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Imposter's Syndrome and Languages

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I am planning on applying to PhD programs Fall 2018. I am proficient in one of my languages, but am still at an intermediary level in my new (probably dominant) language-Korean. My professors tell me that I am ready to apply, but I still find it very intimidating. I have conversational fluency, but I know I am not capable of doing intense research (lots of documents) in the primary language.

I have a year to work to beef up my research language skills and I am comitted to a job in the US for the year. Any suggestions that will allow me to keep my full time 9-5 and not break the pocketbook?

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READ. And watch talks in Korean on YouTube or something, ideally in your area of specialization. If your goal is to be able to perform research in Korean, then the only way you can do that is to read more, look up words that you don't understand, read layperson articles about that subject, etc.

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I second @ThousandsHardships advice here. I'm starting this Fall and I've been working on my German by reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on in German and brushing up on grammar/vocab. I also listen to music and watch random videos in German, and it has definitely helped me up my fluency level. I left undergrad at an intermediate level and my adviser just said to work on it as much as I can, and then take courses if I need to, which I'm going to have to do for my second language, anyway.

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In addition to what the other posters suggest, practice writing it as well. Try writing about your research interests or journaling in Korean. Translate your letter of intent into Korean for fun; it doesn't have to be flawless. Creating/composing in a foreign language helps learners develop a higher form of proficiency than just reading it. ;) 

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How's your Chinese/Japanese? Depending on your interests, those languages might be just as important / worth getting a head start on.

Viki has a new "learn mode" for Korean dramas that is helpful for improving listening / word recognition. I like lang-8.com, which is a multi-language blogging platform: you write blog posts in Korean (or whatever other language you want to learn), and native speakers correct the post for you. It's really helpful, since there's a feedback mechanism for improvement. Is there a Sejong Institute or other Korean teaching school nearby? They often offer night classes. From my understanding the level of instruction is not that high, but it might be worth looking into just to keep yourself from forgetting.

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Hi there. :) I also speak Korean as a second language, it was my major at undergrad and I currently live in South Korea teaching English.

 

After undergrad, here's the things that helped me get (almost) fluent myself:

1) watching TV, especially the news, documentaries or exposes. I struggle with high level business or news words (that come from the Chinese Hanja) so watching these helps a lot.

2) Finding people to talk with. I found one in my husband (and he doesn't speak English so a bonus for me!) but friends, co-workers, internet pals, etc. Always be practicing and using your language. I've joined forums, left comments on articles, etc. so that I am using the language and reading others comments and going back and forth. I'm in Kakao groups that only use Korean, etc. 

3) Listen to podcasts, radio broadcasts, etc. I don't do this much, but I definitely should. I read books instead in the Korean language and that helps!

4) Get Advanced Level TOPIK books and study. I took the TOPIK and I'm level 4, but I feel I'm better than that (my writing is awful) so I'm going to take it again - and in the mean time, study study study.

5) Learn Hanja. It sucks, but it has helped A LOT. I'm still very, very, VERY basic but understanding where the words come from is amazing to me and using them together to create new words is great. It sparked my interest in linguistics and translating!

6) Speaking of translating: do it! Anything. Your own writing. News articles. Do it for yourself, not others. You'll learn plenty of words that way. Especially if it relates to what you want to do, it will help tremendously. Also, don't be afraid to ask for clarification of words you don't know. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself!

 

If you want to shoot me a message and talk in Korean, I'm totally down! If not, I wish you luck with everything. Korean is difficult, but I love it so much. It's a beautiful, poetic language and I'm glad I started learning it.

Edited by Keri

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Just apply to the PhD programs!  For one, you will have opportunities to continue Korean at your future university.  It's not unusual for our non-American historians to continue taking language courses in addition to their history courses.  They also have access to the FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) fellowships, which releases you from teaching to focus on language study (in addition to your history courses).  Those are quite nice to have!  But make sure your potential universities' East Asian Studies Centers have them (Title VIII)

I agree with all above.  My colleagues have told me that their intended research language improved dramatically while they were conducting research abroad.  I am currently in northern Germany, where English is not very well spoken so I'm able to focus on communicating in German.  I still rely on the dictionary but can make sense of my documents but I'm sure my German will improve as I keep working with German-language materials.

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If a language is required for your PhD program, your school will likely offer it to you. One of my friends went to a PhD program for Chinese history and it required Japanese. Since he didn't know any Japanese, the school made him take it over the summer. 

I'm about to apply for Fall 2018 and my Japanese is basically zero so I'm self-studying. I'm hoping to take the N4 or N3 if possible this winter, so I can at least show them I have a basic foundation and then take more advanced classes to build on that.

