Tag: Hannah Grayson

Why study Languages?

I’m sure many of you will have seen or heard coverage this week of a BBC survey looking at the drop in the uptake of languages at secondary school level across the UK. If you didn’t, there’s plenty to read about it here and elsewhere.

This is, of course, a source of great concern for all of us working in Languages at whatever level within the education system and the reporting prompted us at Stirling to ask some questions, of ourselves and of our students, about our own experiences of language learning and what motivated us (or didn’t) to keep going with a particular language. Emails went out to all our students and to all colleagues, and the responses have been fascinating, as well as being funny, impassioned, thoughtful, concerned… and many other things besides. So, what better reason for a blog post? Or several!

What I’d like to do here, to start with, is to gather together the responses that have come in from colleagues, ie from those of us who teach French at Stirling, and there’ll then be a few blog posts from our students. The questions, though, are the same for all of us, as for the students namely: at what age did you start learning a language that wasn’t your native language? What language was it? What made you continue learning it (if you did)? And if that language wasn’t French, at what age did you start learning that and why and why did you decide to study it at University? And, finally, are there other languages you have previously studied but stopped studying and, if so, which ones and why?

And this time, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, I’ll start with my own experience… So, I’m Cristina Johnston and I’m currently Programme Director for French at Stirling and I started studying French at secondary school, in first year. However, before I started learning French, I was very lucky because I had already been exposed to Italian as my mother (and half my family) come from Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland. I spent school holidays in Switzerland, with my grandmother and family there, and many of them (most of them, at the time) didn’t speak any English but spoke either Italian or the dialect of Ticino, so if I wanted to communicate with them, I just had to speak Italian.

So, when I got to first year of secondary school and French classes started (there was no alternative to French for pupils in first year in my school), although it was a new language and a new accent and new words and new ideas, it somehow already felt familiar to me. I could understand bits and pieces from the first lesson when – as I still vividly recall – our fantastic teacher, Mr Prosser (with whom I’m still in touch every now and then so many years on), appeared and insisted on speaking French and on us speaking French, from the outset, for everything. Others who’ve been in touch about this have spoken about feeling that kind of familiarity and comfort within the new language and that was certainly my experience.

From second year, I also did German and continued with both to the end of secondary school, with French remaining very much my favoured language but German really growing on me, particularly as we got the chance to read more in German (Kafka and Frisch and Dürrenmatt). I spent a year living in France between school and Uni (taking ‘French for foreigners’ classes at Lille III University which was brilliant) and then it was just obvious that French would be part of what I’d do at University, too, so I did. I also took up Czech in first and second year of University which was challenging, to put it mildly, but which I thoroughly enjoyed, not least because, if you wanted to take second year Czech, you had to spend a month at a Summer School in the Czech Republic during the Summer which seemed like an excellent way to spend my time.

In other words, for me, languages have always been there, in different contexts, at different levels, with different levels of enthusiasm, and if I think about what has motivated me to continue studying languages, it’s very often people – Mr Prosser at secondary school, excellent Czech tutors at University in the shape of Josef Fronek and Igor Hajek, but also friends from countries where the languages are spoken and from other countries where other languages are spoken, and, since starting work as a Lecturer in French, students, too. It’s about the books and the films and the plays and the museums and the travel and the food, too, of course, but it’s the people who are the primary motivation, from my perspective.

Our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, studied languages in secondary school because the system left him no choice in the matter. You simply had to do at least two languages, one in S1 (in his case, English) and another from S3 (German, for him) with the possibility of picking up a 3rd language in lycée. For him, that structure is relevant when we consider the practical timetabling issues in Scottish schools nowadays and the impact that has on language uptake. There were also special, geographical circumstances that came into play (Jean-Michel comes from the region on the border between France and Switzerland), meaning that tv was readily available in French, German and Italian. He had an older brother who lived in England, American relatives, American pupils visiting his college every year and, he assures us, ‘parents who grew up during the war who were convinced we needed to build a new Europe…’

Hannah Grayson spoke French for the first time in her first week of secondary school: ‘I was 11 years old and very shy, but I was quite pleased we all had to take French as a compulsory subject. It was like an immediate *click*, where I just loved it. I liked the sound of the words, the challenge of learning the names of things in another language, and the fun activities we got to do in class. After that, I chose to carry on with French because I found it really exciting to be able to express myself in another language. I met people from France and loved being able to understand them in their native language. As somebody who likes learning, I like French because there’s always more to learn – there’s always something else I could read, or words I haven’t yet come across.’

