Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Language requirements

On Language Requirements


One of the things that many of us mediævalists have in common is that we're snobbish about languages. Ok, so we can't be quite as snobby as the Classicists, because, well, Greek. And some of the Late Antiquity types do Persian or some other Near Eastern language. Since I kind of hang out with those folks, though, I think I'll lump them in for the purposes of this little blog post. So for the sake of argument, let's just say that those of us whose fields of study span the era before about 1500 tend to be language snobs.

This was true in my grad program. I remember group pity extended towards the person whose Latin and French were good enough to pass the requirements, but just not good enough that s/he could work in anything other than English History, and only where OE and ME were not required. A 'lesser' degree seemed in order. Some of you may have noticed that this is gate-keeping again. Yeah, it is. Ancarett made a comment to yesterday's post that made me want to write this. That, and I'm panicking about my travels, due to start next week.

For us mediæval and earlier types, language is the test at the gate. After climbing that nasty mountainous road to a graduate program, you will meet the bridge gatekeeper, and he will say something along the lines of...

Gatekeeper: "Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see"
The intrepid grad student will answer: "Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper. I am not afraid."
G:"What... is your name? "
IGS: "IGS"
G: "How is your Latin?"
IGS: "I will pass the exams, I promise"
G: "do you know or can you acquire a reading knowledge of French, German, and anything else demanded in the next year?"
IGS:"Yes."
G: "Right, yer in."

But then that year is up, and the conversation goes like this:
Gatekeeper: "Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see"
The intrepid grad student will answer: "Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper. I am not afraid."
Gatekeeper: "Did you pass your Latin exam?"
IGS: "Yes"
G:"Lisez-vous français?"
IGS: "Oui?"
G: "Sprechen Sie, Bzw. Lesen Sie Deutsch? Wenn Sie etwas auf Deutsch lesen, wissen Sie unbedingt, dass Ihre Übersetzung korrekt ist?"
IGS: "er ... ja ...peut-etre?"

At this point, the student is not doomed to be cast into the chasm.* There are lots of languages we use. Perhaps the questions should have been posed in Italian or Old Norse (in which case, the student will really need that German, too). My point is that we are expected to have Latin and at least two modern European languages between when we walk in the door (say, for example, at Toronto) and when we get to the writing stage. Presumably our colleagues in the UK and Ireland have the languages when they start, because they don't have coursework. At my grad school, Europeanists needed to pass two language exams, Americanists one (and they could substitute SPSS if it was more relevant). Medievalists needed three plus any other languages needed -- and we didn't get a choice in the first one. Latin.

But languages we must have. They are not always easy to learn. We must also learn other odd and peculiar skills, like paleography, the reading of archæological reports, Orts- or Personennamenkunde, and a working knowledge of a huge number of general primary sources. That may be another difference, come to think of it. I think that the canonical writings in our fields tend to include far more primary sources than secondary sources. But that's another post. Now, we may not have to read all of these languages or acquire all these skills equally well. New Kid, for example, can probably kick my butt at reading unedited legal documents, because almost everything I use has been edited. It's in Latin, and much of it isn't translated, but it's edited. I don't need to read some scribe's handwriting -- although with Carolingian miniscule, at least that's not the most difficult thing in the world! On the other hand, she'll never have to try to trace family relationships through the leading names and name elements! The medievalist's tools are diverse and hard to acquire. I can tell from some of the comments I've seen here and elsewhere that some people think we are using those tools to keep people out. To a certain extent, I guess that's true. But would you hire a carpenter who couldn't use a hammer and saw?

Without the tools of our trade, languages being the most important and basic of those tools, a mediævalist (or Classicist, or Late Antiquarian)** cannot join in the scholarly conversation. I've just glanced over to my collection of library books. For the first time I can remember, the majority of books are in English. That's because I just took back six books in German and because I'm working on a project on women and property, and there is a lot of scholarship in English to weed through, even though it may have very little to do with what was happening in the Lahngau and Grabfeld and Mainzgau in the 9th and 10th centuries. There's one book in French, Sauver son Âme et se Perpétuer. I'm not really looking forward to it because, well, it's in French, which is my fourth-best language. But I need to look at it, because it's part of the conversation. If I ignore what's out there, then my own work will be incomplete and honestly, pretty shoddy -- or at least it won't be able to stand up to close scrutiny.

