Tag: British Council

Support for the British Council

Not only was that last blog post from Louise well-timed because it made for a great start to the month but its timing was also particularly good because it coincides with a campaign in support of the work of the British Council and gives us an opportunity to lend our support to that campaign.

And, for a change, I’m going to write this one in my own voice (Cristina Johnston, that is, with some help from colleagues and links to other posts along the way!). Every year, at Stirling, both in French and in Spanish we encourage as many of our students as possible to apply for British Council English Language Assistantships, whether between the end of the 2nd year and their return into 3rd year or as finalists thinking about opportunities that are open to them after graduation. Some of our students apply for assistantships because they are studying French and/or Spanish with Education and the ELA is a great way to fulfil the language residence requirement for school-level language teaching. However, many other students also apply, across a range of subject backgrounds and combinations and often without any specific intention of going into teaching after they graduate. Rather, for many of the students, this is a paid opportunity to spend time living and working in another country, in another language environment and they seize the opportunity to travel, meet new people and adapt to new environments.

As with any job – and we do always remind the students that they are in paid employment, with the responsibilities that brings, and that the application process is not a foregone conclusion – unfortunately not everyone has an overwhelmingly positive experience and we try to support students through any difficulties as far as possible. However, in many, many instances, a year as an ELA becomes a key turning point in a student’s life, whether in terms of their career plans or in their personal lives. They may not always notice the changes but, when they come back and rejoin us for their Year 3 and 4 classes, we notice the differences in them, in their confidence, in their openness, not to mention the excitement and enthusiasm with which they recount their year when they come back to Stirling. And the same goes for the finalists who undertake ELAs after they leave Stirling.

For many of us teaching in French at Stirling, the enthusiasm is not only great to see in our students but it also serves as a reminder to us of our own experiences of English Language Assistantships, whether as something we’ve undertaken ourselves or as we remember assistants in our own schools. My own year as an ELA came in 1995-96 when I was lucky enough to get an assistantship at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg. I’d spent time living in France before and was lucky enough to have travelled and spent time elsewhere in Europe, too, but I didn’t know Strasbourg or Alsace, other than via a very short school trip years before. When I think back, lots of things stand out. I remember nervously turning up in the staffroom on my first day, opening my little locker and finding that a colleague-to-be had left me a jar of home-made jam as a welcome present. I remember some truly awful conversation sessions I tried to deliver with no real sense of how on earth to get the pupils to actually talk to me and then the sense of satisfaction, as the weeks progressed, at kind of figuring it out. I remember my flat there – a tiny studio right, just outside the old town, opposite a fantastic pâtisserie.

Mainly, though, what stands out is one particular group of pupils who were in terminale and doing the European Bac, with extra English classes during the week, as well as History and Geography lessons in English. I spent more time in class with them than any other group and was invited to accompany them on a school trip to Northern Ireland, among other things, and have very positive memories of their enthusiasm for languages and for learning which, in turn, I associate with the opportunities offered via the British Council assistantship scheme.

Other colleagues at Stirling have similarly positive experiences and memories. Hannah Grayson, for example, first came across British Council assistants in 6th form: ‘I benefitted from 1:1 sessions with both a French and German language assistant at my school. Our German language assistant was so enthusiastic that she persuaded me to enter a British Council competition, producing a leaflet all about the benefits of the language assistantship programme. We ended up winning and I was awarded my certificate at the top of Canada Square in Canary Wharf by none other than Sir Trevor McDonald! 

After those dizzying heights, my own language assistantship took me to Laval in Mayenne for 9 months of teaching in two collèges. I had wanted to be in Montpellier teaching lycée but it turned out to be one of the best years of my life. I lived with people from all around the world, travelled across France, and got the bug for teaching that still excites me over a decade later. When on my first day, the girl at the front of the class queue looked at me disdainfully and said, “I (h)ate English,” my naïve optimism was somewhat crushed, but the year turned out to be a wonderful experience and I am still in touch with the friends I made that year.’

Nina Parish’s experience also spans her own school days and time as an assistant while at University: ‘At school, we were lucky to have French and German assistants – I can remember the German assistant in particular being so helpful when we were studying for A-level. Having access to someone closer to our age was just brilliant.

I was an English assistant on my year abroad in Marseille – I think it has to be the best year of my life – still now – many years later! I worked in two collèges (and lived free of charge in one) and the English teachers were so welcoming – they really made me feel part of the team. I returned to Provence once I graduated studying for a Maîtrise and DEA at the university in Aix-en-Provence. It’s here in an Art History class that I discovered Henri Michaux – and the rest is history!’

This year has, of course, been more challenging than most for our students who were away as assistants when Covid-19 hit but, whether as students or staff, we are clear about the importance of the benefits that can come thanks to English Language Assistantships, in particular, but also more widely in terms of the work carried out by the British Council. If you want to find out more about the campaign of support, please do read the information available on the UCML’s website here, and add your voice to the statements of support.

And if you want to read about our students’ and graduates’ experiences of British Council assistantships, there are loads of examples on the blog but you could start here or here or here!

