Working in Another Language
I was raised in a fluently bilingual (French / English) home. I went to primary and Jr. High school in French, and took advanced French in High School and as my ‘second language’ in my first year of my Bachelor’s degree at the University of New Brunswick, where a second language was a graduating criteria. My partner of 13 years is French, and my children (11 & 15) both attend a French alternative school.
When I chose to do my PhD at the University of Montreal in French, I didn’t really think that it would be too difficult. I was given permission to submit all of my work in English, since alot of the literature in my field is written in English – and I believe that the selection committee could tell that they would be faced with atrocious grammar had they required me to submit formal, academic papers in French.
The fear of writing in French aside, I never thought I would have such difficulty with my readings. I have read in French for almost 30 years. What I didn’t consider, was the level of texts I would be required to read. In the beginning of the semester, the selected readings were clear and straightforward. I thought I had it covered.
Sadly, I was quite mistaken. I am working on an extra ’reading’ course (covering foundational film theory) and I innocently assumed that I could consume the texts in my now methodological manner – first reading, quick skim, looking for key words and ideas. Second reading, reading around the core ideas in the text and third reading taking notes and writing ideas that were inspired by the text. When in a theory heavy field (as my Master’s program in Sociology was) this was the only way I could get all of the required reading done and still have a bit of time to do some further lateral reading.
What I didn’t anticipate was my inability to even ‘skim’ a French text. The language structure is different than English (obviously) and it often requires me to read every sentence to make sure I do not miss some obscure negative three phrases down. During one of my first readings, I didn’t even know what to highlight – I couldn’t distinguish turns of phrase or metaphors. With one of the texts, I had found an English translation and after reading the first few pages – realized I had completely missed the point of the article. This led me to change my reading technique. Sadly, my new technique is quite time consuming. I read each sentence, then translate it out loud and then think about it then take notes. This would not seem so daunting if I did not have over 300 pages to go through.
On an upside, by the end of this process, my ability to read (and translate) a French text will (should) have greatly improved.