I'm lucky, in that I have a really good feel for languages. I have to work at them, but I can generally pick up the basics pretty quickly. I also lucked out because my grandfather made me read and speak Spanish as a child (not that I'm all that fluent 40 years later), my counselors made me take two years of French in middle school, and I foundered through two years of high school Latin before I picked it up again my last two years of undergrad, where I took three years of Latin courses and a quarter of Greek in two years. Somewhere in there I took a year of German. Among my friends and colleagues, it's pretty much only the Classics undergrads who have comparable language exposure. Meaningful language requirements at any level seem to have fallen by the wayside in most Anglo-American educational systems (except for the politically-motivated French requirements in parts of Canada). I do know from friends in the UK and Ireland that they often deal with the same issues of under-trained students who wish to pursue postgrad degrees.

I think one of the results of this will be that time to finishing will continue to creep up for people who go into grad programs in Mediæval History -- or those students accepted and/or granted fellowships will be those who already have languages. My guess is that the students who have language skills will be from the high-powered unis or selective Liberal Arts Colleges. I don't like to think what that might mean for demographics. I also don't like to think that our requirements will make others think that we occupy some rarified position -- at least, no more rarified than the people who split atoms or do any number of very specialized things. This doesn't seem to be as much a problem for our Asianist and Islamist colleagues, because, well, what they do is relevant. Somehow, and I realize that none of these thoughts are as well-formed as I'd like, but it was either blog now, or blog much, much later and blog something closer to perfection, I think that that is the problem. When we don't see language as being particularly relevant to our daily lives, we don't see that the fields that require languages are relevant unless they directly connect to politics or economic forces.

Whatever the results, I think that we need to conceive of language requirements (or paleography requirements, etc.) differently. We are used to the gate-keeping/maintaining standards model. What if, instead, we were to see these -- and describe these to others -- not as requirements absent the connection to our work that we know is implicit and absolute, but rather as tools and skills. We cannot do our jobs properly until and unless we acquire them, in the same way that cabinetmaker needs to know the different properties of different types of wood and the kinds of tools (and how to used the tools) to use in their appropriate circumstances.

In terms of those of us who have got through the training and are either on the market or employed, I think there is another battle -- and perhaps another post. I don't know about the rest of you, but my teaching load is detrimental to my getting a lot of scholarly work done during the academic year. This means that I have to come up with strategies (not too many good ones, as it happens) for keeping up my languages. It takes me up to a week of hard work to get to where I feel comfortable in my reading skills again. Mostly, I find myself grabbing dictionaries and actually writing out translations that differ from what I read only in completeness. But the tools seem to rust. Next post -- dealing with rusty tools.

*Apologies to Monty Python
** And yes, I know that we have colleagues in Asian and Islamic (and Eastern European) history who have to learn many of the same types of things to do their work. Although they are in some ways as marginalized as we are, I think that time plays a role here, too. If you are a modern historian, I think that people understand more easily because of the relevance issue I mentioned above.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about ancient or medieval Asia? The worst language requirements are for medieval Korean history from what I've seen: Modern Korean, Medieval Korean, Modern Japanese, Modern Chinese, Classical Chinese. Manchu might also be useful....

Sure, we can apply for language grants (for the modern languages--it's hard to argue the strategic importance of classical Japanese, although sometimes you can spin it for Classical Chinese), but it's hard to get pre-modern research funded. Going by the list of grants awarded this year, I lost one competition to someone doing the same topic, only post-war. Which shows your point about the time issue, but you know... we're medievalists too.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh, I agree. I think that people who go to grad school in Asian history in general are more akin to Classicists in preparation, though. It's clear to everybody -- even non-academics, usually, that you'll have to at least know the language of the country you're studying. My impression was, though, that the few programs that offer any kind of Medieval Asian program also offer the languages and build them in, because there are so few places one can learn them.

I'm never really sure what is meant by medieval when it applies to Asia, though. I've heard arguments for Tokugawa Japan being medieval -- that whole feudal thing ... *headdesk*. Not that studying pre-modern Asia doesn't have all the problems you've mentioned, but just that I wonder sometimes at the sense of applying a specifically western idea to countries outside the scope of Rome, and what that means. Are there characteristics that tag a period or society as medieval? Or is it just whatever is concurrent with what's going on in Europe?

