This guest post comes from Anastasia-Stavroula Valtadorou, a second-year, AHRC-funded doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh. In November 2017 Anastasia-Stavroula was awarded a grant from the SGSAH Student Development Fund in order to take German language classes with a private tutor, native speaker of the German language. For the links to her personal social media pages and academic profile, see below: https://edinburgh.academia.edu/AnastasiaStavroulaValtadorou and http://www.sgsah.ac.uk/about/students/profiles17-18/headline_550901_en.html.
When I tell people outside academia that I am a doctoral researcher in Classics working on Euripides and the positive representation of erotic love in his tragedies, they usually assume that Greek is the only language in which I am expected to be proficient. However, this is not really the case. As my supervisor often reminds both me and his other students, it goes without saying that all competent classicists should not only master Greek and Latin, but also be fluent in English, German, Italian and French!
As you can instantly tell, this is not something so easy to achieve within the 3-4 years of doctoral studies … especially if you are only 27 (not so old and wise yet!), your mother tongue is not one of the above-mentioned ones and during your PhD you are expected to:
- write your book-length thesis,
- attend several conferences and workshops,
- organise similar events yourself,
- publish academic articles,
- do some teaching on the side etc.
Therefore, from the beginning of my doctoral studies I had to make an intelligent plan about how to gain competence in the above-mentioned European languages. After consulting my supervisor, I decided to start with Italian in the first year of my studies, while during the third I would begin learning French. So that was the plan.
But what would I do with German? My relationship with this language has been far more complicated and tumultuous (almost like a Greek tragedy!). I had been studying German in my home country (Greece) for many years in high school and during my BA studies. Nevertheless, the focus of those classes was mainly on reading German texts and not on practicing oral and writing skills. Moreover, my exposure to the language – due to my carelessness and immaturity, to be honest – has always been intermittent. Be that as it may, at this point of my doctoral studies it was crucial for my personal and academic development to improve my German.
Thanks to the great support provided by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, I was indeed able to take private classes with Laura, a native German speaker and a linguist, at the InLingua language school based in Edinburgh. As a result of these private, intensive classes I have now managed to improve my language abilities. During the first five classes, I refreshed my previous knowledge (level B1) and thus continued to the next level. For the rest of the classes, we were using the book Mittelpunkt Neu C1, which helped me improve my vocabulary substantially. Right now, I am able to read German articles and books quicker than ever before and to conduct conversations in German.
Of course, this is not the end of this fruitful relationship. I will continue studying German, which is so important for my research. What is more, during the next academic year (2018/2019) I am planning to do a one-month research trip to Germany and spend time at a world-renowned German university. I hope that this research visit will give me the chance to improve my language skills even more and will also assist me regarding my personal development, for it will afford me the great opportunity to make new personal and professional connections in Germany. Thank you, SGSAH, for encouraging me to set higher goals and helping me to achieve them!
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