Tag: Communication

Languages: ‘A vital part of who I am!’

As regular blog readers will recall, the BBC published an article a few weeks back that focused on a decline in language learning in UK schools which prompted us here on the blog to post a series of articles by and about our staff and students, and their experiences of language learning. Those conversations have been continuing over the intervening few weeks and I’m delighted to get a chance to post another series of thoughts on the joys and challenges of language learning, this time by Stefano:

2018 Intropido Pic I‘I am really glad to have this opportunity to write again on this topic here on the French at Stirling Blog, as I cannot recommend studying languages enough! In fact, if it wasn’t for languages, I wouldn’t even be able to write this post at all; but… is it really all about articles and academia? No, there is so much more to it!

When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to be in a school, back in Italy, where I could already start learning some bits of English from a very early age (I think I was 4 when the teachers started organising some playful and funny activities so that we could learn nursery rhymes and games in English). Although I am not too confident now with my knowledge on kids’ songs, I am sure that this joyful approach made me keep going with English in primary school, where I also started some extra-curricular English courses to engage more and more with this beautiful language. My ongoing passion for the subject then pushed me to carry on with English all throughout my schooling years, right until the very end of high school, where I found myself to be a bit of “anglophile”; as Emeline mentioned earlier, even just the chance to read books and watch movies in their original language uncovered a whole new world of possibilities (and yes, the new Harry Potter books did play a crucial motivational role in this, I must say).

After so many years of learning and practising English in Italy I’d say I never got bored of it, but I started feeling the curiosity for going to English-speaking countries to put the theory into practice; I liked English so much that I ended up working as a Group Leader for younger Italian pupils abroad during their summer camps in the UK and those travelling experiences made me realise how far even a young student could go just thanks to a foreign language! And when it was then time to apply for universities, moving to Scotland simply seemed to me like the best choice to carry on along this path.

A bit of a warning here: studying a foreign language might be contagious…

Not only does it make you connect with (and be inspired by) so many new people, but once you start learning something as eye-opening as a foreign language, it is really hard to stop!

In my case, the “language-bug” made me study French, starting when I was 11. It could have been something temporary, as in Italy you are only required to pick up a “second” European language (usually French or Spanish or German) between the age of 11 and 14. However, once again, I became ‘too’ fascinated by this new wonderful language and I stuck with French all way throughout my 5 years in high school in Italy and (spoiler alert!) even at university level here in Scotland.

When I arrived here I realised how differently you can learn French in these two countries; whilst in Italy a much greater focus is on France’s history and literature (I have lost count of the classic French novels and plays we had to study in school…), here in Scotland attention is mostly put on language skills, as well as postcolonial and contemporary studies, which makes the two countries’ approaches perfectly complementary!

Looking back, I still struggle to believe how far I have come just thanks to French and the number of experiences I have gained through it. Some examples include: school trips and holiday in France (yeah I know, this might sound obvious, but as soon as you learn how to order French food it is really hard to resist!), an unforgettable Summer School in Strasbourg, an even more memorable Semester Abroad in Paris, a research scholarship to travel across the South of France2018 Intropido Pic I and many more.

As I have been travelling around Europe, people have often asked me if I am now a “trilingual” student. I am finally happy to say, a bit more confidently, that I am now fluent in three languages (although my parents make fun of my now broken Italian sometimes, but that’s another story), but especially I am really happy and grateful for all the places I have seen and the people I have met along my journey thanks to these languages.

Anyway, as you might have guessed, this “language-bug” thing is not getting any better… I should indeed mention, perhaps, that I also studied Latin for eight years in school and, guess what, I simply loved it! Call me boring, but I had so much fun with Latin as well that I managed to be selected for a national competition in the North East of Italy; no, I didn’t win, but yes, I had a great time, everything was included for the journey and I managed to meet some other great people even in that occasion. Therefore, let me just go against a well-established stereotype on “dead languages”: not only do they help you learn modern ones, but they take you around more than what you would think!

To conclude, I do believe that languages are not just subjects, but rather constitute a vital part of who I am; they represent wonderful key to access our world! And if you think you have got a “language-bug” yourself, don’t worry, it can only get “worse” 😉

Now I really have to go though, I have just seen a flyer about a Spanish course…’

Many, many thanks (merci, grazie, thank you!!) to Stefano for this brilliant post and for the infectious enthusiasm for languages.

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Double Funding Success!

As ever, with the rush of the final weeks of semester, the blog has gone a little quiet but the sun has just come out over Stirling’s campus and that seems like a good time and a good reason to quickly try to catch up on things blog-related. By way of a starting point, it’s great to be able to share some good news about funding successes for colleagues in French at Stirling.