Ancarett said...

Thank you for posting at such length and so thoughtfully on this topic. I might pull off on a longer tangent at my blog, but immediately, here are some things I want to note.

There is a perception among some medievalists that late medieval or early modern England specialists have it easy. Not always so. As you note, NK can probably clean all our clocks in her work with clerical hands. I spend most of my time going back and forth between some calendared documents, a fair number of early boos and a lot of really crappy manuscripts.

I also had a hard time as a graduate student, finding any support for learning Latin in a way that was useful to early modernists (until we formed a NeoLatin reading group one term at the CRRS). Officially, my department said that I only needed to pass a French exam for my Ph.D. In practice, I needed Latin and Italian. I already had German as an undergraduate but relatively little has been published in that language that was useful to my work. The language and reading skills useful for one area of history do not always translate well into another.

That said, I only wish that more universities, from the get go, pushed second and third language competencies. I find it astonishing that my American institution had an across-the-board language requirement and that seems to be almost non-existent in Canada. It's hard to get students to take such advising seriously when it's not a requirement. And then they say that they want to go onto graduate school in history without even one workable language besides English and I know that they aren't going to have the choice to work on anything but a pretty narrow range of fields unless they develop some late blooming language facility.

It makes me want to cry! Languages don't come easily to me (well, I can read quite well in other languages, but I speak them all poorly!). I had to work hard for each one of these competencies. I know it's not a walk in the park. But students who don't get this going when they're undergraduates are in big trouble if they want to go forward in the profession, but they don't take that seriously.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I think that Early Modernists, especially those whose secondary field is Mediæval, have many of the same problems. I have a hard time telling, sometimes, because I took five EM courses as an undergrad and four as a grad student (I think I only took four or five medieval courses as an undergrad, and only one of them really went into the late MA. Oh -- my course in Enger-land was Chaucer to Shakespeare, so I expect that counts as really late medieval! Most of my colleagues in EM England and Germany seemed to get by with the bare minimum of languages.

I took a Hauptseminar when I was a research fellow in Germany on the reception of the classics in EM Germany. Some of the texts I used for my presentation were in 16th c. German -- I have no idea what that would be, but most of the Germans couldn't read it. I just muddled through it based on a very minimal knowledge of Chaucer and reading it out loud rather than thinking about the spelling. I expect that one has to learn that stuff as an Early Modern German person.

Anyway, I think that the people who are Med/EM tend to be better prepared in terms not only of languages but also of expectations of what it will take than the people who are EM/Modern.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh -- I forgot to say -- the prep thing. One of the best students I ever had at the CC went on to do a BA in History, and I spent two years nagging them via e-mail and in person, when their advisor wasn't nagging them, to please learn a damned language before applying to grad school. We kept trying to explain that the time and money invested doing this as an undergrad, even if it meant graduating a semester late, would be worth it in acceptances and possible fellowship awards, but it took huge efforts!

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I was lucky in that not only was I taught Latin for five years at school, but I then went on to use it. But at the beginning of my Masters there was a compulsory two-week Latin course anyway, which I think would have got most people at least sort of competent. Medieval Latin, too, which helped. I think that's necessary for (post-)grad level, if only because of the basic reliance on translated material below that; we can't expect people to have learnt it at school just because my school was antiquated.
Otherwise, I had French and pretty basic German from school; I picked up reading Catalan and Castilian from academic texts, and I can struggle through Italian by the same token. I'm good at picking up reading knowledge of languages, but lousy at reverse competence, speaking them, and this genuinely does hamper me because I feel embarrassed about trying. So it really is necessary. I'm still fighting it.
In the UK you can still expect new students to have some schooling in at least one modern language, but probably not to be comfortable with it. But there isn't any way to make the whole of medieval scholarship accessible to someone who isn't willing to try and do better than that. You're quite right to say that languages we have to have, and we can't open the supposed gates any wider than they are I think.
On a purely mercenary level, you can point out to gainsayers that in a battle for a job or an article acceptance, this is going to be one of the things where the other guy or girl will likely be better equipped than you if you can't patch this piece of armour...

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I have to say that I often hope that's true. I think it is as long as the good journals and publishers are picky about their reviewers. I wish I'd had a course in Medieval Latin, because I've found myself jumping around as late as the 12th c. It may be one reason why I keep finding myself mining land transactions, etc. The Latin is nice and formulaic!

