Following on from Stuart’s tales of life in sub-zero Quebec and Brett’s of life teaching English in Japan, it’s time for more travels, this time with thanks to Emily who is reaching the end of her year teaching English in France:
‘Salut encore! It feels like hardly any time has passed since I was writing my last post for the French at Stirling blog, where I spoke a bit about my first two years studying French and History. First and second year went by so quickly, but not as quickly as this year! Instead of carrying on into third year, I decided to take a year out from my studies to work in France as an English Language Assistant. In my last post I had just found out that I’d been accepted into the programme run by the British Council, and was waiting to hear where I would be posted. I ended up being placed in a lycée in a small town in Brittany, which I was really excited about because it would be an opportunity to explore a region of France that I’d never seen before.
The town I was posted in, Combourg, wasn’t much different to my hometown in Argyll; it was rural, the population was small (7,000 people roughly), and the lycée was a similar size to the high school I went to, with 600-odd pupils. The job itself consisted of me leading conversation classes in English with the older pupils, which was a bit daunting as there was only an age-gap of two years between me and most of my students! However, I thought back to my oral classes at Stirling University and what I liked most about them (the conversations on recent events, discussing our own interests, being encouraged to speak, even if we made mistakes or our pronunciation wasn’t the best) and I tried to apply these things when I was planning my own classes. It was also a great opportunity to talk about Scotland and our culture, as most of the students had only really associated the UK with England. They couldn’t believe what goes into some of our best loved dishes, like haggis!
Although I was working in Combourg, I actually ended up living in a house-share with four French people in St Malo, a wee coastal town in the north of Brittany. Living with native French-speakers was really fun as I was able to learn a bit about French culture, and they really helped me to improve my language skills. There was so much that I loved about living in France, but the thing I enjoyed the most had to be the food. There were markets in different neighbourhoods of St-Malo near enough every day, and it’s safe to say that most of my wages went on trying as much authentic French food as I could! When I wasn’t spending my money on food, I was using it to explore nearby towns with some other language assistants in the area. We were able to visit a lot of places, like Dinan and Rennes, by using public transport, which was amazing as it wasn’t expensive and it gave us the chance to see new parts of France.
Although I had a fantastic experience in France, I’m really looking forward to getting back into my studies at Stirling and putting everything I learned over the past seven months into practice. And I’ll be back in France in no time, because in third year we have the choice of studying abroad for a semester! I’m hoping that I can go to a different part of France for this, just because I think it’d be nice to experience a new region, but no matter where I end up, I’ll definitely be paying Brittany a wee visit!’
Many, many thanks to Emily for taking the time to send us this post and we’re looking forward to finding out where you’ll be spending Spring 2020, too!
As regular blog readers will know, this week the time had finally come for our Languages event for S5 and S6 pupils from schools from all across Scotland. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we welcomed a total of around 300 pupils to the Pathfoot Building and colleagues from French & Francophone Studies and Spanish & Latin American Studies led them through a day of mini lectures, culture and language classes, CPD sessions for the teachers and a series of presentations by current and former students, as well as our Faculty Employability Officer, on the benefits of time abroad as part of a degree (whether within Europe with Erasmus+ or well beyond), English Language Assistantships and the many, many doors that languages open up in the wider world beyond University.
After lunch, it was back into the classrooms for some written language and listening work, led by Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau, Fraser McQueen and Cristina, Emeline and Aedín for French, and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, along with Pete and Inés for Spanish. And while the pupils were hard at work in their culture and language classes, their teachers were being led through CPD activities focusing on feedback and assessment, as well as the challenges that arise in the transition from secondary to HE, by Emeline and Aedín. The CPD sessions also included an opportunity for the teachers to benefit from a guided tour of the AHRC-funded Experiences of Exile exhibition by Beatrice Ivey.
All the pupils and teachers were brought together for the final session which included presentations by a group of Languages graduates, as well as current students at different stages in their degrees, and our Employability Officer, Elaine Watson. They all spoke passionately about their experiences of Study Abroad, teaching English as a Language Assistant, travelling during time abroad, career paths they have embarked on or are considering as a result of having studied a language and, in the words of Meg, one of the speakers, the confidence that comes from knowing that ‘if you can navigate France through train, plane and University strikes, you can do anything!’
