Congratulations all round!

It has been a busy couple of weeks in French at Stirling, hence a bit of radio silence from the blog. However, before the month ends, we wanted to take a bit of time, firstly, to congratulate all our students, from Beginners to non-Beginners, from Year 1 to finalists, undergrads and postgrads, on having got through this very challenging year. Undergraduate teaching finished a couple of weeks ago and we’ve all been making our way through assessments and essay deadlines and oral exams and all the other work that comes, for students and staff, with the end of a semester. It has been intense but, on behalf of all of us in the French at Stirling teaching team, well done to everyone!

We’d also like to say thank you to all of the students who voted for French at Stirling colleagues in this year’s RATE teaching awards, particularly in the Best Tutor and Excellence in Teaching in Arts and Humanities categories. It really does mean a tremendous amount to receive the nominations and to see the quotes that explain why students have voted. Whether it’s for ‘insightful comments’, ‘excellent feedback’, for our ‘words of encouragement’, for being ‘friendly and approachable’ and ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘passionate’ about our subject and ‘very encouraging’, because we ‘make learning very enjoyable’  or because we ‘go the extra mile’ or because we give ‘every student their chance to air their views’, we’re all very grateful (thanks to all the individual students who put those lovely comments in their nominations!).

We were also particularly chuffed to be part of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities this year and to have been voted Faculty of the Year!

There’ll be more news and updates over the weeks ahead but, in the first instance, well done all round and thanks, in particular, to our students for all their hard work this year.

Language exams, job interviews and transferable skills

The blog is always really good fun to do and has been particularly helpful over these past months when we (staff and students of French at Stirling) haven’t been able to see each other in person, giving us a means of keeping up with all kinds of French-related news. It’s been especially good, too, to be able to see the blog’s role in helping to maintain a sense of community among our students, past and present, not least by way of profiles and updates like those we’ve been posting regularly in recent weeks. And today is no different so, after getting to know Marta, who is just reaching the end of her first year with us, it’s time to catch up with Luisa who graduated back in 2016:

‘It is an odd moment reflecting on the fact that the length of time from the end of my Undergraduate degree to now, is longer than my total time at University. I completed a combined degree of French and Psychology, continuing on to complete an MSc in Health Psychology also at Stirling. I was very torn between which route to take as I was also accepted into Postgraduate French courses at Stirling. 

I thoroughly enjoyed French throughout my childhood and always wanted to keep it integrated in my life, and combining it with Psychology was a perfect equilibrium for me. I loved the variety of the two degree subjects and it has helped me since then with employers, highlighting the skills that I possessed juggling both of these subjects, and writing two dissertations simultaneously (due only a week or two apart!). 

I currently work in the NHS in Edinburgh with my goal to progress in a career there. Although I do not use French day-to-day, I am always using the transferable skills. I recently told one of my friends who was panicking about an interview, that if you can complete a foreign language speaking exam, you can complete a job interview in your native language. I always live by this reminder as a great example of how learning a language can push you to be your best and out of your comfort zone. 

The panic of “losing my French” is something that haunts me often, but of course I fantasise of moving to the Côte d’Azur and living the French dream, much like everyone else! I have recently been looking into online French courses to try and brush off the cobwebs, and it’s my 2021 goal.

I would highly recommend French at Stirling and the tutors who made my time there thoroughly enjoyable. Not to mention the awe that others have when you say you have a French degree, that is also pretty cool!’

Many, many thanks to Luisa for finding the time to send us through this update (and for the very kind comments about us!). It’s really good to hear from you and to hear that you’re doing well, and we’re sure that you won’t lose your French and will make your way to the Côte d’Azur very soon! In the meantime, all good wishes from us.

Seeing what’s beyond the horizon…

Only another couple of weeks before teaching comes to an end for this semester at Stirling but there are plenty of blog posts to keep us going, starting this week with another profile of one of our Year 1 students, Marta, who started her BA Hons in English Studies and French in September:

‘I was born in the Canary Islands, Spain. ‘Canarian’ or ‘Spanish’, as equal terms or with different values, suit me well. I identify as both. But I’ll have to recognise that being Canarian comes with some specific aspects that being Spanish does not cover. And one of them is clear: Canarian means I grew up in an island, which have always made me conscious of the limits that surrounded my reality, as well as curious and hungry for discovery beyond those limits. However, my Spanish heritage is very prominent is most of the things that I do, and one of them may be my writing style. So hopefully this post is enjoyable despite that.