10 Years On: ‘I know that my future holds many more adventures!’

There is something particularly pleasing about being able to start a new month on the blog with a post in praise of studying languages and spending time abroad. It’s pleasing at the best of times but, given the challenges posed in the context of the current global pandemic, there’s something especially good about it so, without further ado, an update from Louise, who graduated with a BA Hons in French a decade ago:

‘Studying French at the University of Stirling was more than the achievement of a degree. For me, going to university itself was a massive challenge, not only academically, but perhaps even more so, mentally and socially. Having moved to Stirling from Inverness, I had no option but to make a conscious effort to make friends in my new home environment. I gained a lot of confidence and enjoyment from my university experience and in particular, through my participation in team sports (field hockey and ultimate frisbee).

Not only is the University set within an attractive campus, with a host of great sports facilities and a top-of-the-range library, but the degree programmes are dynamic and inclusive. I found the University tutors and lecturers to be extremely creative and supportive, providing us with diverse and captivating course content throughout the degree programme.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic I ToursAs a languages student, I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to live in France twice during my degree – firstly as a British Council English Language Assistant in Valenciennes during a gap year between 2nd and 3rd year; and secondly on an Erasmus Programme semester abroad at a university in Tours in the second half of 3rd year.

Living abroad has played a huge part in my life – not only allowing me to develop my language and communication skills, learning about local customs and traditions, understanding the French administration systems, exploring the surrounding areas and travelling further afield, but it has also made me become more open-minded, forced me to adapt to and perform in different environments and cultures and overcome challenges which I faced (including one or two cultural faux pas). I also had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people who helped me to feel more integrated and of whom I will forever have fond memories. My advice would be, if you have the chance to work or study abroad, take the plunge and try to gain as much as possible from the opportunity.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic II MerzigHaving thoroughly enjoyed my time as an English Language Assistant, I continued on the educational and languages career path after graduation. I lived and taught English in a school in Germany on the British Council Comenius Programme for 10 months. On my return, I studied a PGDE in French Secondary Teaching at Glasgow University and following this, I took two TEFL courses (one online and one face-to-face). Following the completion of my studies, I decided to apply for a position within Macleod and MacCallum law firm, where I worked as a Property Assistant for 5 years.

My experiences at University and working and living abroad have provided me with the skills and experience that I can use in my day-to-day work and life in general. I have more confidence when speaking with clients and networking with other professionals, dealing with a wide range of clients with different cultural backgrounds and needs and using my languages where a language barrier exists between clients and colleagues.

In the most recent chapter of my life, I am living with my partner in Aberdeen, having only moved here at the end of February, just weeks before COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK. I have started my new job with Peterkins law firm as a Property Sales Negotiator and am currently “working from home” due to lockdown restrictions. Thanks to my previous experience of working with people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures, I feel that I have already managed to establish strong working relationships with my new team members after only a short time. I am really enjoying my new role.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic III Balmoral

I believe that my collective experiences of living and working in different cities, both in the UK and abroad, have provided me with the confidence, open-mindedness and adaptability required to be able to settle into my new home in the Granite City. It also goes without saying that the people closest to me, both in Aberdeen and in Inverness, have been incredibly supportive throughout this transition from Inverness to Aberdeen and I cannot thank them enough. I may have stopped living out of a suitcase, but I know that my future holds many more adventures – at home and away. There is still so much of the world to discover!

À la prochaine fois!’

Many, many thanks to Louise for this brilliant post and congratulations on the new job! We look forward to further updates over the years ahead and wish you all the best for your new life in Aberdeen, and for new adventures beyond.

2020 French Finalists and their plans

Following on from Mira’s reflections on life as a Public Service Interpreter, the second of today’s blog posts give us our traditional annual opportunity to get a sense of the hopes and plans of this year’s French at Stirling finalists. To say it has been a difficult few months for them would be a tremendous understatement but, first, like the French at Stirling teaching team, they made the rapid adjustment from classes on campus to online learning. And now, despite the extremely challenging backdrop, many of them have taken the time to reply to a request for reflections on their plans for life after graduation.

We’ve been putting a similar post together for a few years now (see 2019’s here, 2018’s here…) and we were all a little anxious about asking the same questions in the current circumstances but, having spent the past few days reading through the replies, looking at the photos of their travels, reading the good wishes that also came in their messages, I can honestly say this has been an unexpectedly uplifting experience. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, here goes:

2020 May Finalists Mairi Eiffel TowerMairi, who will be graduating with a BA Hons in French and Spanish, is planning to embark on postgraduate study next year, either with an MSc in Gender Studies at the University of Strathclyde or at the University of Stirling: ‘When I started 4th year I thought I would have been going into a graduate job after I finished my degree but due to the impact of Covid-19, it has been really difficult to find work. I have always wanted to do a postgrad in Gender Studies but I had thought it would be a few years down the line after some time in the working world. But things rarely happen in the order we expect them to. Here’s to the future and whatever it brings.’

Eilidh, who has just completed a BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society, attended a 2-day assessment centre in London back in February, following which: ‘I was successful in my application for the commercial, sales and management graduate programme for Bakkavor. The company is an international food manufacturer, supplying meals, desserts and snacks to all major retailers in the UK and overseas. The programme lasts for 2 years, where I will be promoted to a manager after the programme is completed. Despite the job not being directly related to French, I fully intend keeping up with the language, and encouraging the company to work with a French bakery company so I can get back to France!’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie I

As for Martina, who has completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, ‘as a final year student during the Coronavirus pandemic, I find myself ending my undergraduate studies in some of the most unexpected circumstances in Stirling University’s history. I started my Joint Honours in French and Spanish in 2015 and spent a gap year between the second and third year of my degree working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council in a small ski town called Briançon, in the French Alps. After this incredible experience I was also fortunate enough to spend a semester living in Seville, Spain. Both these experiences greatly helped me develop my proficiency in these languages as well as my confidence overall.