All in all, a great chance for us to get to talk to a fantastic group of pupils and teachers, and an opportunity for those pupils, in particular, to get a real taste of what University and Languages at University is like and where it can lead you. Many thanks to all those who came along, to all the colleagues who led sessions over the course of the two days, to the students and graduates who gave up their time (and sent photos!) to come and speak to our visitors, and to the Division of Literature and Languages and the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France for their support.
Following on from Brett’s tales of life in Japan, more travelling French at Stirling adventures, this time courtesy of this great post from Stuart who has spent the past academic year working as an English Language Assistant in Québec:
‘Salut tout le monde! It’s been a while now since my last post which, as you know, has been due to working as an English Language Assistant on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Québec, one of the last bastions of French in North America. With my nine months there over now, I’m excited to share a little bit about my experience with you.
First off, I want to address the elephant in the room here. Yes, les québecois do have a very different accent to the French we’re used to hearing in a European context. At the beginning this can be a major shock to the system and can leave you in situations like when, in the very first week, I had a 20-minute conversation with an elderly bus driver where I understood about 10% of what he was saying! However, by the end of the nine months, your ear starts to tune into it far better and you can feel yourself starting to accept the things they say and even repeat them without even thinking about it (those of you in my conversation classes next year will have this challenge to look forward to!).
When I was anxiously awaiting news of my placement in Québec last year, I had a few people tell me that it might be a detriment to my French dealing with the accent and all the slang (this ended up encouraging me more as I am rather stubborn!). I’ve since found out that this is what some French language assistants are told about coming to Scotland! I won’t lie: it is challenging, but challenging ourselves by stepping outside our comfort zone is a common occurrence when trying to learn a new language. Plus, at the end of the day, it is still French, albeit with many strange new phrases like fin de semaine (which they’re very proud of and like to ridicule their European cousins for saying le weekend ), c’est plate (that’s boring) and c’est correct (pronounced corr-eck and meaning the same as that’s good or that’s fine).
The other thing you might have heard about Québec is that it snows a lot there. Let me tell you, words cannot do that justice, so I’ve included some photos to give you a sense of it. The average temperature was around -25C (even reaching -50C one evening with the help of some polar winds. So, bloody cold safe to say (or il fait frette en tabernak, asti! as I would often hear). The beautiful thing about Québec is that even faced with these temperatures and snow levels that would totally shut down most other countries (*cough* the whole of Britain during the ‘snowstorm’ March 2018), life goes on and then some in Québec. I’d safely say the most fun I had was in winter – skiing, snowshoeing and watching live ice hockey matches became part of daily life.
If I was to write about my whole 9 months there, you’d be reading this till the end of next semester, so I’ll leave you with one little language learning victory. To make a long story short, the day in question had been extremely long and exhausting and I fancied a nice big poutine to make it all better (poutine is chips with gravy and cheese curds, and I’ll miss it dearly). I headed to a local fast food place with my heart set on the biggest format – Réguliere. In what I knew was good French. However, when the receipt came back it read: bébé… I knew that this just wasn’t going to cut it so I pointed it out to the cashier. He went into the kitchen (which was right in front of me so I could hear every word they were saying) and I could make out through the huffing and puffing the cashier saying in French : ‘Yeah I know man, it’s just that he speaks French so weirdly’. Normally, I would have brushed this off, but after the day I’d just had I couldn’t help myself. To the two guys and the entire queue forming behind me, I loudly announced ‘c’est parce que je suis écossais’ (it’s because I’m Scottish). I think they’d assumed I couldn’t understand what they were saying, because, after looking very taken aback, they changed the order to the big format at no extra charge! Learning a language pays!
While I wouldn’t quite say I’m fluent in French yet. I can definitely see an improvement from where I was last year and I’m excited to test it out back at Stirling this year. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings about Québec and maybe take some inspiration for where to go for your ELA year (which I highly recommend doing of course). Merci, et à la prochaine!’
