la joie de vivre

From California to Lyon, France: living & studying abroad…and coming back!

Pouvez-vous me comprendre?

If this was your answer,

Then you may have gotten the same feeling our translation class had during our midterm!


The class is specifically for foreign students, the majority of which are native English speakers (lots of Americans, some Brits, and some Aussies). Meaning: most of us know our English, but French is a different story.

Our teacher meant the midterm to be easy– it was an abstract French paragraph by the famed father (and controlling master) of surrealism, André Breton, that we had to translate into English. It was no walk in the park, and many of us struggled to do it in the restrained 45 minutes. But once our teacher acknowledged we were having a difficult time, he said he would grade very leniently.

But that didn’t stop the total uproar of angst and defensiveness that arose after the midterm. People were pissed. They said that it was illogically hard and, basically, stupidly chosen. This speech, not surprisingly, came from American students in the class, fitting the stereotype that we think something is owed to us in many different circumstances! Well that entitlement never sounds great coming from students (to the teacher or to other students, including me), and the teacher went on this big explanation that while some of our class may have had quite a bit of French, perhaps it wasn’t taught well if a paragraph by a French writer cannot even be understood well enough to be translated. Boom.

But he makes a point. What’s the point of learning a language if you can’t grasp what another person is writing about in the language? And for this the test is if you can translate it back into your native language and explain it to others.

And when you can’t, it’s a blow to the ego to be sure, but it lets you know that there’s still room to learn and grow — and it points you in what direction you should focus on improving next!


André Breton: “Le Maître de l’Image”

Il apparaît de plue en plus que l’élément générateur par excellence de ce monde qu’à la place de l’ancien nous entendons faire nôtre, n’est autre chose que ce que les poètes appellent l’image. La vanité des idées ne saurait échapper à l’examen, même rapide. Les modes d’expression littéraires les mieux choisis, touhours plus ou moins conventionnels, imposent à l’esprit une discipline à laquelle je me suis convaincu qu’il se prête mal. Seule l’image en ce qu’elle a d’imprévu et de soudain, me donne la measure de la libération possible et cetter libération est si complète qu’elle m’effraye. C’est par la force des images que, par la suite des temps, pourraient bien a’ccomplir les vraies révolutions. En certaines images il y a déjà l’amorce d’un tremblement de terre. C’est là un singulier pouvoir que détient l’homme et qu’il peut s’il le veut, à une échelle de plus en plus grande, faire subir.


Picture credit:


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This entry was posted on March 12, 2012 by in Student Life abroad.
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