Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




Total Pageviews

Friday, May 20, 2011

ADVICE TO THE LINGUISTICALLY CHALLENGED

As I have many times remarked on this blog, I am simply awful at foreign languages, a fact that diminishes my enjoyment of Paris [or anywhere else where English is not the native language.] But I have now made an important discovery: If you wish to improve your reading knowledge of a language, plunge into the journalistic coverage of a particularly salacious news story. Nothing concentrates the mind like gossip! Ever since l'affaire DSK broke, I have been reading Liberation almost cover to cover daily and already I can see an improvement in my French reading skills. [Whether this carries over to the mastering of French philosophy is, of course, another matter.] When Susie and I first bought our Paris apartment, I thought to improve my French by reading serious stuff, so I read my way all the way through the French edition of In Defense of Anarchism. It turns out not to be too difficult to read in a foreign language something you have written yourself. Mostly what I discovered was that in French I sound like Rene Descartes. But then, everyone sounds like Rene Descartes. I also plowed through the first 150 pages of Das Capital in the famous French edition overseen by Marx himself. That was a bit like listening to the Brandenburg Concerti. I know Capital so well that I could anticipate sentences before I came to them.

Which brings me to today's edition of Liberation. Most of the articles dealt with the bail hearing yesterday at which DSK was granted bail on condition that he post a million dollars bail and a five million dollar bond on his American apartment, waive his right to extradition, wear an ankle bracelet, be confined to a New York apartment rented by his wife, and be watched by a 24 hour a day armed guard. But on the editorial page was a column by a British/Lebanese spy novelist who lives and writes in France, named Percy Kemp. Kemp wrote a spectacular send-up of the entire affair, in the form of an open letter to the President of the European Commission, suggesting that regardless of which version of the affair turns to to be true, there is clearly a problem in contemporary politics caused by the uncontrollable libidinal urges of important men. Kemp proposed that Europe revert to the old, well-tested, and successful practice of placing the affairs of state in the hands of eunuchs. A castration would, he opined, be a reasonable prerequisite for a career in public life.

I picked up a lot of new words from that column, let me tell you!

11 comments:

Marinus said...

This seems like a sufficiently upmarket version of the advice to start watching the soaps in the country you're trying to learn the language.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Perhaps your next read should be Anaïs Nin?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Now, now, you are commenting upon the blog of a dedicated soap-ist! And Andrew, I don't think I am grown up enough for Anais Nin. :)

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

According to Wiki, Nin was briefly a patient of Jung, and she studied with Rank.

Since your first mentioned Liberation, I have been checking out its web edition. Firefox has a plugin that allows you to highlight a word and see its translation into any of a number of languages. This is also a nice way to work at learning a language.

I can see it now, people will say that Bob was corrupted at a young age by reading Nin at the insistence of that pervert ALB, but corrupting the youth is an age old tradition in philosophy.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Yes but the young corrupting the old is a relatively recent innovation

highpriestess said...

Nothing beats living in a country for learning their language.

I studied French up to the age of 18, so I consider myself 'textbook fluent'. I can write and speak French technically well, but if I was to have a real life conversation with a Frenchman, I would be flummoxed! The slang and the regional dialects are things you can't learn in a classroom and to me they are the elements that make a language so great.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Alas, I am nowhere near your level. I can formulate coherent statements, and since I actually have a good accent, I sound as though I can speak the language, but I cannot understand what is said back to me, unless it is in a very structured context where I know what we are talking about. For reasons that escape me, I look as though I know where I am, and people are constantly asking me for directions, which I can actually give pretty well. Sigh. Seventy-seven is a bit old to be learning a language.

Michael said...

Professor Wolff, your remark about reading Capital in French reminds me that one of my favorite techniques for getting good at reading a language is to read the Bible in the language in question. Not for any religious reason (I'm a proud non-believer) but so many of the phrases are so familiar that, when I encounter a word or grammatical structure I don't know, it's easy to figure out via context.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed. I have a copy of Luther's famous translation of the New Testament into German, and on occasion I have read portions of it for that reason -- and also just to hear how those gorgeous passages sound in German. How I wish I could read the Bible in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Chris said...

Didn't Marx learn Russian in 6 months in his mid fifties, solely to read government blue-book-esque documents?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Yes, but he already knew Greek, Latin, German, French, English, Italian, and Spanish. Sigh. There were giants in the earth in those days, as the Good Book says.