In the Language Tutorial, students study foreign languages and translate them into English, compare them with each other and with English, and thus learn something of the nature of languages in general and of their own in particular. Throughout the four years students explore language as the discourse of reason through the medium of foreign tongues: Greek in the first two years and French in the last two. A tutorial has one tutor and 13 to 16 students. Tutorials meet three times per week.
The Freshman Language Tutorial involves the thoughtful study of ancient Greek grammar, along with an ongoing examination of English grammar and reflection on more general questions of how language works. The year culminates in the translation of a substantial portion of Plato’s Meno, but passages from other Freshman Seminar readings are read as well, such as the Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics and Physics. By the end of the freshman year, students are expected to have enough Greek to be able to translate with the help of a lexicon and notes to the texts. An important goal of the language tutorial is the improvement of student writing. At least five papers are required during the course of the year, and students meet individually with their language tutor for paper conferences to discuss problems in syntax, thought, organization, and style.
In the first semester, students translate selections from a Sophocles tragedy or Homer’s epics, and selections from the Septuagint or the Greek New Testament. In the second, they study logic, at least one Shakespeare play, and English lyric poetry. Through careful translation, students learn to see the subtleties and intricacies of the text. They inquire into the meaning of the work and examine details of grammar and syntax, meter, and imagery. They also reflect on the activity of translation itself.
In the Junior language tutorial, students turn to French. As with ancient Greek, mastery is not the goal. Rather, students acquire enough French to read distinguished texts in the original, thereby continuing the inquiry into language that began in the freshman year. After a few weeks of concentrated effort they are able to translate, and discuss intelligently, writings of unsurpassed rhetorical, dramatic, and philosophic power. Among the variety of works studied in the first semester are maxims of La Rochefoucauld, fables of La Fontaine, and the Pensées of Pascal. In addition, students give close attention to passages by such modern masters of prose as Claudel and Ponge, with an eye to improving the clarity and precision of their own writing. Most of the second semester is devoted to masterpieces of the theater, Racine’s Phèdre and Molière’s Misanthrope or Tartuffe.
The Senior language tutorial, like the language tutorials of the preceding years, is the visible presence in the Program of the liberal arts of the trivium: logic, grammar, and rhetoric. In the senior year, rhetoric is given priority over the other two: the texts read are always literary texts and usually poetic ones. While readings vary between campuses and from year to year, a typical schedule of readings might include Rimbaud, Valéry, or Baudelaire; English and American poetry of the 19th and 20th century; or a lyrical prose writer such as Proust. Some tutors assign one or more modern novels. During the course of the year, each student usually writes five or six medium-length papers on topics assigned from the class materials.
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
- Isaac Newton