Low quality of university studies (advice?)
Thread poster: Dominika Fonyiová

Dominika Fonyiová
Slovakia
New user
May 14

Hello everyone. I am a 3rd year student of translation (English and French), but frankly, I am disappointed with the French studies at my university. For the English part, we have lots of courses to choose from (linguistics, translation studies, history, culture, literature etc.), taught by excellent lecturers; however, as to French, we have virtually no subjects to choose from (NO literature, history or culture, NO linguistics, we could choose from around 8 courses, including Law and Economic terminology - which is pretty useless without solid language skills), I already passed most of them in the first two years of my studies. I only had ONE French subject this term (Consecutive Interpreting - again, almost pointless without solid language skills).

I must admit I am rather desperate; I started the 1st year with B1 level in French (and was the most proficient student in French that year) and now in the 3rd year, I feel stuck in B2 level.

I understand that the university is not supposed to teach me the language entirely - it surely is my own responsibility as well (I DO read books, watch films, study grammar as much as possible) - but seeing my disinterested professors and the lack of effort of my school to change the situation, I have lost my motivation for studying French completely. Luckily, in September I am moving to France for half a year, so hopefully, this will help me make greater progress.

My questions are:
- Did you face a similar situation during your translation studies?
- How to overcome the situation and improve my language skills without having to pay for private lessons?


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The Misha
Local time: 19:00
Russian to English
+ ...
What on earth else are they supposed to teach you? May 15

Dominika Fonyiová wrote:


I understand that the university is not supposed to teach me the language entirely


If you ask me, "translation studies" are the worst racket in this business. If you don't have a firm command of your languages and the school is not doing anything about it, you are simply wasting your time - and money, of course, if they charge you tuition. All that other stuff - "culture," "history," "literature," etc. - is not what you can learn in the classroom, and besides, its value for the practical task of turning words in one language into words in another language is marginal at best.

Here's what you could do. Go to France. Never mind the school. Get a job - any job that requires heavy interaction with people will do. Keep your eyes open while you are at it, and keep reading too. Getting a French boyfriend wouldn't hurt either (but stay away from the ***oles, of course). Keep at it until "Oh mon Dieu" naturally replaces whatever you have for it in your own language - I'd say a year or two should be enough.

Once you are at that point, and, naturally, if you can afford it, go study something else too - in French. Or English. Then go work in that other field for ten years or so. Then come back to translation and specialize - in whatever it was you were working on. You'd be golden then. That is, of course, unless you want to continue in that other profession, which may actually be a better and more rewarding way to go altogether.

Take it from someone who eons ago went to school for the language as such (English) and then "lived" it ever since. Everything else more or less took care of itself.

[Edited at 2018-05-15 00:35 GMT]


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
"There're no bad students, only bad teachers and bad books" May 15

Yes, in my time there were many subjects as optional classes, let alone lecturers and professors often sacrificed theory for practice and they gave a number of 'suggested' resources for home reading, which were a part of tests.

Are your fellow students and teachers the only motivation for you, not communication and prospects? Why, and what would you do to change the situation, seeing all those disinterested people and the lack of effort of your Life school? Indeed, any language contains writing-reading, speaking-listening, and thinking activity, so why in the digital era of instant messaging not practice the language instead of 'learning' it?

Once a friend of mine (who several years wasn't able to learn English for B!) wanted to learn Arabic and Japanese while teaching Russian, but instead of getting lost and despaired, he decided to start a blog--in Arabic and Japanese! Almost everyone (including children) laughed at his poor language skills and topics, but a few natives did support him, so he made it into a video blog, and after several months he got friends in many countries and soon visited some them, making contacts. Of course, he just switched from learning a language to using this language for communication and business, not bothering about lack of resources or knowledge... He even self-published--in Arabic and Japanese!--several quite popular book about culture-awareness and business peculiarities.

France? A real foreign language environment works the best, yet mind foreigners, so good luck)


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:00
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Don't be discouraged! May 15

Sorry to hear about your experience, Dominika. My experience was definitely not the same. All of my professors at University of Leeds were committed to the cause and we were fortunate to have a lot of resources and support on campus, not to mention time spent abroad as part of our course of study. It really goes to show what a difference there can be between one university and another.

That said, I really commend you for trying to be proactive despite your university's lackadaisical attitude towards the success of its students. And for French there are really so many online resources out there. Of course, I am certain that when you go to France you will also suddenly find your French level improving dramatically.

Some tips:
I personally find music to be a great resource. Find artists you like and then listen to the lyrics -- somehow the combination of music and words makes it harder to forget the vocabulary you learn.
Podcasts are great for improving your language skills, and there are podcasts online for French speakers of all levels, so you can start at a comfortable level and progress at your own pace.
When I was learning Spanish, I found Interpals to be useful. Interpals is a website for finding penpals. There are still some friends I speak to who I met on that site.
In some places they have an organisation like Meetup, where people with similar interests connect and arrange weekly/bi-weekly/monthly get-togethers to practise their shared interest. Here in the UK, it is very easy to find groups of French speakers and French learners who meet up on a regular basis to socialise and speak French. Perhaps there is something similar where you are.
There are so many French resources online -- and immersion is key. Just keep watching French films, listening to French music, reading French news and magazines and blogs, connecting with French speakers online, and immerse yourself in French.