Elizabeth Ezra only really started learning French at University but says she wishes she’d been able to start it earlier and ‘learn it at a more relaxed pace!’ In her case, growing up in the States, ‘apart from a few Spanish words that everyone growing up in Southern California learns, that was my first exposure to a language other than English.

French wasn¹t initially my main subject – I just kind of took it on a whim – but I was given the chance in my first year of uni to spend ten weeks in France. I¹d never been out of California (let alone on an airplane) and thought I might never have another chance to go abroad, so I jumped at it.

Even though I was always good at grammar, I couldn¹t really understand a word people in France were saying for a *very* long time. I was actually convinced that this French thing was an elaborate practical joke, and that at some point people would burst out laughing and speak in perfect English about how gullible I was. I loved the south of France, where I was living and studying, but I hated feeling that people thought I was stupid because I could hardly speak. Of course I know now that’s not how it works, and that’s not how people think, but at 17, I didn’t realise that.

In my second year, I took more French because, frankly, I didn’t want all the (very) hard work I’d put in to learning the language in my first year to go to waste (which isn’t a very good reason to pursue something, but there you go). Fortunately, I soon fell in love with French literature. In my third year, I did my study abroad in Paris, which introduced me to the world of French literary theory and philosophy, which I also fell in love with. Once again, while I continued to be good at grammar, I was very bad at understanding spoken French, and they almost didn’t let me take classes at l’Université de Paris III. To remedy my weakness, I obviously read a lot in French, but I also bought a transistor radio (if only there had been podcasts back then) and forced myself to listen to French radio a
couple of hours each day. Eventually, I was able to pick out more and more words, until my comprehension was up to speed.

I came back from Paris with all guns blazing, keen to pursue the study of French literature and culture. After finishing my undergraduate studies, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.’

And finally, for the moment, Mathilde Mazau, started learning English at 11 (en 6e au college, en Martinique). It was her ‘langue vivante 1’ – she also did Latin, German and Spanish, but later. She says: ‘I fell in love with English through music when I was a little child and I think being able to understand and sing the songs I loved (rather than “chanter de la bouillie anglaise”) was my main motivation. I then continued English at uni and taught the language for many years in France before coming to Scotland.’

As other responses come in from colleagues, I’ll add them to the blog but this gives a pretty good starting point, at least from our perspective! Next, it’s the turn of our students to have their say (and maybe try to find some pictures to illustrate all of this!)…

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Staff news: conferences and new colleagues

Many of our recent blog posts have centred on the fantastic achievements and activities of our students (past and present) but it occurs to us that it’s a while since we’ve posted an update on what French at Stirling staff are up to so here goes…

Firstly, as regular blog followers will know, we’ve made some new appointments in French at Stirling over the past few months. That has meant saying goodbye to valued colleagues (Bill Marshall at the end of August last year, David Murphy at the end of December) but it has also meant welcoming and getting to know new colleagues. Beatrice Ivey has settled well into her Research Assistantship, working with Fiona Barclay on the AHRC-funded project ‘Narratives and Representations of the French Settlers of Algeria’ (if you haven’t seen it yet, their exhibition is still on in Pathfoot); Emeline Morin is already a semester into her 2-year post with us and doing a brilliant job; Aedín ní Loingsigh joined us halfway through the Autumn semester on a permanent lectureship across French and Translation and is also doing brilliantly; and Hannah Grayson has now also joined us – as of 1 January – on a permanent lectureship and is, of course, settling in really well. Lots of changes – all for the good!

Secondly, many of us will be popping up at a range of conferences and invited talks over the months ahead, starting with Hannah Grayson who will be co-convening a seminar stream on responding to violence in postcolonial African literature at the American Comparative Literature Association at Georgetown University in March. Hannah will then be presenting on Véronique Tadjo (an author whose work she teaches on as part of our Cultures of Travel modules this semester) at the 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium in Oklahoma City. And, when she’s back in the UK, on 3 April, Hannah will be speaking at an evening of remembrance in St Andrews, to commemorate 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda.