It is well known that the Canary Islands serve as a touristic destination, and tourism is their main economic driver. Because of that, language learning is key skill for life for Canarian children. We all start with English, but I discovered in my early study that I loved languages passionately, and I decided I wanted to learn more. My journey with French started when I was around 8 years old. My school offered extra lessons for French in order to prepare for the compulsory subject that it would be in two years, and my parents, being very interested in my desire to learn languages, decided that it would be a master move for me to already have a basic knowledge in French beforehand. However, the lessons weren’t memorable, and I didn’t really learn good French until I started attending my city’s School of Languages. I learned very fast how to speak French and became quite fluent thanks to the marvellous teachers that I had there.

When I was 15, I decided that I wanted to go to university able ,at least, to speak two languages fluently, as well as my mother language (Spanish). By investigating a little bit, I found a programme for the Baccalaureate called “Bachibac” (Spanish bachillerato + French baccalauréat), a bilingual programme between Spain and France that permitted its students to obtain two certificates at the end of their school journey: Spanish and French Baccalaureate. And I finished it, so I have both diplomas. During this last stage of my education I got into much more than French as a language, but French as a cultural meaning. I had to learn about French literature and history, as well as philosophy both in French and Spanish. I grew more interested in literature than I already was (a lot) and it gave me a more global perspective about cultures (since ‘la Francophonie’ carries much more cultures apart from metropolitan French, many others all over the world), as well as new inspiration for my writing. Plus, I was quite lucky to win a scholarship and I lived in France for three months with a family in Toulon (nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I bonded with them and I miss them quite a lot). I integrated with the culture for a while and I obtained first-hand experience of French life. And it meant a lot for a small island girl to see what’s beyond the horizon.

I already knew I wanted to study English for my degree since it was my first foreign language and I wanted to develop my knowledge in any way I could. French, however, became a last-minute option (in some ways at least, though I actually thought about it the minute I entered the Bachibac), so I integrated both in one. I had both personal and professional reasons to continue with French. I believe that the key to improvement of humankind lies in communication and understanding each other, and learning how to speak a language well, as well as the culture and history it carries, makes us better human beings as better communicators. Plus, I love French, and I wanted to make it part of me the best I could. And, well, French teachers, translators and other jobs similar to these are always going to be needed, because French is a very influential language in the world.

This is my first year in Uni studying English and French Studies and, to be honest, I guess it’s not what I expected (but don’t worry. It’s Covid’s fault!). It’s hard to learn a language without communicating (languages are communication mechanisms; it’s like learning how to run while sitting down), but I have to recognise that the effort that is being made makes this experience of online learning easier. But I still want to meet people (in person, please) and be able to speak French again.

Hopefully this was interesting. Bonne journée!’

Many, many thanks to Marta for this great post and I think many of us will recognise the image of learning to run while sitting down as it applies to some aspects of online language learning. We look forward to meeting you – and all this year’s First Years – in person as soon as possible and, in the meantime, we wish you all the best for the rest of this semester and beyond.

‘My degree at Stirling has provided me with invaluable skills’

And finishing off this Spring-like burst of updates, having heard from one of our first year students and a very recent graduate, now it’s over to Iida who graduated in 2016 in French and Human Resource Management:

‘I think the last time I sent you an update was almost 3 years ago, back in 2018 when I had just started as an Administrative Coordinator at Unisport. I spent a total of 2 years in Unisport, proceeding from my initial post to being Office Manager and later HR and Communications Specialist. One year ago, I got an exciting job opportunity from Huawei and have since been working as an HR Specialist at Finland Research Centre, in Helsinki.

If I now think about how my time in Stirling has contributed to my career path, there are several aspects that come to mind. Firstly, my multidisciplinary degree (with French and cultural studies combined with HR, business, marketing and business law) provided me with invaluable skills in absorbing, quickly comprehending and effectively utilising large amounts of varying types of information. Having all of these ‘different (faculty) hats’ helps me adapt to changing situations and makes it easier to understand professionals from different fields of expertise.

