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.