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Modern Languages for Classicists


turbotimo
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Hey everyone,

I'm going to be doing a master's program in Classics next year. I studied Latin, Ancient Greek, and German in undergrad. I'm hoping to start studying either French or Italian in the months leading up to my master's program.

I've heard that French is generally more useful (as a secondary source language) if you work on the Greek side of things, while Italian is more useful on the Latin side of things. Is there anything to this?

I'm most interested in later Roman history and Latin texts. Also, I learned some Italian in elementary school (though I've forgotten nearly all of it). Because of all this, I'm leaning towards Italian. I'm open to any advice, however.

Many thanks!

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It can vary even based on subtopic. I think there tends to be a bit more scholarship overall in French, so I'd probably recommend that, but it shouldn't be too difficult for you to pick up either or both if/when needed. (I did French as my second modern after German, but will likely work on Italian in a year or two.) 

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Definitely French: arguably there's more scholarship in French as a whole (and older dialects of French are more accessible if you end up needing to reference works from pre-17th century, etc). Plus, with French, you'll have a much easier time with Italian, and could potentially pick that up on your own. German is also critical!

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2 hours ago, alcestis21 said:

Definitely French: arguably there's more scholarship in French as a whole (and older dialects of French are more accessible if you end up needing to reference works from pre-17th century, etc). Plus, with French, you'll have a much easier time with Italian, and could potentially pick that up on your own. German is also critical!

 

4 hours ago, Marcus_Aurelius said:

It can vary even based on subtopic. I think there tends to be a bit more scholarship overall in French, so I'd probably recommend that, but it shouldn't be too difficult for you to pick up either or both if/when needed. (I did French as my second modern after German, but will likely work on Italian in a year or two.) 

 

Thanks, friends! Do the two of you think I could try to pick up French on my own or should I look for some kind of online program? Any suggestions on grammar books/frequency dictionaries if the former seems doable? If the latter's more realistic, any online program recommendations?

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Online reading courses are going to be tough to find, except the ones through universities offered for their grad students. 

French for Reading (Sandberg) is the most common textbook for, well, what the title says, French reading. Besides being dated (read: colonialist), it's a good book, in terms of structure and pacing. It presents all the grammar. And it's designed to be able to be worked through on one's own (though courses tend to use it also). 

My advice (which you should feel free to take with a grain of salt) is to pick up a book after some research on what seems best, spend some time working through it, and then read whatever texts in the language interest you, preferably (but not necessarily) scholarship on whatever you happen to be working on. (I found German academic vocabulary more difficult than French to pick up, given general knowledge of the language.) But, until you get into a good PhD, focus more on Greek and Latin. Those are the skills that'll actually get you into programs, as well as a really good writing sample.

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On 2/12/2021 at 9:06 PM, turbotimo said:

Thanks, friends! Do the two of you think I could try to pick up French on my own or should I look for some kind of online program? Any suggestions on grammar books/frequency dictionaries if the former seems doable? If the latter's more realistic, any online program recommendations?

I took French for about 7 years myself (all high school/some university), but I was planning on brushing up with this sometime soon. They also offer other modern languages for reading knowledge online courses, so I'll probably tackle German - which I've never taken - the same way:

https://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/classes/french-reading-translation-online/

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