Posts Tagged Second Language Study

Director’s Corner (NEMLA Blog Post #12)

Greetings from Chicago!

Summer’s warmth is still here but the days are starting to get shorter and the mornings a bit chillier.  Fall is slowly on the way.  On the UIC campus, classes are back in session.  Walkways that were filled with just a trickle of students a few weeks ago are now swarmed with students and faculty searching for their classrooms.  This semester, for the first time in years, I had a sizable number of students show up to the wrong class.  I’m glad that I still start my first class with the “just in case you’re in the wrong place” speech.  I’m also glad that I’ve worked at UIC long enough to know how to direct students to the right place.  Since most of the students I work with are First Year students, small gestures from faculty mean a lot.  They set the tone for the academic year.

In my last post I promised to update you on my attempts to re-learn French.  Well, my report will be pretty short.  When I left for Vermont to visit my parents, I completely lost momentum.  This has been a persistent problem for me.  As an undergraduate and even as a graduate student, there was enough of a community to encourage me to keep studying and improving my second language abilities.  On my own, the record of study has been very mixed.  I wonder how many of my readers have faced a similar difficulty.  Have you found a way to over come it?  Are you will to share that approach?  Anyway, I’ll close this very short update with a plug for Duolingo.  It really is a great language learning app, particularly if you are looking to develop conversation skills in a second language.  I’m not sure how useful it is for writing and reading purposes as it doesn’t systematically address issues of grammar.

Regardless of my failures to re-learn French, knowledge of a second language is incredibly valuable for literary scholars.  Part of what makes literature unique is its self-referentiality.  This is made possible by an author’s exploitation of the gap between connotation and denotation in a given language.  You can only really understand this gap if you study a language with patience and persistence and have at least one other language to compare it with.  If you have the time and/or money to study another language, take advantage of the opportunity.  In spite of the fitful ways in which I’ve studied second languages in my life, I’ve still felt a benefit from that study.  It has almost been for me what traveling the world has been like for some of my friends, a chance to become less intellectually provincial.

Because my project to learn another language kind of fell apart, this month’s blog post will be fairly short.  I’d like to end by putting in a special invitation to all my readers to consider attending this year’s NEMLA conference in Baltimore, MD.  There are many great sessions currently scheduled that could use your paper abstracts.  I’ll be chairing two.  The first is a panel on the symbolic role of Agriculture in US and Anglophone fiction.  You can read a description of the session here.  The second is a round table session on teaching War Literature since 9-ll.  You can read a description of that session here.

Research will be the focus of my next blog post as I’m working on my second book.  In the meantime, whether you are teaching, researching, or using your education outside of a traditional academic setting, I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Until next time…

John Casey

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