In perusing the application requirements of local Ph.D. programs in English and Comparative Literature ever so nonchalantly two years ago, it came to my attention that one (note the indefinite pronoun) must be proficient in at least one foreign language (typically French, German, or Latin) and have an adequate competence in another to even be considered for candidacy. Is this true? I wondered, feeling instantly defeated. As it turns out, it is true for nearly all literature programs and is certainly required early in the English program at most universities.
It would seem, therefore, that, in addition to completing the course work for the Master of Arts in English program (check), passing the university’s comprehensive English exam (check), writing the book-length MFA thesis (um…working on this still), scoring well on both the General GRE and the GRE Literature in English Subject Test (yes, some programs require scores for both exams), obtaining three letters of recommendation, and submitting a truly superior writing sample, a master’s student would have to pick up French or Latin and, say, Russian (how else would “one” get to wallow in Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov for months on end?) at some point between graduation and selecting a target Ph.D. program. Какая сумасшедшая идея! Or, in English, it is madness!
While reading the dual-language edition of Crime and Punishment provides its own measure of reward, it’s not going to suffice if fluency in Russian is the objective. And there is the required Latin or French to be learned, as well. My writer friend Ian Prichard has recommended the Michel Thomas Method for learning to speak a foreign language; however, it doesn’t provide training in reading and writing. One Chapman professor has suggested Duolingo, which offers extensive writing lessons and dictation, and I’ve read favorable reviews about the widely known Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe for serious language students. I plan to research them all and report back with my own experience.
Most would argue, of course, that the best and possibly only way to truly learn a language is to immerse oneself in the culture and dialects of a country by exploring its regions in person. Alas, I may therefore have to schedule trips to St. Petersburg and Paris for crash courses in their language and literature. Well, if “one” must…