2019 ASMCF Logo IIBuilding on the success of a similar event we organised back in June 2017, we’re currently in the midst of organising an event for secondary school pupils that’ll take place on campus in a couple of months. More will follow on that soon but we were delighted to hear, just a few days ago, that Cristina Johnston has been awarded funding through the ASMCF School’s Liaison and Outreach Fund to support some of the activities we have planned for that event. Watch this space for more details and thanks to the ASMCF for their support.

And our other piece of fantastic funding news is that Fiona Barclay has been awarded a grant through the Stirling Fund to create a micro-website as part of the University website that will enable staff and students who are interested in learning and practising another language to get in touch with each other. In essence, users will create a profile stating which language they are looking to learn, and which native language they are offering. They can then use private messaging to contact other users whose profiles match what they are looking for. It’s aimed at helping Stirling students to build confidence and language ability, and also at helping visiting students to integrate and get to know UK students. The website is due to launch in September so, again, keep checking the blog for updates and congratulations to all concerned!

‘Languages are so important in a globalised world’

And as well as responses from colleagues, the thoughts of students on the question of language uptake and what prompted them to become language learners also keep coming in, like the following post from Samantha who is currently in her final year of a BA Hons in French and Spanish:

‘I started learning Spanish after I moved house at 6 years old. I found my dad’s old Spanish vocab and grammar books from when he studied it in high school and, although I couldn’t read much of my native language at that age, it just amazed me that there were so many people out there that could speak and understand a language different from my own, so I wanted to break down that barrier and learn more because that fascinated me so much.

I had a very basic knowledge of Spanish until I went on holiday to Spain for the first time at age 10. I absolutely fell in love with the language, the culture and the country and decided to keep learning it until today. Then when French was introduced to our course in Primary 6, I could relate it to what I already knew in Spanish which, in turn, facilitated my learning and understanding of French. Around this time, a Polish girl came to my school and she couldn’t speak a word of English, so I learned some Polish and we became good friends, and I am still more or less conversational in Polish.

In high school I absolutely loved learning French, but we couldn’t learn Spanish until we were in 3rd year and I forgot quite a lot of it. I was always quite disappointed with the languages system in my high school as there was only the option to choose Spanish or French, and due to the fact that nobody in the two years below mine chose French, they had totally eliminated it from the curriculum and replaced it with Spanish, which I was really quite sad about. I then went to Uni at 16 to continue studying languages, and now I can speak Spanish, French, Italian, Polish and some German and Japanese.

I think languages are so, so important in a world as globalised as ours, and it felt so great to make friends with people that I may not have become friends with in the first place if I didn’t speak their language. We often seem to expect people to speak English when we go abroad, and I’ve witnessed first-hand British people going abroad and shouting repeatedly in English when a native of that country didn’t understand them, and it always annoyed me. So, personally, I felt like when going on holiday the natives of that country immediately had a lot more respect for me and were more open to conversing with/helping me when they found out that I could speak some of their language.

When I found out about the BBC study, I was so shocked. I think that due to language apps and online translation services as well as the expectation for people to speak English no matter their mother tongue, more and more people nowadays no longer feel the need to learn a new language. However, I think learning languages is essential for a variety of reasons, both for going on holiday or professional opportunities, as well as giving life new perspective and seeing the world in a different light through learning about other cultures and meeting people from other countries. I feel like learning a language helps bring people in this world together.’

Many, many thanks to Samantha for this great blog post and we hope you’ll continue with your current languages, and keep finding ways of picking up new ones over the coming months and years!

Erasmus in Stirling: ‘A great experience I’ll never forget!’

The start of a new week in Stirling and, as we’ve already mentioned, we’re looking forward to welcoming Joëlle Popineau on her Erasmus staff mobility from Tours tomorrow, but we thought we’d start this week with the thoughts of Ulvi who is also in Stirling as part of the Erasmus programme but as a student:

2019 Altin Photo I Mar19‘Hi everyone, my name is Ulvi, and I’m a student in Master 1 at EM Strasbourg BS and currently on my Erasmus exchange year at Stirling!

At the beginning of my exchange I was a little bit scared because this is the first time I have ventured so far, alone! Nevertheless, it is a great experience that I will never forget. Indeed, the welcome at the University of Stirling is very warm. We are immediately supported by the administration which allowed me to know what I was doing.

2019 Altin Photo III Mar19

The university and the campus suit me perfectly. We’re right in the middle of nature and I take full advantage of the University’s sports complexes which offer me a feeling of well-being every day. Moreover, it is a very international place where I have been able to meet many new cultures and share mine with my new friends.