Secondly, I gained communication skills that I have only later realised are comparatively impressive, and these skills are crucial in my everyday work within employee relations. Being able to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds, often by switching between various languages, is essential in today’s HR environment.

Thirdly, the cultural studies combined with international study peers prepped me well for working in global organisations, where (organisational) cultural development is always a hot topic. Having studied not only French and French culture but the whole Francophone world has given me an open and receptive mindset to many kinds of cultural inclinations – big or small. Being able to analyse the organisation on this level has already proven valuable in multiple instances.’

Many, many thanks to Iida for sending us through this great update – it’s really good to hear that things are going so well for you and we wish you all the best for the months and years ahead. Do keep in touch!

From oral exam nerves to graduate entry schemes and Andalusian melon-growing

And having started the Spring off with Cerys’s lovely post about life in an online Year 1, here’s a great article from the other end of the process, from Eilidh who graduated in 2020 from our International Management with European Languages and Society programme:

‘After I graduated, I continued working as a music tutor at Strathallan School and Craigclowan Prep School until the end of 2020. At the start of the new year, I moved down to Lincolnshire to begin my 2-year commercial and sales accelerated management scheme with Bakkavor. Although I am not directly using my languages degree, we work with a supply company with melon growing facilities in Andalusia so fingers crossed I can visit and put my Spanish to good use!

In my role, I work closely with our food development team, finance and our buyer to ensure we deliver what projects the buyers are looking for, with an innovative twist and at a reasonable rate. No two days are ever the same and trying to describe my role is almost impossible. It is fast-paced, I have been given a lot of responsibility early on and I get to do a dream career. Bakkavor has won numerous awards for their graduate and apprenticeship schemes and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who is doing a business/HR/marketing degree alongside their languages. I am lucky enough to live with 4 other graduates and there are 3 more graduates living here too, so there is a massive community feeling.

To get onto the programme, there were several online tests and interviews, and the final stage was a 2-day assessment centre in London. Despite the stress and anticipation involved, the whole centre was fantastic. The best advice I would give anyone about assessment centres and graduate schemes, regardless of your degree, is start applying as early as possible and do your research! You need to start looking at schemes BEFORE you graduate if you want to go straight from university into a scheme. Make sure you read the company websites, see if they have social media platforms you can learn from, and even send them an email saying you are curious about their programmes.

I believe my confidence in speaking to other people and presenting to teams is thanks to my time in the languages department. I never realised speaking exams (which I still have nightmares about) would help me develop so much in preparation for my post-university career. Massive thanks have to go to all the lecturers who supported me both in class and outside of lectures!!

Bakkavor is a supportive and caring company that has really encouraged me to work hard and push myself outwith my comfort zone. I am very proud to be part of the organisation and if you have any questions about Bakkavor or graduate schemes in general please feel free to get in touch with Cristina at the blog (cristina.johnston@stir.ac.uk) and she’ll pass on the email.

The French team at Stirling really helped develop my confidence and I will always be grateful for what I learned at university. Hopefully I can come back north and visit you all again soon.’

Many, many thanks to Eilidh for having found the time to send through this great post. We wish you all the very best for the coming months and years with Bakkavor and we also hope to get a chance to catch-up in person at some point!

The challenges of online university life: buddy sessions, group chats and language learning

The first blog article of the Spring and this seems like a good point to introduce another of our current Year 1 students, Cerys, who started her BA Hons in Psychology and a European Language at Stirling in September:

‘I think I speak for all first-year university students when I say that spending all of my time in university sat in front of a computer in my own home was not exactly how I imagined it. Remote learning has been a challenge over the past 2 semesters; however, it has also carried a lot of new experiences that I view as positive.

The idea of my first year of university being completely online was not ideal. Already being alone in lockdown was bad, but the environment that is meant to be the place you meet some of your greatest friends being transferred to completely online felt even worse. Attending classes was strange, as normally it would be an opportunity for discussion about all the interesting things we had learned about during lectures. Instead, everyone sat with their mics muted, cameras off and usually only typed in chat when called upon. Before, I would have thought that the most nerve-wracking thing about university was being in a real-life class with all of these strangers, but it was soon made clear to me that speaking to a blank screen over a BigBlueButton call was far more intimidating. Another aspect that I feel was missing in the first semester was the aspect of comfortable jokes and comments that would be made in the classroom. Oddly, learning online felt far more formal as we never really got the chance to get to know our classmates or lecturers outside of the classroom setting.

