mə-'lär-kẹ n. [origin unknown]: insincere or foolish talk

The Language Requirement

June 21, 2006
The Language Requirement

Okay, so getting a master’s degree isn’t complete cake. You have to sell your new car and drive 1300 miles to the Midwest. Boo. Also, you have to leave everything you know and learn to embrace humidity. (Yes, that’s humidity and not humility. I’ll be damned before I embrace humility.) But the real catch? You must prove that you have at least a reading proficiency in one foreign language. That foreign language cannot include “man speak” or “extended relatives comprehension” or “ordering from six different fast-food menus while intoxicated.” It must be an institutionally recognized language.

And thus it was born: The Intensive Summer French Class for Graduate Students. The class that is the cause of long, tedious hours of flashcard-making and pathetic attempts to translate French passages with hilarious inaccuracy. As if that isn’t enough, you also have to read these translations out loud in class the following day.

The Book: Written in the sixties and will continue to be reprinted eternally for the rest of our natural lives. The book, French for Reading, has an interesting premise: It is important for students who might want to gain a reading knowledge of French to translate extremely weird paragraphs about physics, space, and the bomb. Correction: The Bomb. I’m practically expecting to translate “the red button” any day now.

The Professor: Chair of the French Department at Miami University. Unbelievably hot—not just habenero hot, my friends, but friendly, casual, nerdy hot. Hotness of the best kind. (Although my friend did wonder if he was wearing makeup. He often looks too good. Unnaturally good. No human man has skin that pink and youthful.) He jokes, he laughs. But best of all, he smiles after you’ve butchered the French language and confused the word “always” with the word “imperfectly” and says to you: “You’ve got it.” One little side note to our professor: No. No, we definitely do not have it.

The Highlights

French: Il n’y a guère que toi qui s’intéresse à ta vie sentimentale.

Translation: There’s almost only you who is interested in your love life.

French: Ils sont descendus du train avec plus d’energie que nous, mais derrière un muru qu’ont insulté ignominieusement tous les chiens de Paris, j’ai besoin de purger mon corps de tous ses sentiments les plus terrestres.

Translation: They went down from the train with more energy than we did, but behind a wall which all the dogs of Paris have insulted, I needed to purge my body of its most earthly sentiments.

French: En octobre 1938 le CERMA (Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Medecine Aeronautique) a effectué des expériences pour mesurer le comportement d’un chat sur une fusée VERONIQUE.

Translation: In October 1938, CERMA (Center for Ensignment and Research of Aeronautic Medicine) conducted some experiments in order to measure/observe the behavior of a cat in a rocket [called] Veronica.

French: un mouchoir d’indienne

Translation: a calico handkerchief

And, finally, I have displayed my impressive knack for language.

French: Man is made by an exterior sign/trait: that which happens inside of him, he communicates his thoughts through speech/language: this sign/trait is common to all mankind.

MY translation: Man was made by an exterior monkey. The monkey was able to speak his thoughts to all of the human species. The civilized monkey speaks to the savage men.

Yes, my friends. I mistranslated the word sign (signe) as the word monkey (singe) and then created a chimp messiah. I did it. And then, I laughed myself sick with embarrassment. I had to walk it off in the hallway. People asked if I was okay. It was really bad. Monkey? French monkey? What in the holy hell am I going to do with this?

But I have made a contribution in my own way, dammit. I purchased a bottle of wine called fusée. It is the French word for rocket. That’s right, kittens. I purchased rocket wine. And for $4.50 it can be yours, too:

I brought it to class today and only the very bravest souls tried it. Also, my professor (see below) agreed to have his photo taken with the rocket wine. What did I tell you? Oh, by the way, is it okay to post someone’s picture on your website without written permission? Because there is no way I’m telling my French professor that his rocket wine photo is on this puppy. No way.

French Translating II begins on Monday, for which I will be creating a French Reading Trivial Pursuit Game and inviting all of the other grad students to play. I mean study. Really. Happy incompetent translating, kids!

2:51 p.m. :: comment ::
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