2020 May Finalists Martina Skiing BriançonAs I have been learning Spanish for almost 11 years, I have always felt very passionate about this language and, as such, I decided to apply for a place on the Masters by Research in Hispanic Studies course at the University of Edinburgh. After producing two pieces of research work at undergraduate level, I am now hoping to develop my skills and hope to be accepted on this course to work on the topic of Latin American and Caribbean feminisms. I have also applied to their prestigious Literatures, Languages and Cultures Masters Scholarship, awarded to 4 outstanding students undertaking a Masters Programme within this division. I also applied for a second scholarship, the Muriel Smith Scholarship. I am now waiting for an update on these applications, but I am very hopeful for what the future holds for me! While I may not have ended my undergraduate studies the same way previous students have, I still had an enjoyable, albeit stressful, year and I am very proud of everything I have accomplished.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin Strasbourg

Stephanie, another soon-to-be BA Hons French and Spanish graduate, is also clear that Covid-19 is having an impact on her plans but in a different way: ‘As is the case for a lot of people, my plans are in a sort of limbo at the moment. I have accepted a position, though, with the JET Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan. The scheduled departure date is in September, but obviously I’m not sure if it’ll actually go ahead as planned, and what will happen if it can’t go ahead as planned… Despite the uncertainty, I am excited about the prospect of living and working abroad for a while. The JET Programme allows me to have that break from studying that I want whilst also affording me the opportunity to discover a new country and learn a new language.  As far as longer term goals go, I am looking into getting into teaching. Right now, I’m leaning towards primary teaching but I’m not yet ruling out secondary. The ALT position will give me some valuable experience in a classroom which is something that I’m lacking at the moment.’

Like Stephanie, Laura, who has just finished her BA Hons in English Studies and French, also has travel plans for the coming year: ‘My plans for September are going to Finland for a Master’s degree. I have received three offers from three Finnish universities of Masters’ programmes in educational sciences based on teaching languages as a foreign language. I have not chosen yet which one I will specifically choose but I am sure I will spend my next two years in Finland.’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn La Piscine RoubaixIn some cases, the impact of the current situation is such that original plans are having to be rethought as is the case for Evelyn who is graduating with Single Honours French: ‘I don’t actually have any post-graduation plans as yet. Coronavirus has thrown a bit of a spanner in my job hunting as well as my hopes of getting some work experience this summer. I am hoping to go into publishing or copyediting but unfortunately, work experience opportunities are currently fairly thin on the ground at the moment. As such, I am using this time to brush up on skills that will come in handy when looking for a job in this sector. I have also set up a blog to review the books that I am reading during lockdown, so I’m throwing myself into that at the moment as well as keeping the job search active!’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn Vieille Bourse Lille

Another of our Single Honours French finalists, Rhiannon, finds herself in a similar position: ‘My final year didn’t quite go as I had planned, and I feel like I’ve not really had the chance to say goodbye to my time at Stirling University. However, I have had some of the most amazing times there and met some of my best friends. I plan to go to university much closer to home in Glasgow to do a post-grad but I’m still a bit unsure what I want to do. I’m a bit undecided between doing translation (which is what I’ve always originally wanted to do) or doing something completely different. I’m currently interested in doing Gender Studies at Strathclyde but again I am still quite undecided. I’m also extremely interested in doing something related to history or museum-related as I love learning all about the past.  The future is so undecided and scary right now so I am using these months of lockdown to have a really hard think about where it is I would like to go.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin ReimsAs for Caitlin: ‘After four years studying BA Hons in French and Spanish, I made the decision this year to apply for PGDE primary teaching in order to pursue a career as a primary teacher. I have just recently accepted my place at the University of Aberdeen on this course. This career is what I have always wanted to do, and so I am delighted and excited to have been offered a place. I am also looking forward to moving to and discovering both a new city and a new university. The experience I obtained working as an English Language Assistant in France between my 2nd and 3rd year at University helped me to realise that this was what I wanted to do.’

The teaching route takes many forms and, like Caitlin and Stephanie, other finalists are also planning a year (and possibly more) than involves language teaching in different forms and different places. For Lily, who completed her BA Hons in English Studies and French with us: ‘My plan for the coming year – if all returns to some semblance of normal – is to work in Spain as an English Language Assistant with the British Council so that I can get my Spanish up to a similar level of fluency as my French. Still figuring out what comes after that!’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin View from Sedan Castle

Jack, who is graduating with a BA Hons in French with Spanish and Education, is also taking a teaching-related route in the first instance: ‘Everything changed very quickly as the countdown to graduation approached. Lockdown for me, like everyone else, changed all my plans and added to the uncertainty of what I would do once I finished my degree. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it has been really nice spending time with my family, going on a daily bike run and having time to read for pleasure regularly. In the spirit of the times we live in, I begin work next week teaching Chinese children English online. I have already started my ESL training and it’s already evident that my degree is coming in handy.

