In my previous two posts in the Acquiring Foreign Languages series, I wrote about my efforts to acquire reading knowledge of French and Spanish in order to more easily browse and retrieve FCIL resources. At this point, I want to pause and provide a mid-semester progress report.
When I started taking classes in “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading,” I offered myself up as the guinea pig for DipLawMatic Dialogues readers who might be considering learning (or re-learning) a foreign language to enhance FCIL research skills.
In this post, I contrast my original plans with any necessary changes I’ve had to make along the way.
When browsing job postings for reference librarian positions, it’s not unusual to see employers put a premium on knowledge of a major Western European language. Once I determined that having this knowledge would aid me in my career advancement goals, I then had to decide whether to enroll in classes, or design my own study plan.
There are many advantages to enrolling in a class. If you work at a university, there are many foreign language classes on offer. Moreover, your employer might subsidize your tuition (see cost considerations, below). On the other hand, you might not find a class specifically designed for lawyers or legal researchers. Also, classes that meet during the workday require supervisor approval and coordination with co-workers.
Studying a foreign language independently and self-paced is an appealing option because of the flexibility it provides. There are high-quality, free online reference tools and practice materials available, including some created by college and university faculty. But self-guided study is not necessarily ideal. It’s easy to get off-track, and there is no external validator to provide a grade, or proof of language mastery – proof that future employers might want to see.
My original plan: take two generalized foreign language reading comprehension classes (“French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading”); supplement them with a self-designed study plan specific to browsing and retrieving FCIL resources online.
Mid-semester progress report: I am following my original plan. I am also considering options for additional specialized language classes after the semester ends. For example, my local language school offers evening classes in Spanish Medical Terminology, so I plan to ask about the possibility of forming a class for Spanish Legal Terminology.
In deciding to take a class, the most significant cost consideration is tuition. As a university employee, I am eligible for tuition waivers, provided that classes are taken for career advancement purposes. By searching the term “employee tuition waiver” in my university’s internal search engine, I found the Human Resources page with all the necessary forms.
Other cost considerations in taking a class can include whether and how many course books to buy, and the cost of public transportation to and from class. I’ve found that the prices of foreign language reference texts and practice workbooks are relatively low – under $20.00 per title. My transportation costs are a non-factor for now: the Foreign Languages building is a 20-minute walk away from my law library.
My original plan: Use an employee tuition waiver to cover course costs; buy only textbooks required by the professors, and use free internet resources for additional reference materials and practice exercises.
Mid-semester progress report: I obtained the employee tuition waiver. I started the process over the summer, and it took longer than I expected – two weeks. The process necessitated approval by my supervisor, registration by the graduate coordinator at the Department of Romance Languages, and final clearance from the Cashier’s Office.
Only my Spanish class required a text (Spanish for Reading), which I bought new for less than $20.00. I have also bought additional print resources, partly because I enjoy hand-writing practice drills, and partly because I have decided to cut down on my daily dose of screen time. The resource materials I have purchased and can recommend are a mix of reference books (501 Spanish Verbs and 501 French Verbs), and practice books (Intermediate French Grammar and Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions). Total cost for the five books: $77.00.
My original plan: Spend as much time on my self-designed FCIL supplemental practice as I spend on course homework assignments (estimated time: two hours per language per week on course homework; two hours per language per week on FCIL practice).
Mid-semester progress report: I’m spending more time on course homework than I anticipated: between three to five hours per language per week (homework assignments are a mix of translation, summarization, and comprehension questions). I decide not to devote equal time on my FCIL practice tasks. Instead, I prefer to alternate days between course obligations (Mondays and Wednesdays) and FCIL practice (Tuesdays and Thursdays).