Many, many thanks to Stuart for the fantastic blog post – we’re delighted to hear that things have gone so well and hope that you won’t miss the poutine too much when you’re back in Stirling…
Term has finished now in Stirling but there’s still lots going on, in particular with our two days of events for secondary school pupils next week (more on that later!). It’s also a good point in the year to catch up with tales from current students finishing off time abroad and graduates whose post-graduation paths have taken them in unexpected directions like Brett who has just sent us this great post and who graduated in French and Spanish this time last year: ‘
‘If you’re a languages student on the cusp of graduating, you’re probably at the infamous crossroads: translation or teaching. I’ve stared down that path before too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk it. I’ve done translation work, and I like it, but I’m not ready to commit to specializing in any field just yet. I’m also quite sure that I don’t want to be a teacher in the UK either. So what does that leave me with? After working for TAPIF (via British Council) in France, and having the time of my life on Erasmus in Seville, I wanted more from language learning before diving into the pool of post-grad uncertainty.
As if Fourth Year isn’t hard enough (specially with studying two foreign languages), I decided to also study introductory Japanese ‘for fun’. If you’re questioning my sanity, you’re right to do so. On Thursdays I used to have a two-hour Spanish class, a two-hour French class, another two hours of Spanish and then two hours of Japanese from 6-8pm. There was method to the madness, however. I’d always been interested in Japan as a teenager, and even at the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to live and work there. I’d heard of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind, thinking there was no way I’d be eligible to go with basically no Japanese ability. But one day, during our weekly 2-hour Japanese class, representatives from the Programme came to Stirling University. It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind.
I started the application process. That in itself was a journey. Doctors’ appointments, trips to the Consulate in Edinburgh, and mountains of paperwork awaited me (I thought I’d had it bad in France). It paid off though, as I was notified in May that I’d been accepted. But in the afterglow of being successfully hired I was asked the same few questions.
“Urm, why are you going to Japan?”
“Don’t you think it’s a waste after studying Spanish and French?”
I just gave a smile and said “it’ll be an adventure!” But the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. Why invest so much time, money, and energy into something if you’re not going to utilize it? I pushed those thoughts aside as I got on the plane and endured the 18-hour flight to Tokyo. But the thoughts didn’t leave my mind during the 3-day orientation. It seemed everyone had studied Japanese, or had at least been to Japan before. Even though I had successfully gone through the same application and hiring process as everyone else, imposter syndrome started to creep in.
After the orientation, I flew to my final destination: Tottori City in Tottori Prefecture. Tottori Prefecture lies in Western Japan, and is very inaka (rural). It’s the least populated prefecture, with a rough total of 570,570 inhabitants. Starbucks finally made its debut in Tottori in 2015 (I’m using that as a measurement of ruralness). Other measurements of inaka-ness include; being surrounded by rice paddies, having to pay with exact change on the bus, and always hearing the hum of the cicadas wherever you go. As for weather, it’s hot and humid (around 35 degrees Celsius) in the summer and below freezing in winter.
My job is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a high-level academic Senior High School. You may have some preconceived ideas about Japanese students.
“They must be so polite!”
“They’re amazing at English!”
“They’re so clever!”
Of course, they are, in part. On the whole my students are lovely to work with. They always say “hello” in the corridors, they give me sweets or presents when they come back from holidays, and they often come to chat to me in the staff room. At my high school, every student wants to go to university, so learning English is important for them. This makes my job easier, because it means they try hard to begin with (a welcome change from my situation in France). Outside the classroom, I try to involve myself in cultural activities. I joined my school’s ikebana (flower arranging) club. I’ve also experienced tea ceremonies and attempted Japanese calligraphy.
Maybe you’re thinking, well that’s great, but you’ve not used your skills in Spanish and French. Au contraire. Being a Language Assistant in France gave me my first insight into teaching English as a foreign language. On top of that, my Erasmus semester gave me the courage to speak to people in a foreign language, without the safety net of English to catch me. You might have already experienced these things in Spanish and French-speaking countries, but it can be daunting when your new country doesn’t even use the same alphabet. Thankfully, I also have very kind teachers and colleagues to help me when I’m struggling.
