Private University asked me to handle a summer Graduate Language for Reading course. This is one of those mixed situations where I stop and think: A new course to add to the CV!
This is immediately followed by: Ugh, will it do them any good? A reading course during the summer. That’s not a lot of time. This is also an interruption to my personal summer research, reading etc plans.
Answered by: But… this will fund a potential research trip in August.
In short, I’m wary of summer language institutes, though I covered one of my research languages during a summer institute. It was like being on one of those carnival rides where you lose all sense of time and focus: hard, fast, no view of the ground (while repeating a mantra of I hate language X, I hate language X.) But, I passed. The fall back is that 1 year later, I remember so very little of the fast-paced grammar and translation we learned in that course. To be fair, I still have the grammar and the large dictionary and think with some fiddling I could muddle through things until I built my proficiency again.
As someone who does his own work in Romance language literature, I feel that the ability to read research in other languages is extremely important. I also recognize that whereas many fields absolutely need other-language research, some may not.
In an article for the Chronicle, Edward White lays out the central thoughts on the requirement in general: students fret, hassle, fail, get grumpy over this hurdle. Faculty recognizes the problem but generally we all agree it needs to stay. (I fall into this camp: can we really be researchers without the ability, or proof of an ability, to expand past our comfortably accessed research?) White proposes that we stop allowing students to meet the requirement with “trivial” course work (glorified grammar and syntax reviews mercifully conducted by language department faculty) and start getting tough to show that we take it seriously. Demonstrate proficiency or do not move on. He proposes that we stop admitting students who don’t have proficiency before arriving. (I can hear the screaming on this one!) He says:
The second argument seems more persuasive than it actually is. It is that if we made foreign-language proficiency an admissions requirement, our graduate enrollments would decline, perhaps sharply. That might happen if some institutions took the step while many others did not. Then students who could not meet the admissions requirement at University A would not even apply there but would instead attend University B, which allows its graduate students to meet or pretend to meet the requirement after admission. University A would have to be prepared to lose some less-qualified students, but its higher standards would surely make it more attractive to some students and faculty members.
Is a summer reading course a boon or a bane? Without prior language experience, it has the potential to own your life for that period and be extremely frustrating. On the other hand, getting it ‘out of the way’ during the summer months will stop it from interfering with your normal teaching/coursework.
What was your experience? Do you have language reading horror stories? Amazing success stories? Is there a ‘perfect’ language reading course?