Thursday, October 30, 2008

Third Time's a C..

This is my third year of taking a language class at my university. For two years I was a model student, doing my homework on time and well, getting A's on tests, and making steady progress in the language along with my fellow students. There are three of us who started in the beginning course three years ago and are now in the advanced course.

In the third year language course, however, there have now appeared some new students who grew up speaking this language at home but who have never had a formal course in it. They speak this language extremely well. They do not write or read as well, but even so, a great deal of this year's course involves speaking, and I have fallen behind.

It is a bit humbling to find myself a mediocre student. It can also be frustrating, as the pace of the course has increased by an order of magnitude in terms of what we are expected to be able to say and understand. We are also now expected to speak about and write essays on cultural topics that I have to spend a lot of time researching but that those who grew up in this culture can expound on from experience.

Perhaps being a mediocre student will give me a better perspective on such students in my own classes, and therefore make me a better educator and/or human being. At least, that's what I tell myself when I have more trouble than most of the other students using relative clauses correctly.

Despite the frustration of having to struggle to keep up, I am still enjoying the class, I don't mind being stretched to my limits (and beyond), and I happen to like the curve-wrecking students -- they are nice and interesting people. Also, I am taking the class Pass-Fail.

14 comments:

Gingerale said...

FSP, do you prefer Pass/Fail instead of formally auditing?

Anonymous said...

"Also, I am taking the class Pass-Fail."

Wise choice.

Mark P

thm said...

Ack! The non-linear effort level required in foreign language classes!

In high school I took French, but wanted to take German in college. The first three quarters were straightforward and I managed A or A- grades with what I thought was a reasonable effort. Then I hit fourth quarter German, in which they started all the students who had extensive high-school German. I was in the bottom half of the class and completely overwhelmed. The habits (or lack thereof) that had got me through the first year totally failed me, and I ended up with a C of some sort.

Having met the language requirement, I scuttled plans to take any further German. I do consider my failure to achieve conversational proficiency in any language other than English to be one of my biggest moral failures. (The other one is my failure to competently play a musical instrument.)

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP, thanks for sharing this. I am also taking a language class (upper intermediate level) this term at pass-fail (simply auditing doesn't work for me). I was feeling guilty about spending time attending language classes and doing homework when it has no direct connection with my science research or teaching. I was so glad to read your blog today. Btw, at home I subscribe to a TV channel in the same language- it has definitely improved my understanding of the language and also gives some cultural info. I don't know if that would be relevant or helpful in your case.

Anonymous said...

"I do consider my failure to achieve conversational proficiency in any language other than English to be one of my biggest moral failures."

yeah, that's especially apparent when one goes to Europe, and everyone switches from their native language to English with an ease that suggests that their brains are just better? more flexible? more evolved? than mine.

Anonymous said...

yeah, that's especially apparent when one goes to Europe, and everyone switches from their native language to English with an ease that suggests that their brains are just better? more flexible? more evolved? than mine.

"more practiced" is probably your best bet.

Female Science Professor said...

It helps the instructor (an adjunct professor) if I am registered as an actual student in the class. It also makes sense for me to be an official student because of the huge amount of work that the instructor spends helping each student (grading written assignments, listening to recordings etc.). It's fine to audit if you're just sitting in a classroom listening, but language classes require a lot of participation and feedback.

Chris said...

similar experience when I started learning Spanish in Alabama (8th grade) and then moved to TX to continue it. I scraped by in class thanks to native-speaking friends, but my teacher was horrible (ie, did nothing) and most or all of my classmates grew up in a Spanish-speaking household.

Now I know better German than Spanish, having lived there for a year, but language knowledge drops quickly when not used.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

HAHAHAHAH! FSP is a shitty student!! LOLOLOLOLZZZ!!!!!

You MUST complain bitterly about your grade!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

EliRabett said...

I had a cousin who spoke multiple languages. He said that the hard part was getting the third one down. After that additional languages were easy. Speaking two, and having trouble over the years picking up a third, I see his wisdom

flit said...

I am SO kicking myself for not having kept up either my French or German - I need to pass a test in something other than English to get PhD...

would it not just suck if THAT was the hurdle I could not jump?

It worries me - but I try not to think about it.

I DO, however, listen to French radio ...and can follow SOME French speakers (only the ones that don't turbo-talk!)

Anonymous said...

Your whole complaint about knowing what it feels like to not do well in a class (or apparently getting a C as indicated by your title) is completely meaningless if you are taking the class pass/fail. You won't see a C on your transcript/GPA/whatever so you won't ever really know what it's like.

Ms.PhD said...

great punchline!

Anonymous said...

similar experience as doing one's research...