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I hope this does not constitute taking over the thread (I'm a bit new around here!), apologies if it does! But I have a follow-up question. I can read without any trouble in my primary research language, but have great difficulty with speaking and listening. I am wondering how that works in overseas archives? I am doing pre-diss research abroad this summer, and while I am confident I can handle any documents I encounter, I am very nervous about interacting with archivists. If people are not willing to slow down when talking to me (and I understand they are not obligated to do so),it will be near to impossible for me to keep up with them or understand enough to respond. This does not concern me at restaurants, shops, etc., but I am worried about the archives. Is this fairly common?

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10 hours ago, Eleanor1985 said:

I hope this does not constitute taking over the thread (I'm a bit new around here!), apologies if it does! But I have a follow-up question. I can read without any trouble in my primary research language, but have great difficulty with speaking and listening. I am wondering how that works in overseas archives? I am doing pre-diss research abroad this summer, and while I am confident I can handle any documents I encounter, I am very nervous about interacting with archivists. If people are not willing to slow down when talking to me (and I understand they are not obligated to do so),it will be near to impossible for me to keep up with them or understand enough to respond. This does not concern me at restaurants, shops, etc., but I am worried about the archives. Is this fairly common?

Most people will understand basic English.  Have your own research information written down in English and the host language and finding aid numbers ready.  It'll take a few trial and errors but you'll get the handle of the basics of the procedures.  Most archivists are used to researchers like yourself and find a way to make your visit worthwhile.  I don't speak French but I managed to survive Archives Nationales in Paris.  Also, have a dictionary on hand if needed for the archivist to look up a particular word.

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20 hours ago, Eleanor1985 said:

I hope this does not constitute taking over the thread (I'm a bit new around here!), apologies if it does! But I have a follow-up question. I can read without any trouble in my primary research language, but have great difficulty with speaking and listening. I am wondering how that works in overseas archives? I am doing pre-diss research abroad this summer, and while I am confident I can handle any documents I encounter, I am very nervous about interacting with archivists. If people are not willing to slow down when talking to me (and I understand they are not obligated to do so),it will be near to impossible for me to keep up with them or understand enough to respond. This does not concern me at restaurants, shops, etc., but I am worried about the archives. Is this fairly common?

I don't know which region you are working on and referring to, but just to assure you, I'm doing archival research in Eastern Europe (worse than the Western?) and I find even in regional and some town archives, there are at least a couple (young) people speaking English, really well. So, if your local language at some point fails, you can mingle some English, and they will understand. And of course you can ask them to slow down, repeat, or switch to a full English conversation if it works best for both of you. My feeling is that they are there to help us find the material and do research, and they will not doubt/judge your ability of reading documents simply by your not-yet-proficient oral skills. And as a matter of fact, historians are not language teachers. Most history professors are in the mode of "reading many languages but speaking only a few." You are not obliged to have a full command of any foreign language except for the ones that you need to converse to get involved in the national academia and with the local public.

For countries like Hungary, the archivists there cannot expect all visitors speaking their (complicated) language. So, English has a better chance than in any Slavic countries, and if English doesn't, try German (and in Slavic countries, try Russian, especially for people at age 40+).

And sometimes, ironically, one may feel better talking in a foreign language about research, because you have done a lot of historiography in the original, than everyday topics if you spend less time watching films, reading novels or talking to the natives.

Final tip: do your homework in advance and browse the archive website thoroughly (in the original language), so that you will at least remember all the instructions by heart and get familiar with the archival terms. For example, lfm/lfdm (Laufender Meter, German) = bm (běžný metr/bežný meter, Czech/Slovak) = m. b. (metr bieżący, Polish) = л. м. (лінійний метр, Ukrainian) = fm (folyóméter, Hungarian).

 

Edited by VAZ

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Thanks for the above advice. I've spent the summer thus far in review mode. I think its time to start working in hanja as well. My focus is on colonial/modern history, so most programs will probably require Japanese as well, which is why I feel the pressure to have a solid grasp of Korean before entering a program. 

@Eleanor1985 I wouldn't sweat it too much. Like others have said, there are lots of useful tools to help with this mediation, and based on travel experience, most people can figure out how to communicate. I'd also be surprised if it doesn't seem easier than it is once you are there. I remember arriving in France at 19 and I was about to miss my train. According to school performance my french was just so-so, but I went up to one of the info desk people, and in my panic it all just poured out of me. I was so surprised. I think it just takes a reason to use the language as a tool of communication rather than a tool or research.  Best of Luck. Archive work is so exciting, there is always the possibility of finding something truly special!

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