I was lucky enough to be placed in a Super Global High School. What does that mean? Our school takes part in international projects (mainly focused on social and environmental issues). We also have students partake in international exchange programmes. Right now, we have an Argentine exchange student who doesn’t speak much English or Japanese. So, I’ve been proactively helping her, translating any information she doesn’t understand and speaking to her in Spanish when she’s struggling. I guess that’s a job that couldn’t be done if I hadn’t studied Spanish at university.
On top of all of this, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places that I otherwise would never have been to. I’ve also made my TV debut on both small local stations and prime time nation-wide programmes. Who would have thought?
Living in Japan has given me the chance to reunite with two other Stirling University alumni: Daisuke and Atsushi. They helped tutor me in Japanese and gave me some great advice before I left the UK. If I hadn’t studied languages at Stirling Uni, I would never have met two great friends and developed a support network before I even arrived in Japan.
The obvious thing to mention is the challenge of learning the Japanese language. It’s different in almost every way to English, Spanish and French. Forget the patterns of “Subject, Verb, Object” and noun/adjective placement. I’ve had to unlearn the knowledge I acquired over the last ten years and treat this as something completely new. On top of that, there are three writing systems used in Japanese! Yes, three! Although it’s been a slow process, I feel like I’ve made some small progress in the (almost) year that I’ve been here. In July I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and aiming for N5 level (the equivalent of A1/2 in the CEFR exams).
I’m still not sure what the future holds, but I know I’m going to be in Japan until at least August 2020. After that, I still haven’t made up my mind. I’m torn between staying in Japan, moving to South Korea or travelling around South America. I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that there is no one way to do things. So, if you’re standing at a crossroads and you can’t decide which route to take, why don’t you forge your own path?’
Many, many thanks to Brett for this fantastic post – we’re delighted that JET and Japan are working out so well for you and look forward to more updates over the months ahead. Do keep in touch!
More will follow about this – as promised! – in the weeks ahead but we just wanted to post a brief update to say that there has been a fantastic response to our planned languages event for S5 and S6 pupils and their teachers, jointly organised by French and Spanish at Stirling. Such a fantastic response, in fact, that we’re running the event not once but twice!
There’ll be mini-lectures, language and culture classes, opportunities for the pupils to meet some of our current and former students to talk about Study Abroad and employability (our Faculty Employability Officer, Elaine Watson, will also be coming along), as well as CPD sessions for the teachers covering assessment and feedback and the challenges of the transition from secondary to University.
All made possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of colleagues across both language areas at Stirling but also thanks to generous support from the Division of Literature and Languages and, for the French-specific elements, from the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, via their Schools Liaison and Outreach funding.
We’re looking forward to welcoming around 80 pupils and 20+ teachers on each of the two days and will post updates over the weeks ahead!
Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:
‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.
Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.
As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!
This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).
In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’
Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!
And what better way to round off today’s blog catch-up than with a lovely post by our former student Stephanie who graduated a few years back in French and Spanish:
‘It’s been nearly three years since I graduated from the University of Stirling. I remember the stress of finding work and final exams looming. If only someone had told me to stop worrying and just enjoy spending time with friends on the beautiful campus.
When I left Stirling, I spent an incredible few months working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council just outside of Paris. Aedín, one of my lecturers, had told me “Take these fantastic opportunities while you’re young- they didn’t exist when I was in University!” Teaching with the British Council was indeed fantastic, and having not taken a placement during my studies, it was amazing to be able to go when I finished. Whilst I was there, I did some translation for the school where I worked, and this led to me doing a Master’s in translation and interpreting – this time at the University of Surrey. I loved this course, and although it was challenging, I would recommend studying translation and interpreting to anyone who has done a language degree, because these are transferable skills which can take you anywhere!
Other students from my year in Stirling have gone on to teach abroad, gained PGCEs, travelled the world as Flight Attendants, worked as translators and much more. Learning languages can open many doors, but even if you choose a career where you don’t use them directly, they will continue to be invaluable when travelling and meeting new people.’
Many thanks, indeed, to Stephanie for sending us this post and we wish you all the very best for the future – keep us posted on where life takes you!