I’m still looking for something more permanent starting later in the year, and I’ve applied for many different jobs so fingers crossed. It’s proving particularly challenging this year as the jobs market has suffered greatly. Living in Dumfries and Galloway where there are few job opportunities at the best of times I’m looking further afield, so who knows where I’ll end up.’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie II BilbaoAnd Kirstie, a BA Hons French and Spanish finalist, is planning to move to Belgium and ‘Brussels specifically. I’m going to teach English, either as a language assistant with the British Council or with another language school, and I’ll also to continue to work on my travel blog. Brussels is a great hub in Europe and I plan to do a lot of travelling around the continent in the coming years!’

Last but not least for the moment, Jack, who has also completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, reflects that: ‘Near-future planning has become more difficult amidst the current uncertainty in the world, but I am now looking to focus on my backpack business, Cancha, as well as advancing my tennis career. This does not come without challenges. Lockdown has hindered my tennis training routine for quite some time now, and the fact that national borders continue to close and flights are sparse paints a bleak picture for the professional sport scene. However, I am confident that the world will return to normal and, when it does, I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible to take full advantage of this. The same goes for Cancha: buying backpacks for travel and sports is almost certainly not on people’s minds at the moment, but I am using this ‘down-time’ to make more subtle changes in the company, such as refining our message, and the ways in which our company can both endure this episode whilst also giving back to the community and the environment.

Although many graduate students at Stirling are unsure of their next steps, especially during this world crisis (which has stopped almost everyone in their tracks), there are ways in which each one of us can improve and make progress in our ambitions, albeit in an untraditional way.’

We’re always grateful to our finalists for sharing their plans and hopes with us as they reach the end of their degrees but this year, it would be fair to say that we are particularly appreciative of the thoughtful, helpful and positive responses. Many, many thanks to you all, not to mention congratulations on having reached the end of your degrees! And, of course, we wish you all the very, very best for the months and years ahead and hope that you will keep in touch with us in the future.

(And, as ever, if you’re a French at Stirling finalist reading this and wanting to add your contribution, please do just send me an email (cristina.johnston@stir.ac.uk) and I will very happily update the post!)

A journey into the wonders of French

Two blog posts for the price of one today! Both the authors – Artie first, then Julian – are very much caught up in the current Covid-context so there are some thoughts here on the immediate impacts that is having on the lives of recent(-ish) Languages graduates. However, both have also been kind enough to reflect on their lives and career paths since graduation, with plenty of food for thought for anyone reading this and wondering where a degree involving a language might lead them… First, it’s Artie’s turn:

‘My journey into the wonders (and confusions at the many same-sound endings) of French language learning began with my studies at the University of Stirling in September 2012 with a degree in French and Spanish. I began the degree with a beginner’s knowledge of French (and by beginner’s, I mean absolutely zero French know-how, I still remember learning the phrase “Je suis de Doncaster” in one of my first classes…).

By graduation in 2016 I had vastly improved my knowledge of both French language and culture, with some of my French writing assessments equalling, and even surpassing my Spanish writing. I graduated with a First-Class honour’s degree and this became the foundation which I have since used to explore multiple career avenues.

Through the University of Stirling, I was able to complete a year as an English Language Assistant with the British Council in Tenerife upon graduating. I had two potential career paths I was interested in following, teaching or translation, and this allowed me the opportunity to trial run one. My professors at the University of Stirling also helped me apply for a scholarship to fund a research project while working with the British Council, an opportunity I surely wouldn’t have had otherwise. While I enjoyed my time immensely as an English Language Assistant and was offered to stay a further year, I ultimately decided to return to academia, and began a Masters in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow.

I continued with my original language pair, French and Spanish, while attending advanced translation and translation theory classes. Here, I was able to build on practices already learned in my Undergraduate course adding further translation theory, fully confident, not only in my ability to state where I’m from, but also pay attention to nuances within the French language, differences between French and English writing styles, becoming ever more confident in my own writing abilities and stylistic choices as a translator.

After completing my Master’s in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow, I started work as a Videogames Localisation Quality Assurance Tester, a really rather long title for what I actually did – play video games and make sure translations are error free and feel made for the target audience. It has been an excellent graduate role where I mainly work with likeminded people of a similar age group, in a fairly relaxed multicultural office environment with plenty of opportunities to practice my speaking skills (not that I ever feel like I do this enough). After beginning work as a Tester, I then combined my testing experience with my background in teaching and began training any new starts that came into the company. Following on from this, I moved onto Project Coordinating where I began coordinating the testers, as opposed to directly testing the videogames myself. Through this role, I further developed managerial, timekeeping, organisational and communication skills – all of which are highly coveted in the world of translation where Project Coordinators are always needed.

And so, we have arrived my present situation! I, like most everyone else, am currently at home, self-isolating, faced with the current global circumstances but, oddly enough, it is a time when we are all most connected, checking in with each other, doing those little things that have been neglected on our to-do list (like… say… writing an article for a blog) and where language skills are just as important as ever. Most recently I had the opportunity to translate a UN document from French into English as a volunteer while staying at home, interview for a potential role in Bordeaux, and I’m using this time to attempt to build up a freelance client base in the hopes of maybe, hopefully (fingers and toes crossed!) being able to translate as a Freelancer by the end of the year. And let’s not forget the most taxing at home activity of all – watching an abundance of French films and series as a vital means of continuing my exposure to the language, it’s a hard job but someone has to do it!

I do hope everyone is keeping safe in these tricky times and remember enjoy your time at the University of Stirling while you can, it’ll be over before you know it!’