Of course, all of these anxieties were present for students and lecturers alike. Despite all of the uncomfortable silences in classes and inability to put a name to a face, I found an immense amount of support from the lecturers. From having trouble understanding a grammar point to all assignments set in the first semester, all members of the French faculty replied quickly to emails and offered all the help they could with any problems students had.

Going into the second semester, a number of changes had been made which I’m really feeling the benefits of now. To remove the barrier of the computer screen, lecturers encourage us to have our webcams on with them which definitely helps in creating a sense of community during class time. To further this sense of community, students are also encouraged to share their answers or ideas over their microphone as opposed to the chat box. Before, I would have felt awkward speaking over the mic but after getting to know many of my classmates through a group chat (which I think everyone would agree has been our saving grace throughout most of the semesters), I quite enjoy speaking over the mic as it takes up less time during class and allows for more of a natural conversation to be held. Nearing the end of semester 2, a lot of the problems that arose during our first semester have been smoothed out now to make it feel more like you are actually interacting with other people. I think that in these circumstances, students should take advantage of the opportunities to turn their camera on and speak over the mic if they are comfortable because it makes the experience of learning remotely far less lonely. The lecturers also try to give us opportunities to interact with our classmates that are less formal, like through our weekly buddy conversations we conduct to practice speaking in French or the Teams screening of Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles.

Of course, nothing could ever replicate the experience of attending university in person, but I think after spending a year of learning and teaching online the experience is a lot more enjoyable now as people are more familiar with what is expected of them. It’s also quite interesting to be the first group of Stirling University students who have not yet set foot on campus for a lecture. I look forward to the time when myself and other students can all meet in person, as I think especially when learning a language so much of the learning takes place through oral communication and listening that cannot fully be captured online.’

Many, many thanks to Cerys for this fantastic and very honest blog post – we’re really pleased that it’s feeling like 2nd semester is more enjoyable and going more smoothly, and we’re all looking forward to welcoming students (back) onto campus as soon as we can!

Motivation in an upside-down year

As another week gets underway at Stirling – under sunny skies, at least for the moment – it’s time for another great update from one of our recent graduates. Nicole studied with us as an undergraduate and then came back as a postgraduate student, finishing her degree a year and a half ago:

‘I can’t quite believe almost 3 years have passed already since graduating from my undergrad in French and Spanish at Stirling. As I am writing this post, I feel slightly stuck in limbo between studying and getting a “real job”.

After graduating in June 2018, I opted to continue my studies at Stirling. I am always grateful to have been taught by Stirling’s amazing languages department, and so it was the perfect place to pursue further study. This time around I chose to study a Master’s in Translation Studies and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The translation aspect of my fourth year French modules played a big role in piquing my interest in the subject and so I decided that was the direction I wanted to go. When I found out that Stirling also offers TESOL at Master’s level I decided to combine both, since so many years of learning foreign languages had also piqued my interest in how English is both taught to and learned by speakers of other languages. I graduated from my Master’s degree in November 2019, just a few months before the beginning of the pandemic. At that time, I had hoped to continue in my retail job for a few months whilst deciding what I wanted to do next.

I had hoped to potentially return to France or Spain the following September, perhaps to work as an English Language Assistant again. However, once we were amid a global pandemic, I decided that perhaps travelling to another country to work may not be the safest thing to do. I, of course, had hoped that life would, by now, be back to normal and job opportunities would be more at hand than they were a year ago. For the time being, I’m keeping up my French and Spanish while on furlough by doing some tutoring for National 5 students who are currently learning from home and who are all grateful for the extra help at the moment. Despite a year which has turned life upside down for all of us, I am remaining motivated and I have hope that there is light at the end of the Covid tunnel.’

Many, many thanks to Nicole for sending through this post, the kind words about French and Spanish at Stirling and for the photos – always grateful for virtual travel at the moment and it’s nice to be reminded of how beautiful a town Limoges is! We’re all keeping our fingers firmly crossed for light at the end of the Covid tunnel very soon and wish you all the best for the future.