Cristina Johnston will be giving a paper on the 20th anniversary of the PaCS legislation at the annual Society for French Studies conference at Royal Holloway in early July, and then a paper on the representation (or lack thereof) of lesbian characters in contemporary French cinema at the MLA International Symposium in Lisbon at the end of July.

2019 Tours Conference EE PosterElizabeth Ezra will be giving an invited talk at the University of Tours at the start of April at a conference called ‘On the Ruins and Margins of European Identity in Cinema.’ Her talk is titled ‘Out of Bounds: The Spatial Politics of Civility in The Square (Östlund, 2017) and Happy End (Haneke, 2017).’ Elizabeth also has an article on ethics and social relations coming out in May in the journal Children’s Literature called ‘Becoming Familiar: Witches and Companion Animals in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials.’

Elizabeth also travelled to France in December to examine the PhD thesis of Literature and Language’s PhD student Fanny Lacôte, who has taught on various modules in French at Stirling. The viva was a public event, which attracted a significant audience composed of friends, family, and members of the public and Fanny passed with flying colours so many congratulations to her!

And, finally for the moment, following on from Aedín ní Loingsigh’s successful Erasmus+ teaching exchange at Limoges late last year, we’re currently finalising arrangements to welcome our colleague Joëlle Popineau from our partners at the University of Tours who will spend a week on an Erasmus+ staff mobility with us in early March. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming Joëlle to Stirling in a few weeks.

More to follow shortly, I’ve no doubt!

New Semester: Welcome Back!

First day of teaching for the Spring semester and French at Stirling is back!

So, welcome back, firstly, to the over- 250 students registered across our various French modules, from Year 1 Advanced and Beginners’ streams all the way through to final year Core Language and dissertations. And to those of you reading this as French at Stirling students embarking on your integral Semester Abroad or entering the second half of your year as an English Language Assistant, we hope you have a great time and look forward to tales of your studies, work  and travels as the semester progresses.

On the staffing front, following Bill Marshall’s retirement at the end of last Summer, we were sorry to say goodbye to our colleague David Murphy who left to take up a new role at the University of Strathclyde at the start of January. We wish him all the very best in the new job. As regular blog readers will know, we’ve made a series of great new appointments to French at Stirling and we’re delighted that Hannah Grayson has now joined us as a Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies, working alongside Aedín ní Loingsigh and Emeline Morin who both started last semester, and the rest of the French at Stirling team.

As ever, there’ll be plenty of blog posts over the days and weeks ahead with details of what our students and staff have been up to over the past few months and plans for the months ahead so watch this space but, in the meantime, welcome back to the new semester and welcome back to French at Stirling!

New Semester

It’s already the end of our first week of the new semester here at Stirling so time for a quick round-up of our news. It’s been a busy little run up to the start of teaching here: new colleagues, great First Year numbers and those starting in our Advanced stream have been benefiting from our Bridging Materials, French at Stirling has been rated No.3 in Scotland and in the top 20 in the UK by the 2019 Complete University Guide… A period of great change and excitement!

Where to start? ‘New colleagues’ seems a good place. Beatrice Ivey, Research Assistant on Fiona Barclay’s AHRC Leadership project, is now in Stirling and settling into Divisional life. She and Fiona are working on the organisation of the exhibition that forms part of the project, more on which soon. We’ve also welcomed Emeline Morin who has joined us as a Lecturer in French for the next two years. Emeline’s research interests lie in comparative literature and fairytales and she’s teaching with us across a wide range of courses.

Alongside Emeline, two other new lecturers will be joining us over the months ahead. Aedín ní Loingsigh will be starting in October, with Hannah Grayson taking up her post in January. Hannah’s recent work has been on the Rwandan Stories of Change project at St Andrews. Much as we were sad to see Bill Marshall retire, it’s great to get a chance to welcome a fantastic group of new colleagues and we’re looking forward to working with them. We’ve also got some new faces among the Teaching Assistants who work as part of our Language team (with Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau and Brigitte Depret): Fanny Lacôte and Fraser McQueen who have taught with us before are joined by Aurélie Noël who has previously taught at the University of Glasgow.

