no regrets: the life of édith piaf

I have spent this weekend pretending it’s the 30’s-40’s… and by that I mean watching Public Enemies, shopping for hats à la Lilly Dache, and devouring this biography of Édith Piaf:

I don’t read nonfiction for leisure very often but I saw this while searching for livres en français and picked it up on a lark. I had heard Piaf’s name in French classes, collected a compilation of her songs for my iPod over the years, and watched La Vie en Rose, but that was as much as I knew. In No Regrets, Burke paints a stimulating, insightful portrait of the French chanteuse. I haven’t been able to put it down.

Maybe it’s how Burke opens by comparing Piaf’s early life to Les Misérables (arguably my favorite novel of all time). Or maybe it’s the vivid descriptions and the way she infuses quotes from various sources with her eloquent storytelling. Either way, I’m turning pages as if I were re-reading The Three Musketeers yet learning a lot about the musical genius that was France’s “little sparrow.”

Read the New York Times review here. Buy it on Amazon here.

vivent les études de langues

A recent New York Times article announced that many state colleges are delivering a coup d’état to their language programs in response to budget cuts. Reading this actually frustrated me.

Languages are extremely important. To assume English fluency is sufficient is “anglocentric,” as Dr. Rosemary Feal put it. It’s also, to be quite frank, arrogant. Yes, we speak English here in the U.S., but what about the rest of the world? By limiting the opportunities to study foreign languages, we are hindering our potential on the international stage. What about the ability to communicate with international business partners? And what about having competent translators? I understand that some universities are only cutting certain languages (like French and Italian) but some of our college students are burgeoning diplomats and will need the European languages as well.

Dr. Hamilton, executive vice chancellor from Louisiana State University, is quoted in the NYT article and sums it up well:

“We should be adding languages and urging more students to take them… I’m being asked to prepare students for the global economy, but this is almost like asking them to use the abacus instead of computers.”

Many graduate programs (even in engineering and the sciences) require competency in a second language. Making cuts to language programs impedes the already difficult task of fitting language courses into an engineering/science schedule. These program cuts – some of which even include graduate programs – are also costing tenured university professors their jobs.

Even as a scientist, I believe at least four semesters of a language should be a requirement for graduation. Actually, I think we should be teaching foreign languages in elementary schools, when students are the best age to learn a second (or third) language, but that’s a whole new blog post. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I honestly believe programs like philosophy and women’s studies should be cut first. Foreign languages are just too critical.