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Summer Language Class

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Hi All,


If you are a Ph.D student and in the humanities field, I'd especially like your input. 


I am currently an M.A. student studying in the humanities field. I hope to apply to Ph.D programs in the humanities in the future. 


I received a summer fellowship to do intensive language studies; however, I'm having a very difficult time keeping up with the amount of workload given everyday and the daily quizzes every day. To be honest, I haven't been doing so well on the quizzes and I bombed our first test. My oral quizzes and tests are fantastic, excepts its the written portion that I do poorly on. I don't get it.


It seems that many people in my class already have at least 1 year of experience in the language we are studying (I do not know WHY they're in the level 1 class with me, which is for beginner's). Many are also taking the intensive language class "for fun" because they "want to try something new" or for the native speakers, "an easy A." They honestly goof around in class and are fine with just "getting by." I just wish I could enjoy it as much as they are. I feel like I'm the only one in class stressing out every single minute of my summer.  I have to maintain a certain grade in order to keep my fellowship so I freak out over every single point I lose on the quiz/test. I'm not enjoying my summer at all and I'm actually a bit burnt out from Spring classes. 


I'm not sure what to do. I can do my very best and continue although the grade I will receive for this course won't be as great as I thought it would be. I'm worried about how much damage it will do to my graduate GPA- especially if I want to continue to a PhD program in the future? Is a B or higher good enough for language courses? 

Or I'm not sure if I should give up the summer fellowship for the sake of my well being and save myself from this immense stress (Guys, I'm losing so much hair it's ridiculous...), but then I'm not sure what I'll do for the rest of the summer...and losing the fellowship would definitely suck. I guess I can work on putting together my M.A. thesis or work on a conference paper, but...ah...the thought of losing the fellowship because I couldn't keep up with the class is so disappointing. I can't help but keep feeling like a failure. I'm also afraid of what this will mean for me when I apply to PhD programs in the future. I mean I guess I can take the classes during the regular school year too...I really don't know what to do...or what the best decision is that will affect my future...


[edited for privacy reasons.  -fuzzy]

Edited by fuzzylogician
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As a person who needs to pick an East Asian language back up (Japanese), I feel your pain. I would stick through it just to keep the fellowship so when you do apply it would show that you got something of value. If your instructor says you are not going to be able to go to the host country and it is a solid thing, I would be sad but I would keep pushing through and get what you can from the program. There are other chances for you to the host country for the PhD level and you can always take classes in that language at the school which you would still likely have to do in some way shape or form.


Being burnt out is no fun...I dealt with that as well. You do need a break. I took a year off while working and it was great. But, I knew couldn't wait until I got back into school. It will work out for you. Try to think of the long term and not the short term of going abroad (which will be on your mind for a while) Also, getting a B in a beginning class is fine. As long as you go up from there and learn from you mistakes you will be fine. If it makes you feel any better, I would have sucked hard in the oral parts of Japanese. I am no good at that part of the language. Good luck!

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The fact that you can ace the speaking and listening quizzes means that you have managed a block with the alphabet. You process language in the same area of the brain, but you do it in a different way when you use your eyes rather than your ears. You already know the grammar and vocabulary, so that means you have to apply that knowledge to letters. Your first step should be to look back at what you've done to study for the class and honestly evaluate your effort. Grades do not reflect effort, but an ability to take a test on the subject. Did you put in your best effort so far? Were you slacking off? Do not look at your grades, look at the time you spent outside of class working on your coursework. If you put in the time, then you've done everything you could to get the good grade. Don't say that you obviously didn't put in enough effort because you failed the written portion, that's not true. Everyone has different abilities when it comes to learning a new language. Would you get peeved at yourself if you failed to do advanced physics during a summer course? Of course not, because it's physics and it's supposed to be hard! Language is harder because the rules are contextual, idiomatic, and don't make sense (remember the whole i before e, except after c thing? Or how were and mere don't rhyme?) Your second step should be to forgive yourself for not being perfect. (anecdote: I took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery with 43 other people, 8 of us passed it, of the 8, only 6 were accepted as linguists because the military had enough people who could only get into the easiest languages, of the 27 navy people who started at DLI the same week that I did, only 12 of them became linguists). Just because a person has fantastic abilities with their native language, it doesn't mean that have linguistic aptitude. One of the DLAB failures had a BA in French. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that it's okay to do your best at something and fail. It's unreasonable and unhealthy to expect yourself to be fabulous at everything you do. NO ONE can do that. If you fail, you will still find a way to your goals. It may be a different path, but it can still happen. You've had a successful academic career so far, and I'm willing to bet that this is the first time you've run, face-first, into an academic wall of failure, and so you never really did learn how to fail. Unless your PhD is going to be in that language, a B isn't going to hurt your PhD hopes.


Your third step should be to speak directly with your teacher for specific drills and to find a tutor. If you are doing something positive, you will feel better about yourself.


You're chasing your tail with guilt and beating yourself up over perceived failure. It's a waste of your resources and it's hurting both your performance and your health. Give yourself permission to be human.

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All good tips so far. On the practical side: If you have trouble with the written portion, try working on that especially.


If you're learning a non-alphabetic language (Chinese, parts of Japanese), try out different systems for learning the characters/studying. It took me about a month until I understood what the problem was with my character-learning. Since I'm not a visual type at all, I had tons of trouble with the typical "story" approach, because it relies on visual recognition and visual imagination. On the other hand, I was very successful with a story-approach based on "roots" and muscle memory. People learn differently. If you know how you learn, you can devise your own study plan.


If you're learning an aphabetic language with a different alphabet (Hindi, Arabic), try to get the alphabet down so you can literally write it in your sleep. Make sure not to learn only the individual letters, but focus on how they get together. A good approach, I found, is to write out syllables and form "words" with them. They don't have to make sense, just WRITE WRITE WRITE, and not the letters in isolation, but connected.


If you're learning a language using the latin alphabet, try finding out why the written portion gives you such trouble. Do you have trouble connecting writing and pronunciation in your mind? If so, use the syllable-approach above, and try to think of it as learning a new alphabet, but with the same letters. Since the language you're learning is likely to have different sounds for the same letters than English (think, e.g. of English vs. French u), this is something that helped me tremendously.


Otherwise, keep your chin up, realize that languages are hard to learn, and that people have different strengths and weaknesses. If everyone in your group already has some experience with the language, try not to compare yourself to them, but instead try to work on making progress, i.e. compare yourself to yourself a week ago. I, e.g. am someone who is pretty good with languages, but I just need my time. It happened to me more than once that I didn't get something in a language I was learning, and then, two weeks later, things just popped, and my ability grew leaps and bounds. Unfortunately (or fortunately), learning a language is no linear process!

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Thank you so much for all your comments and feedback. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of them. I'll keep all of them in mind and use them as a reminder and encouragement to keep moving forward. 


Update: I've decided to withdraw from the program and work on the material according to my own pace this summer. This will give me an opportunity to get some rest too and recharge during the summer. I hope you all have a wonderful summer too  :)

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