2018 Hornberger VIIAs ever, the start of the new semester also means welcoming back our students. Our finalists are back from their Semester Abroad (in France, Quebec, Morocco, Switzerland… or Hispanophone destinations for those doing French and Spanish) and our Year 3 students are about to start the process to select their destination for their Semester Abroad. With that in mind, Jean-Michel DesJacques, Jose Ferreira-Cayuela and Cristina Johnston are organising their annual get-together at the end of September that gives all those students a chance to meet over wine and nibbles to talk about Study Abroad and to exchange questions and tips. All the University’s incoming exchange students from French or Spanish-speaking partner institutions are also invited and it’s a great chance for the different groups of students to get to know each other.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic I

Some of those incoming French-language exchange students are also currently being recruited to lead informal conversation sessions for students in a range of year groups, to offer a further opportunity for spoken language practice beyond the weekly tuition offered by our Language team.

And, of course, we have a great cohort of Year 2 students, many of whom will be applying for English Language Assistantships over the course of this year (welcome back to those who were ELAs last year!). For the first half of our second year, we run an Intermediate class for those who started as complete beginners with us in Year 1 and it’s great to see that numbers on that module are even higher than last year.

Finalists back from Semester Abroad, Year 3 students planning time abroad, students settling into Year 2 and good numbers of Year 1 students which is fantastic to see. Those on the Advanced stream – taking French with a wide range of other subjects – have been working their way through the Bridging Materials that we put together for incoming students each year, to help smooth the transition from secondary school language study to University-level language learning. And those on our Beginners’ stream are about to plunge into the intensive programme of language learning that will introduce them to French and build their confidence and ability as the weeks progress.

A great group of undergraduates and an enthusiastic intake of students on the French stream of our Translation and Translation with TESOL programmes who will work under the guidance of French at Stirling staff on their translation portfolios and, ultimately, on their dissertation projects. It’s been particularly nice to see some familiar faces on those programmes with recent graduates returning to undertake postgrad work with us (as well as across other TPG programmes at Stirling, of course).

As in previous years, we’ll be posting profiles of our students regularly, partly to catch up with those who’ve written for us before and to get a sense of how their studies are progressing, and partly to introduce you to some of our new Year 1 intake, so keep an eye on these pages!

2018 FFF Logo

As for French at Stirling colleagues, lots of news to report there, too. Fiona Barclay, Beatrice Ivey and Cristina Johnston are in discussions with the MacRobert’s film programmer, Grahame Reid, to finalise a programme of French Film Festival screenings that will take place at the MacRobert later in the semester. Details to follow but expect some great new French-language films! (It’s not directly French-related but do also check out Grahame’s Central Scotland Documentary Festival at the MacRobert from 4-8 October – a fantastic programme of documentaries lies ahead!) And on another film-related note, David Murphy will be involved with the Africa in Motion festival in November – more on which soon…

2018 Cent Scot Docu Fest

2018 AiM Logo

 

 

 

 

Aedín ní Loingsigh will be participating in a workpshop on Interdisciplinarity at the Université de Limoges in December and Elizabeth Ezra gave a paper in June at the Contemporary Childhood Conference at the University of Strathclyde examining the witch-familiar relationships in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. Elizabeth has also just signed a contract for a book, co-edited with Catherine Wheatley of KCL entitled Shoe Reels: The History and Philosophy of Footwear in Film, which will be published by EUP in 2020. And with her non-academic hat on, Elizabeth will be talking about her children’s book Ruby McCracken at the Wigtown Book Festival later this month.

2018 Ruby McCracken

This weekend, while staff and students from French and Spanish are talking to prospective students at Stirling University’s Open Day (15 September – come and see us!), Jean-Michel DesJacques is off to Dundee where he’ll be taking part in the 25th Anniversary Conference UCML Scotland​: Looking inward and outward. Jean-Michel will be meeting actors from all education sectors from Primary to higher education. The 1+2 language initiative will be high on the agenda but not exclusively since challenges and issues in languages are multiple and complex.

And our Phd student Fraser McQueen has been presenting his work across a range of conferences since the Spring, including the ASMCF Postgraduate Study Day at the IMLR (where he spoke about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in France), the Society for French Studies Postgraduate Study day at UCL (with a paper on female radicalisation fiction), Stirling’s own annual Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Research Conference and the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Postgraduate Study Day at Birmingham. Fraser also co-organised the SGSAH Second Year PG Symposium in Glasgow in June and presented his own work there, too.

There is much, much more that we could include here but that seems a good taste of what’s going on to start things off this semester. More to follow over the weeks ahead! In the meantime, many thanks to the students whose photos from last semester abroad have made their way into this post and bon weekend!