2019 Altin Photo VI Mar19Finally, since September, I have had the chance to lead informal conversation sessions with students taking French as part of their degree. During these sessions I work with groups of students who come from all over the world to enjoy a moment of discussion on any topic, all in French! These are very enjoyable sessions that we share with new friends, very well managed by Dr Johnston and her team. Personally, I have integrated myself well within this programme and it have helped strengthen my own speaking, confidence and openness in groups with many different nationalities. If you’re a potential (French-speaking) Erasmus student reading this, I would strongly advise you to get in touch with the French team about these great sessions if you get the change: they have already given me some great memories!!’

Many, many thanks Ulvi for the lovely blog post, as well as for all his much-appreciated hard work on our informal conversation sessions, and we hope you enjoy the remaining few months of your time in Stirling.

‘Studying a language is awesome!’

As we mentioned in the previous combined posts, a few of our students got back to us with longer responses to the questions we sent out but also to the report and its content, so we thought it’d be good to post those responses as separate articles, starting with these thoughts from Alex, a finalist in French and Maths:

2019 Janes Provence Photo Feb19‘If you hadn’t heard already, a BBC News article was published this week by Education Editor Branwen Jeffreys stating that “Foreign language learning is at its lowest in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most”. Reading this article filled with me with sadness and slight infuriation and I decided to share my reaction with my friends on Facebook with the following caption:

“As a languages student, this is super sad to see and is undoubtedly caused by English becoming such a universal language. We as British people are very lucky to grow up communicating in a language that a great deal of the world has a desire to learn, but that should not immediately make us become incredibly lazy and not learn other languages. There are so many opportunities available through having a second (or more) language, and that’s what should be promoted from a young age. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have brilliant teachers in the years I’ve been studying French and without them, I would not be studying the degree I am now.”

After thinking about this further, I became reminiscent of my language studying days and thought that those should be shared, potentially with the prospect of encouraging others to study languages at GCSE if not in further education. In all honesty, I don’t really remember learning French in primary school so I only started to acknowledge studying it in high school. Once I got to the age of 13 at the stage of choosing my GCSEs (Standard Grades to Scottish folk), the top half of my school, academically speaking, had to take the language under the Baccalaureate system which was either French or German. I was lucky enough to have a native French teacher in my first year of high school, who may be the fundamental reason I continued to study the language for years to come. It was maybe one of the first times I had heard a non-British accent, and I remember thinking it was so cool. My interest for the subject grew at the rate I was learning vocabulary and tenses, and the passion and drive to succeed worked as I achieved an A* at GCSE.

Going onto sixth form, I was excited at the prospect of developing my French competence even further and that proved to be the case. My teacher was fantastic and really stimulated my interest to spend lots of time on doing more than just studying the language. I’d always known I wanted to do a Maths degree but this casted a cloud of ambiguity about what I wanted to do. As you might have seen on my first ever blog post back in early 2017 (blimey!), I ended up doing the two subjects together.

2019 Janes Monaco Photo Feb19Reasons why I continued to study French? The first reason has to be the opportunities to go to the country of that language. My experience of living abroad in France in the first half of 2018 was AIX-traordinary (no pun intended), and would 100% recommended those kinds of experiences to anybody. Secondly, the teachers I have had over the course of my studying French have been brilliant. Languages are a department that often gets underrated but is maybe one of the toughest subjects to teach as the ability to pick up a language and to continuously keep students interested is not an easy task at all. Thirdly and finally, the skills you obtain from learning a language are vast. Communication, confidence, competence; 3 Cs that many employers look for in most jobs, which make you a very exciting employee to take on board.

So if there’s any students reading this, especially between the ages of 7 and 16, studying a language is awesome and I would definitely recommend it!’

Many thanks to Alex for this fantastic plea on behalf of Languages and language learning, and for the terrible pun…

Semester Abroad: ‘Aix has begun to feel like home!’

The last day of our mid-semester break and it’s time to post a few updates, starting with this great post from Evelyn who is in the 3rd year of a BA Hons in French with us and is currently enjoying her integral Semester Abroad:

2019 McLennan Aix Pic II Feb19‘It’s now been a month and a half since I set off for Aix-en-Provence for my semester abroad at Aix-Marseille Université. The time has flown by and Aix has begun to feel like home which I didn’t think would happen in such a short space of time!

Whilst I had applied for and been granted a room in student accommodation, I wasn’t able to move in until the Tuesday of the first week. This meant that I had to stay in a hotel for the first few nights which, whilst annoying, did mean that I spent a bit of time in the centre of town and so got to know my way around quite quickly. When I was finally able to move into the halls, I was pleased to see how close they are to the university campus and it reminded me happily of my first year at Stirling when I could roll out of bed and make it to class in half an hour! Although basic, the halls are actually really nice, as long as you like aeroplane bathrooms and not socialising with your neighbours. There are thirty rooms to one kitchen, Geddes almost sounds like a dream in comparison, and people seem to enter, cook and leave with nothing more than a simple “bonne soirée”.

