Sunday, July 15, 2007

Archivists and languages

In high school, I studied French and German for several years and found both rewarding (my high school also had Spanish, but I have this irrational prejudice against the language; I would have taken Latin if it had been offered though). I recall, with quite some pleasure now, reading one of the Grimm's fairy tale in the original German in my third year studying that language. In French, I reached the heights of delivering a quite fluent speech on President Charles De Gaulle (assignment: give a 10 minute speech on any aspect of French culture or history) and read that famous novel Le Petit Prince. Admitedly, taking two languages at the same time was stressful and occasionally confusing. Periodically, I would blank for a word in German class and reach for a French word (apparently my English Canadian mind has a space designated "other languages" and sometimes not everything is kept properly distinct).

During my undergrad years, I let all the achievement fall apart. Then in my MA, I was compelled to taking a reading course in French and I was surprised with how much grammar (and basic vocabulary) I had retained. I had forgotten a lot of the nuances - remembering the gender of French and German nouns seems particularly difficult. I remember some like "das Madchen" (the girl), but it seemed counterintuitive (using the neuter "das" with girl, rather than the feminine "die"), but getting all that down is going to be hard. If anybody out there has advice on how to get track of the gendered nature of French and German words (which I regard as an archaic practice, but one must learn the language as it is) as an English user, I would be curious.

As part of my archival studies, I'm planning to resume my study of both French and German. I aspire to do this for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important is that I feel ever so provincial about only being fluent in a single language; Europeans would no doubt laugh at me if I claimed to "educated" and yet only knew a single language. I find Quebec, France, Germany, Austria to be fascinating places and I would love to be able to interact there like a native. I want to be able to read German and French magazines, novels, scholarly works and so forth. I want to do this for both personal and professional reasons.

Canadian archivists are probably unusually keen to be bilingual (French and English), but I wonder if that is true. As of 2001 (last complete census), something like 18% of Canadians are bilingual in the country's official languages. I wonder how this compares to American, British etc archivists. Is knowing more than one language regarded as useful, is it asked for in job listings?


Prodigious1One said...

I hope that my bilingualism in French and English shall be useful as an archivist. I'm studying with San José State University. I hope to complete my degree this fall. Are you working currently as an archivist?

Accidental Archivist said...

Hi there,

I am not working as an archivist. I am now an analyst at a bank. The job market in archives was simply lacking.

Good luck!