Flavia said...

My graduate (English) program had a three-language requirement for all students, one of which languages needed to be Greek or Latin. There were a fair number of [fill-in-the-blank]-for reading classes, for those who didn't arrive with competencies, or took summer classes (for which there was a certain amount of funding) or classes during the school year.

Interestingly, one of the ways to fulfill the requirement AND to get graduate course credit was to take a year-long Old English class. There were always A LOT of Modernists, who didn't particularly need any foreign languages, who wound up taking that option. (Which is kinda cool, when you think about it.)

I do wish, though, that there had been similar requirements for paleography, textual editing, and other subjects related to working with MSS. I was lucky to take some week-long master classes in those subjects, and I learned the rest on the fly--but those things do seem more crucial to my work than, say, being able to read Italian with the aid of a dictionary (should I ever actually come across something I need to read that's in Italian).

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Awww, you guys are just being nice about my ms-reading skills because I was pissy about Middle English! ;-)

Seriously, though, I do have to admit that in my research I do get away with using FAR MORE stuff in English than many people do - there's little scholarship in foreign languages that I have to read (I'm sure there's some that would be helpful, but the vast majority of research on what I do is written/published in English and I'm not going to worry about the foreign stuff till I get all the English stuff down!) - and I do work at that cusp where there's not too much written in Latin (at least, that I need to read - and if it is, it's still pretty bad Latin, which I actually do much better with than Ren/humanist Latin, which tries to get things right and has pretensions to style and whatnot!).

The thing is, I think there's some kind of magical idea that when we say we use these languages, we're all stone-cold fluent in them all. Which is so not the case - at least for me, but I think for most people. I have a friend whose diss was on early medieval France and her spoken/written French is extremely dodgy - she was in the early medievalist position of not really needing to go to the archives b/c all the sources that remain are edited, and she can read French to deal with the scholarship, but she was very anxious about traveling in France and trying to communicate - I think my spoken French may even be a bit better than hers (however, her Latin kicks my ass - all her primary stuff is in Latin). I am pretty good with 14th/15th/early 16th c. English hands, but take me out of that context, and I suck. Now, I could learn how to read other stuff, because I've done so already for my own stuff, but it would take a while.

And in terms of the languages rather than hands - well, pretty much everything requires me to pore over stuff with a dictionary, until I get a grasp of the basic structure/vocabulary of my material. When I first started working with Law French I had to look up every other word, until I got the basics down. And if I started actually reading legal documents produced in France, I'd probably have to learn a whole new vocabulary. If I started reading 17th-c. French, I'd have to learn a new vocabulary.

So again, thinking of them as tools is the important thing, I think - because if you think of it in terms of gate-keeping, I feel awfully fraudulent. I'm not fluent in anything but English, and my grad program never offered a paleography course until I was done with classes, so I never took one. But if you think of it in terms of being able to do the research you want to do - well, yeah, I can do that. Some things will take me longer than others, but I can do what I need to do.

(I'm also really lucky, though - my brain has a natural bent for languages. The only reason I'm only fluent in English is because I've never studied anything else for longer than 2 years. And I did take a medieval Latin class, and you know what I remember from it now? Zip!)

Oh, and the last thing I was going to say: I think one of the problems it that we (or I!) tend to take for granted that the things we can do are easy, and the things that other people can do that we can't must be hard. I have to say that my reaction to the comments about unedited documents or clerical hands was: what, can't everyone read those things? The things I read are EASY! I mean, they have to be, because *I* can read them! ;-)

Oh, and this really IS my last comment: yeah, I think ancient/medieval Asianists do probably have it the worst! I have a colleague who fits that description, and man, the languages that he deals with...!

squadratomagico said...

Hi ~ I've posted my thoughts on standards/gatekeeping/languages at length over at my place. Thanks, ADM, for initiating such a great discussion.

Anastasia said...

"my guess is that the students who have language skills will be from the high-powered unis or selective Liberal Arts Colleges"

this is what bothers me about gatekeeping.

As for languages, I found that my french and german for reading comprehension courses were worth almost nothing. They got me through my two modern language exams but my german is not great. My french is only decent because I've studied latin.