2019 McLennan Aix Pic IV Feb19The main university building is almost as much of a maze as Stirling’s Cottrell Building, but thankfully there are maps at the end of each colour-coded corridor to help you find your way. My first class was French to English translation where I quickly learnt that translating into your native language isn’t as easy as you might think! I had a few false starts with my timetable, ending up in one class where I hadn’t completed the first semester of the course and another that I was informed I didn’t have the right to be in; I was promptly asked to leave! It’s all worked out in the end though and I have a timetable of classes that are interesting and definitely developing my French!

I am very lucky to be travelling with my Stirling friend Charlotte who has family nearby in Marseille. Her family has been so kind in helping me to get settled and discover the area. This experience has brought us so much closer as friends as well as introducing us to other great people! We have a small but fun group of friends comprising other Erasmus students with whom we have explored a lot to discover the town and its culture.

2019 McLennan Aix Pic III Feb19There is a fair bit to do in Aix with a choice of three cinemas, lots of shops, several museums as well as multiple restaurants and bars. There are weekly parties organised by the Erasmus Student Network which give us the excuse to discover new bars and meet new people; although I have to say Aix’s IPN Club makes Fubar back in Stirling look pretty impressive! The ESN also organise cultural tours and events around Aix and Marseille which help to discover the local culture.

All in all, I am loving my time here in Aix-en-Provence and I can already tell that leaving in May will be very difficult!’

Many, many thanks to Evelyn for this great post and we hope you continue to enjoy all that Aix has to offer over the months ahead!

From Stirling to Sicily: ‘Why Italy?… Why not?!’

There’s a bit of a theme emerging across recent posts in the shape of travel and the opportunities for travel that come with the study of languages, from current students on Study Abroad to those who’ve come back from Semesters Abroad singing their praises to school pupils or colleagues on teaching exchanges… And, for many of our graduates, the travelling continues. Last time we caught up with David, he was working as an English Language Assistant at a University in Colombia so we wanted to see how (and where!) we is now:

“Hello again! I was off to Scotland again last week for a good ceilidh and some Irn Bru and thought I would give you a little update. In case you haven’t read any of my previous posts, my name is David and I graduated from the University of Stirling with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish in 2017.

I was in Colombia last year working for the British Council as an English Language Assistant at the Universidad Catolica de Pereira (in the coffee region). It was an amazing experience which enabled me to improve my language skills and gain professional experience. For instance, preparing and teaching my own classes gave me the chance to gain independence as well as build my self-confidence. I was also able to collaborate with other university departments, such as Industrial Design, Comparative Literature, International Relations, etc.

Before working with the British Council, I never imagined I would go from planning speaking activities, to translating psychology and economics theses or that I would end up having a regular podcast on the university radio station on intercultural dynamics between countries. I found out how useful languages really are…! Working 18 hours a week left me plenty of time to travel around a beautiful country and discover a fascinating culture I had not really thought about before. In fact, it is thanks to the programme at Stirling, which focuses as much on Latin American cultures as on Spain, that I was so keen to experience life in Latin America.

When I left Colombia in May last year, I was quite sad to leave a community of friends and colleagues with whom I had spent so much time. However, I didn’t want to miss the chance to travel around Latin America. I saw places, and met people, that I will never forget! As I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Scotland yet and wasn’t sure as to what I wanted to do professionally, I decided to apply for another year as a language assistant, but this time in Italy!

Why Italy, you may ask… Why not? Having worked in Colombia and lived and studied in Spain during my year abroad, I wanted to learn a new language in order to set myself a personal challenge and widen my professional opportunities. I was appointed to a state secondary school in Sicily and I am loving it! It is sunny, the food is delicious and the people are very welcoming. From a professional point of view, I have gained invaluable experience in organising cross-cultural talks and have also added a new language to my CV!

At the end of this academic year, I will go to Glasgow to study for a PGDE in French and Spanish, do my probationary year somewhere in Scotland and then see what happens! Whatever you may be studying, as long as you enjoy it and believe in what you are doing, then you will be able to find a way in which to use what you’ve learned to your advantage. Everything you learn while at university, whether it be how to cook or how to write an essay, will come in handy one way or another!

So, to anyone who is struggling with exams and essays in their final year of uni, don’t worry, you are almost done! And to those of you who are just starting out, remember that Stirling is exceptionally flexible when it comes to your degree, so take your time deciding what you really want to study!”

Many thanks to David for another fantastic post and we hope you continue to enjoy your time in Sicily, and look forward to further updates over the months ahead!