Member of the Month
ckramsch [at] berkeley [dot] edu
Prof. Kramsch: I don’t know if I ever imagined myself “becoming a professor”. I was born, raised and educated in
Prof. Kramsch: I remember being extremely concerned about the legitimacy that I had, as a French national, teaching German in the
Prof. Kramsch: To non-native speakers of English who studied or worked in an English-speaking country, I would say: “By virtue of having lived in an English-speaking country, or if only by virtue of having studied another language and culture, you have the opportunity to see your own language and culture as well as the foreign culture both from the inside and from the outside. Never lose that double perspective; it will enable you to both enjoy any cultural experience that comes your way and take none for granted. For example, in the beginning I tended to get locked into a dichotomous thinking of the we-the French/they-the Americans kind. “we French, we think like this, they Americans do things like that”; after a while I realized I was unduly generalizing from my family, my social class, my hometown. Many French in
Prof. Kramsch: As a NNES, I would use every opportunity to become as proficient and fluent as I can in the language. At the end of my studies, I took the most difficult German novel I could find and learned every single word I could not readily translate by heart. I ended up learning a good ten words per page! I found out that at the advanced level you improve your speaking by reading, and by learning vocabulary, not by doing conversations. And listening to recordings of novels, plays, newsreels etc. For, in order to become a successful instructor, you need most of all to feel secure and on top of it linguistically. No amount of teaching strategies, imaginative activities, well thought-out lesson plans will replace the secure feeling of having at the tip of your tongue at least 2 or 3 ways of saying the same thing, 2-3 synonyms, 2-3 alternative phrasings for each thing you want to say.
Prof. Kramsch: Many NNES writers have commented on the benefits of writing in a language that you know well but that is not your own: Samuel Beckett, Julian Greene, Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, Nancy Huston, Eva Hoffman, Andrei Makine, Claude Esteban and many others. They all seem to find in one language resonances of the others and to use that as the source of creativity. I quote here my favorite testimony from Sylvia Molloy, an Argentinian Professor of Spanish at NYU, native speaker of Spanish and French, near native speaker of English.