That brings me to my point which is that in addition to German, the two most useful languages for my topic are italian and modern greek. I've studied neither and yet I pretend to read both. I say pretend because it involves a lot of feeling my way and using the dictionary. That said, i can make sense of things slowly. I've studied spanish and latin and had the french for reading course. That helps with the italian. As for modern greek? I read a grammar and dove in. I've done a little study with tapes and cds because I find I never can really read a language fluently unless I at least speak it a little.

okay, with all of that being said, this post makes me feel hugely inadequate. i want to run off and check my bibliography and see how many non-english sources I have. because honestly, a lot of what I read is in english. but it's relevant. I can really only think of maybe one completely ndispensible german work. the modern greek reports are there, sure. but the final excavation report for my site was published in english. so...yeah. anyway. I'll slink away now back to my bookshelf, which is mostly tomes in english.

I'm also going to pen my own post about the difference between history and my field. but that will come a bit later.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

re the gatekeeping -- I hope you understand that my underlying fear is that financial and social standing will end up being the underlying gatekeepers -- not that I think it should be that way. I come from a "if you must go to college, get the paper that gets you the job" family. Only my uncles have college degrees, unless you count 2-year degrees. I happened to have received a lot of encouragement from my uncles and grandparents, and went to school at a great time in California's history. They went into my inner-city school and tested a whole bunch of us, and sent us and kids from other schools into a magnet program for gifted students. Once we were on that track, counselors put us into serious college prep schedules. I went to university almost entirely on Cal and Pell grants. Had that need-based aid not been there (and were I a student now, it might not be, because students are considered dependents till they're 24), I'd never have had the education necessary to go to grad school. The fact that I ended up in one of the best (top 25, I think) history departments in the country was entirely accidental.

As far as feeling inadequate, why? I have panic attacks every time I start reading furren. And I need a dictionary for a while. But you use the tools you need. I took paleography, but never use it. It would take me ages to get up to speed. If what you need is Italian and Greek, then that's what you need. As long as you check your bibliographies and the notes of your English sources and read the things that seem important (and double check), you're doing your job. I'm not sure anyone can read everything. It's when you avoid anything in a foreign language that red flags go up. Doesn't sound like you're doing that.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Funny -- I just posted on this very subject this evening, 30 minutes before I found your post. You said it all much better than I did.

Anonymous said...

Disconnected before my very long explanation/comment posted. So, then.

Korean history
General designation: Everything before the Japanese Protectorate is "pre-modern."
Scholarly focus in English: on the effects of the Japanese colonial period on Korea's development. Some work on the modernizers of the late Choseon dynasty, but there is very little on how Choseon may have developed a modernity of its own. (Slave society up through the 19th century, if you're a Marxist and care about such things.)
Languages required for work on "early modern": Japanese (scholarship, colonial documents--if then, pre-reform Japanese), Classical Chinese (documents of the Choseon Dynasty), Korean (modern and possibly medieval). Modern Chinese as well? (Scholarship) Possibly.
Periodization escape valve: Call things by dynasty.

Chinese history
General designations: Under traditional Marxist historiography, everything up until the Communist Period is feudal. Recent redefinitions of the "early modern" as being related to increased urbanization, merchant economy, print-culture, etc: Song Dynasty (960-1279) up. "Medieval China" on the title of a book, incidentally, usually refers to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-221 CE).
Languages: Modern Chinese, Classical Chinese, Modern Japanese (scholarship). Maybe Manchu or Mongolian, depending on time-period of specialization.
Periodization escape valve: by dynasty, or use the term "Late Imperial" (Ming and Qing dynasties).

