Tag: Grammar

‘Where do I go from here?’ From Scotland to Japan

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: ‘

2019 Borthwick Graduation Photo June19‘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.

“Why Japan?”

“Urm, why are you going to Japan?”

“Don’t you think it’s a waste after studying Spanish and French?”

2019 Borthwick Tokyo Photo June19
Tokyo

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.

2019 Borthwick Tottori City Photo June19
Tottori City

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!”

2019 Borthwick Calligraphy Photo June19Of 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?

2019 Borthwick Kyoto Photo June19
Kyoto
2019 Borthwick Miyajima Photo June19
Miyajima Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

2019 Borthwick Osaka Photo June19

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).

2019 Borthwick K-Drama Photo June19
Seoul: K-Drama Dream

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!

 

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‘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!

‘Learning French and making it my own’

Following on from Julian’s account of life two years on from graduation, it’s over to Andrea who is two years into her degree programme in International Management and Intercultural Studies and who has sent us this update:

‘The summer holidays seem like the perfect time for evaluating the last academic year. About a year ago I wrote my first blogpost looking at how I got along with the French modules at Stirling at the end of first year. It is only the end of my second year, and I have already said goodbye to some friends who recently graduated, including a French friend. Now seems as good a time as any to follow up on how my learning has progressed since my first year at university.

The classes progressed in the same style as last year with separate strands focusing on grammar and writing skills, reading and watching media in French, and speaking. The different books and films we have been exposed to this year have been more of a challenge than in first year. However, the stories have remained very interesting through the struggle of understanding and analysing them. Thanks to this structure of learning, I have had time to look at where my strengths and weaknesses lie in learning French and making it my own. The structures of the seminars and assessments have really helped to pinpoint what areas of language learning I still need to improve on and what areas have progressed more. Throughout the year there have also been more opportunities to speak the language in formal and informal environments through our guided speaking classes and the less formal conversation classes. Coupled with a job in tourism, this has really improved my speaking skills. Over the summer I’m hoping to stay exposed to the language and focus on reading and writing in French to improve my vocabulary and grammar.

As second year moved along I have also discovered a new challenge to my language learning. I started learning Spanish from scratch in first year, and now that my Spanish has improved a little too it’s been difficult to keep the two languages apart in my head. My French is still better, and my brain often seems to default to it when I struggle in Spanish. With third year coming up, I am close to a semester abroad in Spain. I feel the challenge of keeping the two languages apart in my head will remain and I am still looking for ways to hopefully be able to keep my French alive while my semester abroad takes me to Spain. For anyone else taking two languages, I recommend you take your time with both languages and make sure neither of them is neglected otherwise they might jumble up in your head. I do feel that immersing myself in both languages as equally as possible has helped me to separate the two languages a bit more but the untangling is still in progress.

Overall, I have really enjoyed my second year of French at university level and I look forward to the new challenges of the years ahead.’

Many thanks to Andrea for sending this great post – enjoy the Summer months and we look forward to welcoming you back in the Autumn.

Grammar books and summer holidays

And following our catch-up with Emily at the end of her 2nd year, another update. This time from Paige who, this time last year, was also just reaching the end of Year 1:

‘I’ve just finished my second year of university, which is crazy that I’m halfway through my degree already! This year was the first year since changing my degree programme from English Studies and Secondary Education to English Studies and French and I was surprised how well they linked.

French has been completely different to first year in the beginner stream. Rather than three classes a week which comprised of grammar and vocabulary; there was a Matière lecture, Matière seminar, Written language class, Conversation class and Langage Parlé class. I enjoyed the Matière lectures and seminars the most because they’re so different to anything available at high school – they are known as French culture classes but they are also a mix of French history and current issues.

There were more opportunities to speak French this year with two dedicated classes: Langage Parlé and Conversation classes. The Conversation class was more relaxed and informal which encouraged everyone to join in the discussion, whereas the Langage Parlé class was slightly more formal. I enjoyed the Langage Parlé class too, as every week there was a short topical article to read to prepare for the class and they were always really interesting and informative.