Many, many thanks to Artie for taking the time to send us this fantastic blog post – I, for one, have learned things about the role of translation in gaming that I certainly didn’t know before! We hope all goes well with the client-base-building and we look forward to more updates in the future. In the meantime, stay well and stay safe.

From Stirling to Soissons: History, Travel and Bell Chimes

After Emily’s account of working as an Emergency Services Officer in the Australian desert, it’s back to Europe again with an update from Alex who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Maths last June:

‘Just even writing this, I cannot believe that it has already been eight months since I graduated from the University of Stirling. As much as I am missing seeing the Ochils and Wallace Monument every day, the last six months have been awesome. I am just over halfway through my British Council placement in France for the academic year 2019/20 and it has been fantastic. I was allocated to the Académie d’Amiens and more specifically, two high schools in the town of Soissons in the north-east of France.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons CathedralAlthough Soissons has a small population of 30,000, about two-thirds of the size of Stirling, there is just as much history to be found in this part of France. Under the reign of King Clovis I in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, Soissons was under the rule of the Franks, after the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD. And when Clovis died in 511, it became the capital of what we know today as north-east France. All of this history can be discovered in the Musée de Soissons, which is just 2€ entry (bar the first Sunday of every month when it is free!). There are two abbeys and a cathedral all within walking distance of the centre of town. I live a two-minute walk away from the cathedral, in fact I can see it from my kitchen window! You never get tired of hearing the bell chimes every 15 minutes (from 8am to 10pm) and looking at this amazing piece of architecture.

I feel incredibly lucky with the allocation of my schools. One school is a 15-minute walk from my accommodation, whilst the other is just a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of town, and the buses are less than 1€ per ride. I work with four different teachers and they are all fantastic. Personally, I think it’s beneficial to see different styles of teaching and approaches to assessments and language learning. Sometimes I work in groups of between 4 and 8 students outside of the main class, or I will stay with the main teacher and we’ll work on an activity together. I have even had the opportunity of teaching full classes myself, particularly with presentations on Anglophone culture or certain points of grammar.

In both of my schools with the 14-15 year-old students (3èmes), we have been doing débats citoyens every week, debating a wide range of topics such as:

  • “Footballers deserve to earn the salary they receive”
  • “Capital punishment should be reinstated for the most serious of crimes”
  • “TV reality shows teach us about life”
  • “Art is necessary for the development of man”
  • “Teachers in the USA should be allowed to carry firearms in the event of a mass shooting”

This is a great way for the older students to become more confident and spontaneous at speaking in English. It also provides them additional cultural exposure to the Anglophone world that they might not see in class.

On top of my British Council contract, I managed to gain an hour a week through the Soissons Town Hall of doing English activities with primary school students in an after-school club. Although I prefer working with 11-16 year-olds, this has been a great opportunity for me to work with children between 8 and 11 years old, and discover the level of English children have before attending high school.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons AssistantsI have been very lucky in where I live too! I was offered accommodation by one of my teachers in a boarding school in the centre of Soissons. Turns out that I live with 6 other assistants, with all of us coming from different parts of the world; England, Northern Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the USA, and the Bahamas! We get on really well and they are a huge part of the reason why this experience has been so good. Having other people there with you every single day makes it so much easier, so I would suggest (if possible) new assistants try to live with other young people to make you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.

And since I only work 13 hours a week (British Council – 12 hours, Soissons Town Hall – 1 hour), I have had a lot of time to travel. In fact, each académie in France will encourage you to “profitez de vos week-ends et voyagez!” Since October, I have so far been to (in France) Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Rennes, Amiens, Reims, Rouen and Saint Malo, and I will heading further south during the warmer months! I have also journeyed outside of France to both Belgium, to the cities of Brussels and Ghent, and the Netherlands, visiting Rotterdam. Therefore, I would advise the same to anyone thinking of doing an assistantship: take advantage of your weekends and 2-week half-term breaks and travel across France and the rest of Europe! I would recommend buying either a SNCF Carte Jeune or a Carte Régionale (for each Département in France), which gets you 30% and 50% off rail fares respectively. Flixbus is also an absolute gem if you’re looking to travel cheaply!

2020 Mar Alex Strasbourg

So, where does this leave me after this experience? I have decided after this experience that I would like to become a secondary school teacher and am in the process of applying for my teaching qualification. Whether I teach in England, Scotland or elsewhere, who knows! All I know is that I want to make a difference to students’ lives, and the British Council experience certainly does that.’

Many, many thanks to Alex for this great update and best of luck with the interviews for teacher training that are coming up! We look forward to hearing how the rest of your time in Soissons goes.

School Visits, Language Blogging & Tips for French at Uni

Regular blog readers will know about our Schools Days and our Language Ambassadors and our students who spend a year working as English Language Assistants. We’re also always looking for new activities and new ways of building connections with a wide range of schools to give us further opportunities to work with secondary teachers and pupils. With that in mind, colleagues from French and Spanish worked together a few weeks ago to organise an event for a local secondary school and we’re very grateful to Peter Baker, Lecturer in Spanish, for having sent us this update:

‘On Wednesday 20 November, Higher and Advanced Higher pupils of French and Spanish from Bannockburn High School attended a series of lectures, workshops and a library visit hosted by lecturers in French and Spanish. The day started with an introduction and a lecture on the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War in Spain by Peter Baker, followed by a tour around the University library. This was followed by a lecture on essay writing at university hosted by Hannah Grayson in French. We finished the day with a Q&A session about the expectations of studying Modern Languages at Higher Education, the transformative experience of the semester abroad and about future employment with a degree in Modern Languages, with the presence of Aedin Ní Loingsigh and Peter Baker.

