in the margins. I reviewed this before coming out of the room to let Professor De Julio and Mack know that I was ready for the exam. Having already translated the entire document, the spot translations that Professor Dejulio asked me to do went very well. There were some things that I didn’t translate accurately, because the literal translation did not match the idiomatic meaning of certain phrases. The nice thing about the exam is that it isn’t just about translating, it is about having a conversation and engaging the ideas in the article being translated. Professor Dejulio picked an excellent article that I was able to sink my analytical teeth into, which made the exam, past the translation, an enjoyable experience. However, I should say that it was a draining experience, which two twenty minute afternoon naps did not cure. I did feel more like myself the following day when Yufang and I went to Cleveland for groceries at Cleveland Asian Market and for free flash drives at Microcenter (4GB flash drives no less!).

For those folks who, like me, are not superstars in their second language for the exam, I can offer you these study tips that I used to prepare for the exam:

  • Begin your studies well in advance with an online newspaper in your second language, and print out articles (or in my case, movie reviews) double spaced so that you can write out your translation between the lines. Use online verb conjugators and Bablefish to check your translations, and make notes of idioms and phrases that recur repeatedly.
  • Move on to scholarly articles and translate those. You will notice a difference in the writing.
  • Throughout, practice conjugations, keywords, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. I would write these 5-10 times each along with the English translation to make sure that I could remember them.
  • A few days before your exam, lock yourself in a room for four hours with a scholarly article and translate it as you would on the day of the exam. It was from this experience I got a sense for how quickly the time passed and I developed a better strategy of divide and conquer–I translated the first paragraphs, the last two paragraphs, and then the beginning sentence of each paragraph before filling in the rest. If you can read the language, which is the ultimate goal of having proficiency in another language, you do not need to do this. Just read the essay and make notes. I had to think hard and rely on my dictionary extensively for understanding what was being said, so that is why I took this strategic translating strategy.
  • Prepare your dictionary for your test day. I made notations throughout the dictionary as I was doing my preparatory work, and I put lettered tabs at the beginning of each section of the dictionary for quick page turning and reference. In the back section with irregular verb conjugations, I made a note of the definition so that I could save time from flipping back and forth on words that I wasn’t immediately familiar with. I used Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary, which I found to be rather good with only a few idioms missing from the translation that I worked on.
  • Bring snacks like nuts for energy and water to drink. If you’re lucky like me, your wife will bring you a slice of lemon cake and a triple shot soy latte halfway through the exam!

Despite passing my exam, I am still critical of the foreign language requirement as it now stands at Kent State University. I believe that it should be something integrated into the curriculum in some way more than the exam. I know of some folks who were told to remove foreign sources from their dissertations, which seems counter productive to being scholars who attempt to engage a wide array of worldly discussions connected to your object of study. Based on my practice for the exam, I did find some Philip K. Dick articles that I will probably include in my dissertation. I can warn my future dissertation committee that they will be damned if they think I won’t include some French in my dissertation after spending part of this past year and a year and a half at Georgia Tech preparing for that one exam that allows me to move forward with my PhD exams. Also, I think it would be useful if there were a source requirement for the dissertation, or taking part in a foreign language seminar might meet this kind of requirement. The foreign language requirement should be something promoted more when you are beginning a program of study; students should go ahead and meet with the examiner in their secondary language right away even if the test will be put off until later. These are only some ideas, but the foreign language aspect of the Literature PhD at Kent State needs to be improved (along with the degree’s requirements and supporting coursework in general, but that’s another issue). As graduate students, we are part of that conversation to improve things, so we need to assert ourselves and make sure that our voices are heard. Otherwise, it will be left up to others to decide for us and those that follow us at Kent State.

Vive la langue françaises!

Follow-up to Foreign Language Monkey Wrench

I wanted to thank everyone for the responses to my previous post about my thoughts, concerns, and worries about the PhD language exam:

Andrew and Matthew–thanks for the heads-up on French for Reading. Our library doesn’t have a copy, but I should receive a copy soon from Ohio State to begin working with. I am afraid to take one of the upper division or graduate French courses, because I believe there is a spoken component to the classes that I cannot deal with at all. Perhaps it’s my loss of hearing in one ear, or just a broken down Broca’s area that makes it difficult to accurately speak in French–I just won’t abide having to do that again after three semesters of that pain at Georgia Tech. And, what you said Andrew about the magic number restrictions on using foreign language material in your dissertation is definitely emblematic of the tokenism of PhD language requirements. And sorry, I had to mention the Russian film class, but that wasn’t as bad as someone I know who argued successfully for the school to accept a markup language (again, sorry to that person if you’re reading).

Chad and Bob–thanks for sharing your experiences with the Kent State French exam. Your tips on the exam will be an invaluable aid directing my studying. I have been using Bob’s Nintendo DS game, My French Coach, to ease my way back into the language and recall very basic vocabulary. My French Coach is a fun game of language (I probably shouldn’t say language game) that appeals to my troglodyte-like embrace of French.

Monica–thank you for the offer to use your dictionary, but I already have a huge Collins Robert French dictionary that I’m used to now.

Christian–I don’t want to hear it. You are a language Jedi.

And, I would like to clarify my concern about what I consider lost time. If I plan on taking my exam early next year, let’s say that I am going to spend 180 days studying for the exam. Let’s assume that I spend about two hours per day on average studying French in preparation for the exam. That would be 360 hours spent studying for a single exam that has no immediate consequence beyond the test/requirement itself. In this sense, the exam is self-reflexive. It points back to itself as a requirement that will in all likelihood hold no consequence beyond the exam/degree or my job prospects (which is large part will depend on my teaching experience and publication record). In this sense, I find the exam lacking in significance for the purposes of my earning a PhD degree. And yes, I agree with Andrew, Matthew, and Chad about the potential purposes of knowing another language for use in research, but I have seen so little practical employment of foreign languages in many of the dissertations that I have looked at in my research. Perhaps this is because my area of focus is limited and there has not been a great deal of applicability or research necessity to refer to work in other languages. Or, perhaps those authors are about as limited as I am in regard to working in another language.

The second element of lost time has to do with the other things that I could do with those 360 hours (364 hours if you include the exam, too). I could do a good deal of research in that time, work on some paper revisions, or perhaps write a new paper for a conference presentation. I could devise a new syllabus (or twenty). In short, I could be working on the more important things that will earn my position at another institution after I graduate from KSU. Yes, I cannot graduate without passing the language exam, but it is my contention that its lack of integration and importance following graduation makes it a waste of time to someone whose time is worth more than gold bullion.

Perhaps I am only bitching, because I would rather be doing research and writing than studying for a language exam. To a certain extent, I admit that I am. However, my lament is stronger than simply not wanting to do something–it is not wanting to bang my head repeatedly into my desk, as I clearly remember and have lumps to prove for it from several years ago, while I attempt to force French language rules and vocabulary into my brain when it would much rather be hopping galaxies.