The only class I can’t say I enjoyed was the Written Language class which is a grammar class but I think it was because I was gently re-introduced to French after four years with Beginners’ classes so switching to the Advanced classes was a bit of a shock to the system. Suddenly the gaps in my knowledge (everything I forgot in the four years in between high school and University) became apparent to me and I felt I struggled in this class. So, this Summer my plan is to work through a grammar book and attempt to teach myself everything I’ve forgotten! University is all about taking responsibility for your learning and deciding on what degree classification you want, then putting in the necessary work to achieve it.

If anyone reading this blog is considering studying a language at University or doesn’t want to stop studying a language but hasn’t thought about doing a language degree (as was the case with me) I highly recommend going straight from high school or as close to it as possible! Otherwise it’s a bit of an uphill struggle trying to relearn everything to reach the same level of proficiency as everyone else on the course.

Last year I spoke about the opportunities available to those studying a French degree and my excitement to embrace the opportunity to spend a year in France in between second and third year, working as an English Language Assistant through the British Council. I have applied and in April I heard that I have been shortlisted! Now I have a nerve-wracking wait until the end of June to hear if I have been allocated a placement…’

Many, many thanks to Paige for this update. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the ELA placement and really hope that works out!

Harry Potter, Spotify and Language Learning

This time last year, we posted an article by Emily who was just reaching the end of her 1st year studying French and History so, as we catch up with the authors of some of those posts to see how things have gone this year, here is Emily’s update:

‘Bonjour à tous! In my last post for the French at Stirling blog I talked about my first year studying for a BA Hons degree in French and History, and what a great start it had been to my university career at Stirling. The structure of classes in first year has been the same this year, with weekly seminars on written language, francophone culture and French speaking classes. This year we have also had a new class added to our timetable; half-hour conversation sessions. These new speaking classes have been a great way to get practice in our French conversation skills, as it’s a very relaxed environment and the conversations are usually spontaneous and on recent topics.

Another exciting opportunity available to us in second year is the chance to work abroad as an English language assistant (ELA) through the British Council’s scheme, spending a whole year in a French-speaking country. Although the time spent abroad doesn’t contribute credits towards my actual degree I feel it is an invaluable opportunity to learn about contemporary French culture and improve my language skills. Having recently received the good news that my application has been shortlisted I can’t wait to find out whereabouts in France I will be placed!

However, until I move to France towards the end of this year, I have to try and maintain my current level of French, which I have been doing through various different methods. A great way one of my teachers suggested to keep French fresh in my mind is to listen to French music. Spotify is a lifesaver here, as there are loads of French music playlists already created, so if you’re like me and have no clue who any popular French musicians are, you can easily discover different solo artists and bands that suit your music tastes.

Reading French regularly is another great way to maintain language skills, but I find it can be quite daunting at times, so to make things easier for myself I decided to revisit one of my childhood favourites; Harry Potter. I have found that reading stories in French that you have already read in English is much easier as you don’t have to focus so much on the plot and instead can concentrate on grammar and new vocabulary. Hopefully by using these methods to try and incorporate french into my everyday life I won’t forget everything that the French department at Stirling taught me this year!

To sum things up, my first two years studying French at Stirling have been fantastic, my teachers have been more than helpful in preparing me for life as an English language assistant in France, and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store!’

Many, many thanks to Emily for this update. We look forward to finding out where you’re posted next year and wish you all the best for the assistantship!

Camaraderie and the price of croissants!

Following on from Stuart’s update earlier, another follow-up post here from Eilidh Wynd who has just finished her 2nd year on the BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society:

‘2 years of Stirling University, where have you gone? It doesn’t feel so long ago that I last posted for the blog, saying how excited I was for my future time in the languages department and what I was looking forward to. Now, it’s 18 months on, older and wiser (apparently), I have reached the half way stage in my degree. It has been a tough but rewarding journey, so I thought I would update you on how the course has been and what adventures are yet to come.