We would like to thank Claudia Marqués-Martin and Derek Monaghan for organising the day with us and for coming along to support the pupils, and for the very positive feedback we received on all aspects of the day. We would also like to give special thanks to the pupils themselves who showed great enthusiasm and exceptional good behaviour whilst they were with us. We would encourage them to let us know if they decide to study languages at university where they end up and to come visit us if they are ever on campus – and especially if they choose Stirling as their place of study!’

Many thanks again to Peter for sending us through this post and to all involved for what sounds like a great day.

Blog readers might also be interested in a couple of other schools-related pieces of news. The first is that one of our current English Language Assistants, Eilidh, has added a new article to the Language Linking Global Thinking blog she’s running while she’s in France for this academic. The LLGT scheme is an initiative that is run by SCILT (the Scottish National Centre for Languages), the British Council and Project Trust, working with the UCMLS. It involves pairing up students on assistantships with classes of school pupils back in Scotland to and those assistants then keeping in touch with the school to tell them about the experiences and to give the pupils a clear sense of the benefits and opportunities that come with spending time using a language other than English.

And the second piece of schools-related news is that the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France has posted an article on their blog with tips for preparing to study French at University from Cristina Johnston and Hannah Grayson. The article is available here! Bonne lecture!

School in the Sunshine

Time abroad features in many way across our degrees and is a crucial part of language learning at University. As you’ll know from previous posts, some of our students undertake English Language Assistantships, some spend a semester on Study Abroad (Erasmus or otherwise), some do both… For students doing both French and Spanish, the situation becomes a little more complex because language residence needs to be fulfilled for both languages. Many students opt to do this by undertaking an ELA in one language area and Erasmus in the other but this doesn’t always work for everyone, for all sorts of reasons.

In those cases, our students choose one language area for the Semester Abroad and have to fulfil our minimum residence for the other language. We try to be as flexible as we can and the basic position is that this means the student needs to spend at least 4 weeks in a country where that other language is spoken before they graduate (not necessarily in one 4-week block). Because this is for a shorter period, funding is not available and our students find all kinds of different ways of fulfilling this requirement. In the past, this has meant everything from language schools to working as an au pair or nanny to finding internships.

Eilidh, who has just started the final year of her BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society, is one such student who has just finished off the last portions of her time abroad and has sent through the following post about her experience:

2019 Wynd pic III‘Between January and April of this year I spent a semester abroad in Pamplona, Spain. After this amazing experience, I had one more week left in France to fulfil my time abroad and complete my essential time abroad for my degree. After spending three weeks last year in Bordeaux, I decided to go to the South East of France and spend a week in Marseille. A week in 30 degree heat in the south of France and it qualifies for my university degree…it’s a hard life being a language student.

I had researched in depth my choices for language schools in France and I found the Ecole Internationale de Marseille and an ideal AirBnb just ten minutes’ walk away so it sounded perfect. Adding a direct flight from Glasgow to Marseille (unlike my 3 flights and a train to Bordeaux) I signed myself up and headed off.

In my class, I had a Russian couple, a Brazilian transfer student and 2 professors. We were all of the same ability and on the Monday morning, the professor wrote my least favourite word on the board…SUBJUNCTIVE. I could have cried as I have spent many a seminar with my girls and Jean-Michel DesJacques complaining about the subjunctive. Why is it needed? Does it really matter? Apparently it is important, so the professeurs of the Marseille school soon realised they had a problem on their hands with me. However, after some intensive classes and thousands of worksheets, I can safely say I understand the subjunctive. Round of applause s’il vous plait.

2019 Wynd Marseille Pic IEveryday, after class, I would try and explore a part of the city or go somewhere new. However this was sometimes difficult due to the heat and the smell of fresh bread and pains au chocolat were a slight distraction. A particular highlight was going to sunbathe and do my homework (or in reality, read my book) in the palace gardens which overlooks the old port. It was so picturesque and a great way to unwind after a stressful class.

 

Another highlight of my trip away was my walk up to Notre Dame de la Garde. At the top of one of the hills in Marseille, there is a golden statue of the Virgin Mary. The locals say it is so she can watch over the boats coming in and out of the old port and grant them a safe passage. It looks spectacular from every angle and can be seen from all over Marseille. On my final day I decided to walk up and see the church for myself. I didn’t plan this entirely well as it is quite far and very hot. Nevertheless I soldiered on and it was totally worth it. It was beautiful and I would really recommend it if anyone travels to Marseille.

Overall I had an incredible experience and the school were very supportive. I am hoping to go back to Marseille again and enjoy some more sunshine and seafood!’

2019 Wynd Marseille Pic II

Many, many thanks to Eilidh for the great blog post – loads of ideas here for future students looking for ways to make the most of their time abroad – and we wish you all the best for this final year!