When you go to France, do not let yourself fall into a trap of spending too much time with foreigners who aren't speaking French. On my multiple semesters abroad, I always had a rule. If a French person invites you somewhere, even if you don't want to go or if you are intimidated by the prospect of going, YOU GO. If you have the opportunity to sign up for some event or class or activity that would challenge your language skills, YOU DO IT. For example, when I was in Germany I signed up for a communications class which involved learning how to give speeches and focused on public speaking. I quickly realised that I was one of three foreigners in the group; the rest of the class were all native German speakers. The class was challenging, scary, very intimidating; every week I had to go in front of that group and give a speech in German to Germans, sometimes impromptu without knowing what the subject matter would be and without time to prepare something at home first. It was one of the most useful and confidence-building classes I ever took. When you are in France, do not let your fear get in the way of challenging learning experiences like that.

I hope you don't let your university experience dissuade you from what is clearly a personal passion of yours. Keep working at it and you will succeed! I think we all know the feeling of "plateauing" in our language learning. It's a natural thing even when you have all the resources and support at your fingertips. Stay engaged and keep ploughing ahead! Good luck!


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:00
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Additional ideas May 15

Hi Dominika:

Angela has provided some excellent recommendations. I would especially endorse the idea of prioritizing contact with native French speakers.

Other – less “social” – things you can do include reading French translations/originals of material that you already are familiar with and are interested in (as more of a language-learning exercise than anything else). You can even do this with (good!) English or Slovak translations at hand. “Reading” material in this way takes time and patience, but it most definitely repays concerted effort. I also think there is no substitute for the old-school practices of maintaining and constantly reviewing lists of vocabulary and unfamiliar language structures.

As regards your general point about the deficiencies of the French instruction in your university, you are to be commended for forthrightly recognizing the problem and working on an action plan to counteract it. In the United States, I have met graduates of four-year Spanish-language programs whose spoken Spanish was so defective as to be cringeworthy. These are persons who clearly had not taken the kinds of actions you are now contemplating.

These people have either already had - or eventually will have - their own day of reckoning.

[Edited at 2018-05-15 15:15 GMT]


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:00
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Get to know French people May 15

Angela Rimmer wrote:

When you go to France, do not let yourself fall into a trap of spending too much time with foreigners who aren't speaking French. On my multiple semesters abroad, I always had a rule. If a French person invites you somewhere, even if you don't want to go or if you are intimidated by the prospect of going, YOU GO. If you have the opportunity to sign up for some event or class or activity that would challenge your language skills, YOU DO IT. For example, when I was in Germany I signed up for a communications class which involved learning how to give speeches and focused on public speaking. I quickly realised that I was one of three foreigners in the group; the rest of the class were all native German speakers. The class was challenging, scary, very intimidating; every week I had to go in front of that group and give a speech in German to Germans, sometimes impromptu without knowing what the subject matter would be and without time to prepare something at home first. It was one of the most useful and confidence-building classes I ever took. When you are in France, do not let your fear get in the way of challenging learning experiences like that.



I can't second this loud enough.

My worst-ever student, working as an intern at the agency where I was an in-house translator, barely learned a word of French while in Paris. At the office, we all spoke in English because some employees couldn't speak French, so I told her she ought to avoid anyone who speaks in English with her outside work. I didn't want to speak French with her because her accent was excruciating and it really feels unnatural to speak in French with a native English speaker. Also for me, having a young English student was an opportunity to make sure my English was not too out-of-date. So what did she do? She hooked up with some Australian girls in the same student residence as her, and met an English guy in an Irish pub.

If you come to Paris, you will need to make a lot of efforts to meet French people. There are so many foreigners, they're quite hard to avoid! Signing up for classes where you are the only foreigner sounds like a great idea. And at least, you won't be beset with people wanting to practise their Slovak with you!


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Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:00
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
You already have the answer May 15

Go abroad! and you are. That's great. One thing I loved doing while living in Montreal and working to improve my French was going to the cinema...it's something you can do alone, and it can be a great way to experience accents/situations which you don't run into on a daily basis. Other than that, don't worry so much....your French is probably better than you think it is, and improvement is always frustratingly slow. Keep doing the reading/watching films/TV shows thing.

And everyone is right about joining things/meeting people who don't speak English. If you're studying abroad, I would avoid student/uni groups to a certain extent. When abroad I joined an adult gymnastics class and found that I was the only non-Francophone/foreigner, so even though everyone there spoke excellent English, nobody even thought to switch out of French for me. It was fantastic for my accent and vocabulary. Look for classes/clubs/groups aimed at local people and JOIN.

I'm a compulsive journal-keeper, and when I was in the throes of language immersion I forced myself to write in French. Even though no one else ever reads them, it was an exercise in expressing my thoughts in writing and it helped.


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