Japanese history:
Huge debate in the field on the start-point of medieval. Poetry scholarship and some literary scholars begin it in the 9th century, with increased Buddhism in the literature. Others put it with the start of "military rule" in 1180. Still others point out that it wasn't really "military rule" until 1392.
General guidelines: "Medieval Japan" in a book title indicates a study set somewhere between 1180 and 1603. "Early Medieval" can indicate between 1052 and 1392. Unless it's one of the literature books that puts medieval much earlier.
"Early Modern" is generally accepted by scholars who were trained in Edo Period history or earlier as beginning in the 17th century. Use of "pre-modern" to indicate the Edo Period is a general indication of (1) age or (2) general lack of familiarity with the current scholarship on Edo Period since 1970 or (3) stubbornness. In general, I've found it to be (2). Particularly since there was no real training of specialists in pre 19th century Japanese history in the US before John Whitney Hall. There are some people who trained themselves, but the lineage of scholarship is rather narrow.
Languages for study of pre-1868 Japan: Classical Chinese, sometimes particular forms of it (sōrōbun-style from the Edo Period, for example); Classical Japanese, modern Japanese.
Languages for study of post-1868 Japan: modern Japanese. Classical Chinese if you're actually serious about studying Early Meiji. Oh, you're not? Well, okay then.
People who write about pre-1868 Japan without the language competency: many.
Periodization escape valve: refer to time periods by location of primary or secondary capital. (Nara, Heian, Kamakura, Edo.)

If people in European history would actually sit down and come to a consensus on what early modern and feudal and medieval are supposed to mean in a general sense, and not just a national or regional European context... maybe we could actually have a comparative conversation that gets somewhere. As it is, we spend too much time defining "feudal" in our works, if we use it. (Or "medieval.")

Ultimately, periodization is (at the very least, somewhat) arbitrary. So.

Escape valve for Asian history as a whole, taken from Southeast Asian history (Early Modern): World-systems theory.

Modern Japanese is the common language for scholarship (aside from English) in East Asian historiography. People have varying degrees of competency in it. As a result, historians of Japan tend to be less aware of important developments in Korean and Chinese history--the traditional comparative mode for Japanese history has been Europe. (Thank you, Meiji Japan.) In general, the exceptionalism and isolationism of East Asian history has been challenged a bit lately, but I have yet to see the results in many works other than in those in Buddhology.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, we would first have to come to some kind of conclusion that there's a good reason to compare Europe and Asia. As I said in my most recent post, I think that certain kinds of analogies and comparisons are to be made more so we can understand why things are different than why they are the same. So it makes no sense to me to come up with a set of criteria for what makes things "medieval".

As for the language thing, I'm not sure I see your point, except for, "see, we Asianists have it really hard, and probably harder than you." Not only was the point of my post NOT that Medievalists have it harder than everybody else, but that most people don't appreciate that we have a very different set of basic skills and needs than do many of our colleagues. Since I pointed out in the post that Africanists and Asianists have to deal with the same lack of understanding, and you've already said, "us, too!" I think the horse has been properly and completely flogged.

I don't usually get this cranky, but one of my pet peeves is people who leave long, anonymous, hijacking comments here. Lots of people hijack, but they're part of a community that has kind of developed here and around my blogroll. So please, if you're going to engage at such length, let us know who you are.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Now that I'm more awake than I was when I left my previous comment, I'd like to address the issue of how language requirements may be skewing the demographics of the field towards those who can afford R1 or SLAC undergrad educations.

I teach at a mid-level M.A. granting institution. I have a number of fairly talented undergrads who, somewhere around their Junior year, decide they would like to go on to grad school as medievalists. Needless to say, the one or two semesters they have between that point and the time they apply are not sufficient to get them the language training they need to get noticed by a good Ph.D. program.

So what to do with these smart-but-underprepared working-class students? I've been directing mine towards M.A. programs (just placed one at Toronto -- hooray!) with strict orders that they work towards having a solid grasp of Latin and at least one modern language by the time they get ready to apply to Ph.D. programs. With any luck, a good M.A. program can put a bright and hardworking student on an even footing with some of their peers who come from more advantaged backgrounds.

Anastasia said...

sorry i haven't been back by, but I wanted to see if you replied. yes, I understand your point about social standing and money. I think they in some ways they really are the gatekeepers already. I mean, sure there are a few students in my program who come from podunk (me me! I went to junior college!) but most of them went from upscale private high school to upscale small liberal arts to Harvard, princeton and yale for a master's and then landed in my program. They are smart, sure. but more than that, they are well-prepared. Why? Their parents had the money (and the foresight or ambition) to send them to private high schools and foot the bill for private colleges.

that's who ends up in the best programs. so yeah. and requirements like foreign languages is one of the places it comes out in the wash. i graduate from a college that offered two languages: beginners New Testament Greek and Spanish I.

the inadequacy is about me, not you and it's about knowing that my preparation and my profile were (and probably are still) way less impressive than my peers. because my dad is an automechanic.