 

Colombia, Sicily, Glasgow: Keeping your options open

Another ‘life after graduation’ update today from one of our recent graduates, David, who completed his BA Hons in French and Spanish with us two years ago:

‘After graduating in 2017, I decided to go off to Latin America to not only discover a new culture but also try to gain some professional experience. Having lived in León, Spain for a full year during my Erasmus+ exchange, I’d met people from all over the world including quite a few who were from Mexico and Colombia. The Latin American Studies focus at the University of Stirling had also sparked my interest (shout out to Guillermo!) and so I took part in the language assistantship programme through the British Council. I was appointed to the Universidad Católica de Pereira in Colombia and I absolutely loved it! I taught English at the university but also organised many extra-curricular activities such as a weekly Conversation Club where students and teachers who were interested in learning more about Scottish and British culture could do so in a less formal setting. I even had my own podcast at the university’s radio station which was something I’d never expected to be doing! In addition, I had the opportunity to translate academic journals in collaboration with the psychology department at the university. Apart from these professional opportunities, I was able to travel to breath-taking places around Latin America and even met up with friends from Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I had met during my year abroad.

After this professionally challenging but wonderful year being part of a completely different culture, I decided I wanted to be closer to home but still keep discovering different cultures and enhance my language skills. I also wanted to be sure that teaching was definitely for me and so, through the British Council once again, I embarked on my next adventure in Catania, Sicily where I taught English in a secondary school. Having never spoken Italian before, I realised just how lucky I was to have studied other modern languages at university as this helped me to pick it up quickly. Although I am not fluent, I am now able to communicate fairly clearly and understand Italian! On the work front, teaching was not always easy but I grew attached to my colleagues and students who were always interested in what I had to offer (although they weren’t fans of Irn Bru!). I felt part of the community and I now realise how lucky I am to have had the chance to live beside the biggest active volcano in Europe (risky, I know!) in a city built from lava stone full of history and deliciously cheap pizza!

I have now started to study for my PGDE at the University of Glasgow. Despite the cold, I am very happy to be back in Scotland, enjoying the comforts I longed for while I was abroad such as Greggs coffee and tatty scones – as well as the open-mindedness of the Scots who are always so welcoming to people from other cultures and backgrounds. After obtaining my Diploma, I hope to be posted somewhere up north and discover more of Scotland. Although I am currently quite focused on teaching, I think it is important to keep one’s options open and I might consider taking up postgraduate research or maybe even further explore the idea of academic translation.’

Many, many thanks to David for this great update and we wish you all the very best for the PGDE – looking forward to updates as the months go by, too.

A Year Abroad: ‘Full of new experiences, new friends, new places’

And following on from Andrea’s experiences in Spain, another great post – this time from Paige who has spent the past year working as an English Language Assistant and will be coming back into her 3rd year in a few weeks. Some excellent tips and advice here for students about to go away on assistantships this coming year or thinking about them further down the line:

‘By the time I come back to Scotland for my studies in September I will have lived in France for a year! This was something I had always wanted to do but I didn’t realise that University was an avenue to do it, especially in the middle of working towards your degree.

This year has been amazing! It has been such a quick year and I’m still not ready for it to end! To be honest it’s difficult to write about my year because it has been such a busy, full year. Full of new experiences, new friends, new places. I feel like I have spent the entire year out of my comfort zone, but it has been amazing! I have done so many things I never would have done before and it really helps you to grow as a person. That may sound clichéd but when you have to do so many things you perceive as scary – in a short space of time – eventually the scary things seem less scary, almost normal! And if nothing else, when facing another scary thing (like a job interview or starting a new job) you can look back, think of all the things you did that you never thought you could do and know that you can do this too.

I was assigned to the Académie de Créteil. I had never heard of Créteil but after a Google search I learned that it was very close to Paris and to be honest I was initially a little disappointed. I knew a lot of people wanted to be close to Paris, but I wasn’t one of them – I had already visited Paris on holiday and loved it but I really wanted to experience “real France” away from the touristy capital. The idea of being in a small town in France really appealed. However, as soon as you’re back in Paris it’s hard not to fall in love with the city all over again! I’ve really enjoyed discovering less well-known attractions and the non-touristy parts of Paris this year, but I also loved going up the towers of Notre Dame and I’m so glad I took every visitor up there before the tragic fire. I’m sure it will be repaired soon and I recommend that everyone go up the Notre Dame towers – it’s my favourite thing to do in Paris! Lots of attractions in Paris are free for under 26s (including the Notre Dame towers) so it’s a great excuse to see and do so much!

The two collèges I was assigned to were in two different suburbs outside Paris. I decided to look for accommodation in both towns rather than in Paris – accommodation in Paris is very expensive, as are the suburbs around Paris, although they are slightly less so. I found shared accommodation (colocation) in one of the towns close to both of my collèges and I highly recommend considering this – it can be really nice living with people when you’re in a new country and don’t know anyone. It’s also a great way to practice your French. Wherever you are assigned to in France I recommend using the appartager site to search for accommodation.

I really enjoyed working as an English Language Assistant in my two collèges. Working as an English Language Assistant sometimes involves working in class with the teacher, working with small groups or taking half the class (up to 12 students). It was such a great experience and has made me realise that I would like to pursue the possibility of teaching English as a foreign language in France. I had always wanted to be an English teacher (I began University studying English and Education) but I wasn’t sure if teaching English as a foreign language appealed or if I would rather teach English literature in Scotland. I think working as an English Language Assistant can give you a taste of what teaching is like and help you decide if it’s something you would like to do. Thankfully I still want to go into teaching – working in the collèges didn’t put me off! Of course, it could be challenging at times, especially at the start when you were trying to get to grips with the job, and it felt as though I was just getting the hang of it near the end!