French Sci-Fi Mini Festival

French at Stirling is hosting a science-fiction mini-festival called French Futures, over the last three Wednesdays in March. The first event, on Wednesday 17th March at 4pm, is a talk by our colleague Julie Hugonny on the origins of science fiction. If you don’t have a link to the event but would like one, please contact Elizabeth Ezra (e.r.ezra@stir.ac.uk).

The second event will be a live viewing of the sci-fi classic La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962) on Wednesday the 24th of March, also at 4pm. The short (30-minute) film will be introduced by PhD student Lauren Kenny, and will be followed by a round table/Q&A with Lauren, Julie Hugonny, and Elizabeth Ezra. All discussions will be in English, but the film itself, accessed via Box of Broadcasts, will be in French. Other versions of the film exist with English voiceover, and participants are welcome to view any version to which they have access, either before the event or while the main viewing takes place. (There are several DVD copies of the film in the Stirling University library with English voiceover, for example.)

The third event will be a trivia/games session on Wednesday the 31st of March at 4pm, with fun activities, games, challenges, contests and quizzes. All students of French at Stirling are warmly invited to this session!

For any inquiries, please contact Elizabeth at e.r.ezra@stir.ac.uk.

Poetry Translation for IWD

An enormous merci to our own Nina Parish and our colleague, Sandra Daroczi, at Bath for having organised yesterday evening’s International Women’s Day Translation Apéro. What a fantastic way to bring the day to a close!

Around 25 students and staff from Stirling and Bath got together via Teams to work on translations of three poems published in the feminist magazine Le Torchon brûle in the early 1970s. As we do in many of our language classes, we were put into break-out groups to work collaboratively. Each group was given a poem, written by members of the feminist collective responsible for Le Torchon brûle, and left to their own devices to tackle the numerous linguistic and political challenges they posed. We were then each given a suggested translation to discuss and comment upon before the groups were all brought back together for a discussion of the process.

I think I can happily speak for everybody who attended when I say that it was a really fun way to work together and to learn a bit about International Women’s Day, French feminism, Le Torchon brûle and, indeed, feminist poetry in the meantime!

Building confidence and looking forward to face-to-face teaching

I don’t know whether we’re quite going to manage to have a blog post each day this week but we’re doing pretty well so far, with articles by new colleagues, graduates and students halfway through their studies. Today’s addition gives us a chance to get to know one of our Year 1 students, Josh, who is taking French as a 3rd module, as part of his BA Hons in Spanish and Latin American Studies:

‘Due to COVID-19 I knew it wasn’t going to be the first year of university that I’d imagined, carrying a level of disappointment when compared to the conventional standards I’d always hoped for. Coming into the semester last year, I didn’t know what to expect and the thought of online learning didn’t really appeal to me, which made me feel quite nervous. In my first semester of French, during online classes the majority of students had their webcams off in class and communication was done through typing in the public chat as opposed to using microphones, which really isn’t ideal for a language class. I found this rather discouraging, because I crashed Higher French at school, so already felt at a disadvantage compared my fellow students without the fact that I wasn’t getting the most out of my classes. This ultimately had a negative effect on how much I could actually learn and practice, so much so that when it came to the first speaking assessment I really struggled. 

Going into this semester a few changes had been made, the most significant being a ‘webcam on’ policy, which immediately encouraged contribution in class as it felt more obligatory. Although I was very hesitant at first with this new rule, after a couple of classes I got used to the new faces and now feel comfortable to speak up when asked. Another new addition to this semester was the weekly buddy conversations, where each student was given a partner to meet with weekly and record themselves discussing a selected topic. This solved my issue of lack of conversation practice, as I am now meeting weekly with someone in a non-classroom environment, which means I’m able to speak without feeling judged for saying the wrong thing or the pressure of being graded. I also get feedback on these sessions which means I can pick up on any mistakes made, helping me in the future if I want to say the same thing in a more important situation such as an assessment. These small changes have led to my French skills improving and my confidence growing much more effectively than in semester 1. I’m looking forward to this summer where I hope to travel to France if possible, to put my French to the test, and of course I’m excited about starting a new semester with face-to-face teaching, so that I’m finally able to meet the people that I’ve been staring at through a screen previously.’

Many, many thanks to Josh for having sent us this great article. We’re really pleased you’re enjoying this second semester of French and hope the remainder of the semester goes well!