Naturally, when studying any language, you have grammar classes. I would like to personally thank Jean-Michel for putting up with us in these classes. Whether it’s supporting us through imperfect subjunctive-based meltdowns or praising us when we finally grasp the difference between a direct and indirect object pronoun, he has been a rock for all of us on the course and his dedication to us reflects the whole teaching staff within the French department.

Alongside grammar, a personal highlight has been the weekly speaking sessions. With topics ranging from ‘are ghosts real’ to the influence of the media on young people, we have covered a range of issues. These classes are only made more enjoyable by the professors who never fail to entertain us with a story or two, and regularly give us handy tips for when we go abroad.

Finally, we have our culture classes where we discover more about past and present France. I have found these very insightful and I now have a much deeper understanding of the French way of life and their underlying morals. Through studying a variety of films and books, we have all managed to identify the differences between Scotland and France and understand France’s culture better.

2018 Eilidh Wynd Year 2 Pic II May18An important factor I want to highlight in this post is the camaraderie within the French module. Unlike modules such as business or sports studies, French is much smaller so there is a massive feeling of team work and community. Through this module, I have met some of my closest friends and had many a lunch or coffee break with class mates to discuss very important French issues…such as “do you think croissants are more expensive or cheaper in France than here?” I personally feel that’s an important issue anyway!

Due to studying both French and Spanish, I must complete time in both countries. Since I decided I would go to Spain for my semester abroad next year, I have successfully been accepted to do a 3-week internship at La Giraudière in Bordeaux at the end of August. I am very excited for this adventure where I will work and live amongst locals, experience living in a foreign country and, of course, sample some of the local delicacies.

2018 Eilidh Wynd Year 2 Pic I May18So, that’s a wrap from me. Despite, snow, strikes and stress, myself and everyone on the French course believe we are on the best module. Here’s to the next two years and hopefully we can progress through them as well as we have progressed through the previous years. I would like to end on a quote (I am famous for loving a good quote) which I believe represents the French module and the true co-operation and encouragement between students; “Les amis: une famille dont on a choisi les membres”- Alphonse Karr. Over and out x’

Many thanks to Eilidh for taking the time to send us this update and we’re looking forward to hearing how the internship goes later in the Summer – all the best for it!

 

Off to Quebec…

About a year ago, the blog ran a series of articles by students who were just reaching the end of their first year studying French at Stirling. One year on, we thought it’d be good to see how things were going so here’s the first of the follow-up articles by Stuart Close who has just finished the 2nd year of his BA Hons in French and Spanish:

2018 Stuart Close Year 2 profile follow-up pic2.docx‘Salut encore! Now that another year of French at Stirling has come to an end, I’d like to share my experiences of the 2nd year of the course. Overall, the format of the module is the same as last year: Culture, written language and oral. The difference this year, in my opinion, is the complexity of written language and oral. I enjoyed discussing topics that could well come up in conversation with francophones, and complex grammatical structures that although difficult, have had a significant effect on my confidence in speaking French. The culture topics this year have been a good variety – from the experience of French Jewish people in World War 2, colonial atrocities and conflicts; to Quebec cinema and the representation of French Muslims.

2018 Stuart Close Year 2 profile follow-up pic 1.docxI like to monitor my progress in French in real life settings each year. This year I was able to practice in two instances. Firstly, during reading week I travelled through Switzerland to parts of France near the border such as Evian-les-Bains and St Louis. And secondly, during the semester I had French cousins of my girlfriend round at my flat for what was meant to be just a night. However, owing to the ‘beast from the east’, they ended up staying for the better part of a week, which was an excellent opportunity to practice my French during visits to the pub or even a game of ‘cards against humanity’ which needed to be interpreted.

I feel that the course materials and assessments this year have given me a great foundation for my British council placement in Quebec later this year, and I hope to come back to third year with a solid level of French (and hopefully not too strong an accent!). Au revoir!’

Many thanks to Stuart for taking the time to send us this update and we look forward to tales of life in Quebec over the year ahead – good luck with the ELA!

More follow-ups and other articles to follow soon…