I’m Anna Auger, a French and English double-major and Spanish minor at Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU) in Lincoln, Nebraska. From September 2016 to June 2017, I have the opportunity of studying at l’Université de Lausanne (UNIL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. At UNIL, my studies will focus on French language acquisition, including courses in translation, literature, and linguistics; however, I will also take classes in Spanish. These courses are unlike anything offered at NWU.
While abroad, my primary goal is to acquire fluency in French while immersing myself in a multilingual environment, maintaining my Spanish skill and exploring new languages. I’m very excited to embark on this journey!
Why French fluency?
The French language has held special meaning to me since preschool, when my parents enrolled me in a French class taught by a neighbor of ours. Their goal was to honor my grandpa’s French and Canadian ancestry while exposing me to a second language. From then on, my fascination with the functions of language has grown to a passion that now inspires me to pursue multilingual interpreting and translating.
In light of my goal to be a multilingual interpreter and translator, I am defining the levels of language competency by the standards of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). The AIIC says that, “Interpreters must be able to transpose a message from one language to another very quickly . . . They must understand quickly, think quickly and speak fluently” (AIIC.net, “Working Languages“). In order to help interpreters and their employers better understand an interpreter’s ability to work with a language, the AIIC has developed what they call the ABC method of categorizing language competency. An “A” language almost exclusively refers to the interpreter’s native tongue (there are a few instances where interpreters have managed practically native competency in a second language, including cases of bilingual children). A “B” language is one in which the interpreter is fluently able to interpret from and/or into. “B” languages are also referred to as “active languages.” Finally, “C” languages are those that an interpreter can understand and perhaps converse in, but which are not developed enough for interpretation (and/or translation) work. “C” languages are also called “passive languages.”
On her blog The Interpreter Diaries, professional conference interpreter, trainer, and book author Michelle Hof wrote a series of blog posts entitled “The Interpreter’s Languages” which has proved useful in my own reflections on what French fluency means to me. In the second part of that series, C is for …, Hof writes that for an interpreter to consider a language one of their passive ones, they must be able to:
- be familiar with dialects and regional variants. An interpreter must understand people from different regions to be useful.
- be familiar with a range of registers. An interpreter must understand both academic speech and common everyday speech to be useful.
- be familiar with a broad range of subjects. An interpreter must understand multiple topics and their related terms to be useful.
Thus, even for a language to be considered passive, an interpreter must know and study a lot! Despite this daunting list, I am determined to make French one of my active languages, meaning I will need not only to accomplish the three points above, but also be able to hold conversations on a range of subjects and in a range of registers while being understood by people of various dialectal and regional backgrounds.
In case you weren’t confused enough, the letters A, B, and C are also used to measure a person’s skill in a learned language (the CEFR)—but the gradient is reversed! So A1 is a person just beginning language study, while C2 is considered as close to fluent as a non-native speaker can get. Right now, I’m about a B1 in French, with my reading and writing skills leaning more toward B2 than B1. By the end of my year in Switzerland, I want to be C1. Whether or not that is an unrealistic goal remains to be seen!
But French won’t be the only thing I learn abroad: I will also maintain my skill level in Spanish (also about B1 right now). Though I want to eventually make Spanish an active language as well, I need to spend time learning French first. However, if I were to spend a whole year without using Spanish, I would most definitely lose ground in my language competency! Thankfully, UNIL offers classes in Spanish taught by native speakers. Also, I will continue to read in Spanish and will seek out a conversation group to maintain conversational Spanish while I study in Switzerland. After my academic year in Switzerland, I hope to attend the Uppsala International Summer Session, a summer language program in Uppsala, Sweden for learners of Swedish.
Why so many languages?
My great-great grandfather Alexander Leonidovich Logofet was born in Russia in 1887. He learned English and began a career as an interpreter and translator, serving in London from 1909-1915. In London he met Norah, the Irishwoman he eventually married. The couple moved back to Russia because Logofet wanted to serve in the military; he was disqualified on medical grounds and sent back to London. In 1919, he and Norah moved to Boston, Massachusetts and remained in the United States, with Logofet working odd jobs through the Great Depression. During the Second World War, he worked for the U.S. government as part of the war effort. It wasn’t until 1946 that the U.S. government hired my great-great grandfather as an interpreter—he was fluent in Russian and English, but also spoke French, Italian, and many Slavic languages. He worked during the Japanese Peace Conference of 1951, Nikita Khrushchev’s infamous UN speech, and the Cuban missile crisis. His interpreting skill was such that he was often requested by name both by U.S. and foreign officials. Amazingly, I didn’t know most of the details of my great-grandfather’s story until after I decided to pursue multiple languages!
Despite having studied Spanish for four years in high school and French for several years in middle school, it wasn’t until my teaching practicum in a local middle school ELL classroom during my sophomore year of college that I realized how much I love working with languages. Languages were something I had taken for granted, but during the practicum, I saw in a very tangible way the many differences both culturally and linguistically between students from Mexico, Iran, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, the Ivory Coast, and Vietnam. Only then did the magnitude of the world’s languages and the great necessity for translators and interpreters sink in. I also began to realize the great inadequacies of language; chiefly, its inability to convey the true emotions and intentions of the human heart. It’s as if each word is a veil which represents something not itself, and the more veils we string together, the further we are from the real meaning we should be conveying. This fascinates me.
When I work with languages, I feel confident and strong. Languages challenge me; they push me to excel the limits I have placed on myself. And ultimately, there’s no end to how many languages I could learn or how much more fluent I could become. That challenge inspires me to learn as many as possible, if for no other reason than that each language presents a new facet of the human heart, giving new insight into the way our minds work.