I also embraced the opportunity to take part in the SCILT programme ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ which links a high school in Scotland with a Language Assistant. The main purpose is to encourage students to continue studying a language. As an assistant this involves sharing your experiences of living abroad through blogs, postcards, photos etc., as well as anything you learn about such as National holidays and answering any questions the class have for you. I loved responding to the student’s questions, and I enjoyed writing the blog posts as it forces you to research and learn things you otherwise would not.

I remember just before I left for France, one of the SCILT course leaders gave us the following advice: to say yes to every invitation we received unless we thought it would put us in any danger. I decided to follow this advice because although I’m a naturally shy person, I wanted to make the most of this amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad. As a result, I made so many friends of mixed ages and had so many fantastic days out and great experiences.

I found that people really make an effort to invite you to spend time with them when they find out you’re on a year abroad but there are also lots of things you can do too to meet people! My mentor teacher at one of the collèges was great – she really looked after me and invited me to so many soirées where I met other people who also invited me to spend time with them! It was a great way to meet people and spend an evening speaking French. There is also the option to go to Meetups, Franglish (a conversation exchange programme, where Native French speakers are paired with Native English speakers to converse and improve their target language), French classes and there are so many other options too! I went to Franglish and met some lovely French people that I later met up with outside of Franglish. They also introduced me to their friends, so I met even more people! I also went for some evening French lessons while I was in Paris which can be another good way to meet people and make friends.

Before I came out to France, I wasn’t able to speak much French at all, but my French has improved over the year! I always feel so proud of myself after I spend a day or an evening communicating in French with French-speakers even though my accent still makes me cringe – I need to work on that!

Spending this year abroad has also made me realise that you can go abroad with very little money in the bank as long as you have a job to go to. It’s very encouraging to know that travelling or living abroad for a year is not limited to the wealthy. This year has also made the whole experience of living abroad seem less scary and unachievable. I have learned that people are the same everywhere, no matter what country they live in or language they speak. I would definitely love to live in France in the future, but after having this experience of living abroad for a year I am now very open to the option of spending 6 months to a year teaching English in Japan or China at the end of my degree.

I’ll be very sad to leave France when I have to come back for my studies but I’m so thankful to have had this amazing experience and I highly recommend it!’

Many, many thanks to Paige for a fantastic post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks!

‘I Can’t Recommend Study Abroad Highly Enough!’

A few weeks from the start of the new academic year seems a good point to breathe some life into the French at Stirling blog which has gone a little quiet over the summer months. Our Bridging Materials are up and running for students joining us on our Semester 1 Advanced French module and we’re all looking forward to welcoming a new intake of students to both the Advanced and Beginners’ streams in mid-September.

It’ll also be good to catch up with all our returning students and to hear tales from those who’ll be back in Stirling after a year on a British Council English Language Assistantship (whether in France or elsewhere) or who’ve been away for their compulsory Semester Abroad at one of our numerous partner institutions. As we wait to welcome people back in person, we’re delighted to be able to post a couple of articles by students coming back from time abroad, starting with this post by Andrea who’ll be heading into her final year in Stirling in the Autumn:

2019 Kolluder Toledo Aug19‘Having recently returned from a semester abroad in Spain, third year has ended as the most challenging but also the most fun year so far in my degree. The language side of my International Management and Intercultural Studies course changed a bit, as the language learning focused more on learning a set of new skills like translation and essay writing rather than the division of classes like previous years. The skills previously developed in year one and two were now brought together for the writing and speaking classes rather than being separately focused on as before. Most of the classes were more unilingual than before (except of course for when we focused on translation) which was helpful to push me more towards thinking in French and Spanish, rather than thinking about these languages in English.

2019 Kolluder Seville Aug19

The change in the teaching was the followed by my semester abroad on Erasmus. I went to the Seville in Spain, and was and still am a bit worried that my French got a bit left behind as I made the best of the opportunity to improve my Spanish in a native environment. However, I did not completely leave behind my French studies, I signed up for a French module in Spain. It certainly was a very different experience learning French in Spanish. On one hand, it was a bit confusing to be learning a foreign language in another foreign language but on the other hand, it helped to clarify some of differences and similarities between the two languages. It has on occasion been challenging to separate the two languages in my head, but having someone fluent in both languages clarify some of the differences and similarities helped to box away the two languages separately in my mind. Also, it was a good experience to listen to other language speakers struggle with French pronunciation and it made me feel less self-conscious about my struggles with my accent when speaking French. Depending on our native languages we all struggle with trying to acquire a less foreign sounding accent in the languages we speak. So, for any of the students also learning both French and Spanish I recommend taking up a module in your other language when you go on your study abroad, it certainly widened my language experience.

2019 Kolluder Madrid Aug19I cannot recommend study abroad enough either. It was a fantastic opportunity to live the language, experience a different education system and culture, and meet new people. At first, it can seem like a daunting idea to pack your bags and go somewhere new alone, whether you’ve done it before or not, but it has been a great confidence boost to find my feet in completely new and unfamiliar surroundings once again. From my experience it’s good to be prepared for a long paperwork trail, start looking for accommodation early, and once your abroad to try as much as possible to make some native speaker friends (the culture clash really improved my language skills, too).’

Many, many thanks to Andrea for the great blog post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks.