Tag: Language learning

One Year On

This time a year ago, we were welcoming our new colleague, Nina Parish, to French at Stirling. A tremendous amount has happened in the intervening twelve months and Nina has been kind enough to send us her thoughts on her first year working at Stirling:

‘Last week I completed my first year of working in the Division of Literature and Languages at the University of Stirling and what a year it’s been!

2020 Jul NP Office ViewThe year started with floods and a very washed out graduation ceremony (I still can’t quite believe that it took place – kudos to those who made this happen!) and a considerable amount of damage to the Pathfoot Building where I have my office and do some teaching. The Pathfoot also houses and exhibits the University’s wonderful art collection – what an absolute headache for the curators! But by the start of the semester the vast majority of us had access to our offices and the teaching rooms were ready to be used again!

2020 Jul NP DumyatAnd so Semester 1 started – earlier than what I was used to in England – and I began to get to know my wonderful colleagues and my new, mostly Scottish, students. I was struck by how pleasant these students are and it made me think a lot about how high tuition fees have changed the student-teacher relationship south of the border. There were also a couple of students from the EU in most of my classes and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed teaching a class with this diversity of experiences. I’m sad that this is likely to change in the future.

Just as I was getting into my stride (and beginning to know my way around the Cottrell Building!), we went on strike. It is always tough to stop teaching in this context and to not have the contact with students that you did previously but it is also important to fight the good fight and there was a lot on the line here from casual contracts to pensions. Looking on the bright side, you also get to know colleagues better on the picket line.

2020 Jul NP Dryden TowerThere had been talk about the Covid-19 virus from the beginning of the year but I had managed to ignore it quite successfully and was all set to travel to Warsaw for a research meeting mid-March, to give papers in St Andrews and Aberdeen, to go to a conference in Rome and then travel on to Armenia for a month-long research secondment as part of the EU funded DisTerrMem project in May and June. All this was obviously cancelled and my world shrank to the tremendous city of Edinburgh where I live. Getting to know this city has been the high point of the lockdown and in the last weeks getting out into the glorious Scottish countryside to go walking again has been such a relief. I was appointed Director of Research at the beginning of the year and having the time to be able to talk to my brilliant colleagues about their research trajectories and future plans has been a delight.

I sometimes wonder what my second year at Stirling will bring (I was due to go to Lebanon and Pakistan for the Memories from the Margins and DisTerrMem research projects), but I’ve decided to focus on enjoying the summer and preparing online classes for September for now.

Bilan de l’année: des évènements inattendus (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire!) mais j’aime vivre et travailler en Ecosse.’

Many, many thanks to Nina for the great post (and for the pictures of Scottish views) and we’re delighted to have you as a colleague at Stirling, and look forward to pestering you for more blog posts in the months and years ahead!

Congratulations to our prize-winners!

Following on from our congratulations to all of this year’s graduating students a couple of weeks back, we’d like to offer particular félicitations to this year’s French at Stirling prize-winners whose performance really does stand out as exceptional this year. The recipient of this year’s Simone de Beauvoir Prize, awarded to the student with the strongest performance across their French modules, is Laura, who has just completed a BA Hons in English Studies and French with us. And the recipient of this year’s Faculty Research Prize for the highest dissertation grade in French is Evelyn who has just finished her BA Hons in French. Many, many congratulations to Laura and Evelyn on their achievements and we wish you all the very best for the future!

Final instalment of our Bridging Materials: Culture

Following on from the resources we’ve posted looking at Written Language and those that cover Oral/Aural Language, clicking here should lead you to the final instalment of our Bridging Materials on ‘Culture’ which we refer to as ‘Matière’ in our Stirling classes. Students on all our Advanced French modules in Years 1 and 2 will have a matière seminar each week, alongside their Written Language and Langage parlé classes. There is also a lecture most weeks to help contextualise the film, novels, short stories and other works we study in matière.

Students in our Year 1 Beginners’ modules don’t have matière seminars as their classes centre intensively on language learning to bring their written and spoken skills up to a level that means those who want to continue with French as part of their degree can join our Advanced strand by halfway through Year 2. They do, however, start their matière seminars in Year 2 to ensure that they can build the same analytical, comprehension and essay-writing skills as those in the Advanced module.

Of course, in our classes, students would be expected to watch the films, read the novels, and so on, but for these resources, we’ve used shorter publicly accessible texts and extracts, including a short story by the excellent contemporary French poet and novelist, Lou Sarabadzic.

We hope you find this final selection of resources helpful and would encourage you, over the course of the Summer, to look over these again, in conjunction with the Written and Oral/Aural materials to see how they fit together. And, whether you’re coming to study with us at Stirling or elsewhere, or looking at these posts and resources as a means of refreshing your French, we wish you all the very best! Bonne continuation!

Bridging Materials Part II: Written Language

Following on from the first part of our Bridging Materials which focused on exercises relating to Oral/Aural Language, if you click here you’ll get access to the second section of these resources. This time, the focus is on Written Language which forms the basis of a weekly hour of teaching for our students on the Advanced Semester 1 module. (We have separate Beginners’ modules that run in Semesters 1-3 but, as the name suggests, these are intensive language learning modules for students who have not studied French before or who have not studied it for a long time.)

The Written Language Bridging Materials – just like the Oral/Aural ones – try to give you a sense of how we approach Written Language at Stirling. As you’ll see, there’s a mixture of grammar exercises, supplementary online resources, articles to read, videos etc. Some of these would be used in class, others would be linked to for students to use in their independent study. And, once again, as you’ll see, the materials are set out in a week-by-week structure so do pace yourself as you work through them. Give yourself a chance to read through articles, to think about them, to read further around the topic, to explore some of the online resources that are linked to via the document itself, and so on.

The Culture Bridging Materials will be posted over the next few days.

Bonne lecture!

Bridging Materials Part 1: Oral and Aural Classes

As promised at the end of last week, here is the first batch of resources from our French at Stirling Bridging Materials. As you’ll see, these focus in particular on the skills that our students develop through the oral/aural classes (langage parlé). These classes form an integral part of most University language courses, helping students develop oral expression and comprehension skills and fluency, but also more generally helping with confidence and clarity.

For us at Stirling, oral classes form a key part of pretty much all language-centred modules and our students usually have at least one hour of langage parlé each week, taught in small groups by native speakers of French. In our case, this normally means that langage parlé classes are taught by a member of our Language team: Jean-Michel DesJacques, Brigitte Depret or Mathilde Mazau. Langage parlé classes include debates and discussions in French involving the whole class, as well as smaller group discussions and, as the degree progresses, we increasingly bring in individual presentations.

The Bridging Materials give you a sense of the range of topics that might come up in these classes, everything from topics of contemporary political or social relevance to more general aspects of French and Francophone life, culture and societies. Sometimes langage parlé topics are chosen by the tutors, sometimes the classes are student-led, sometimes videos or other materials are used as prompts. The key thing is for everyone to try and get involved in the conversations, not to worry about making mistakes, and to make the most of the opportunity to speak and listen to French.

Anyway, the resources you’ll find here will help you think about the kinds of exercises you’re likely to come across in a langage parlé class, as well as giving some examples of the types of videos that might be used, the questions you’d be discussing and the ways in which langage parlé contributes to the development of your language skills. We hope you find them useful! More to follow over the coming days for Written Language and Culture.

Bridging Materials Coming Soon!

Regular blog readers will know that, for the past few years, French at Stirling has produced ‘Bridging Materials’ for our new 1st years to help with the shift to studying a language at University. From around mid-August, as new Year 1 students start to sign up for our Advanced French module, we email them with information about these materials. Over a 4-week period, they are given access to our VLE and to resources that try to give them a sense of what studying a language at University will be like. The materials are split into the same categories as our Advanced Semester 1 module (Culture, Written Language and Oral/Aural), mirroring the breakdown of classes students can expect to get at Stirling. They include texts to read, grammar exercises, comprehension questions, essay guidance, and a range of other resources.

This year, as a subject team, we’ve decided to make our Bridging Materials more widely available as an open access resource. What do we mean by that? Well, over the new week or so, a series of blog posts will go up with links to our Bridging Materials that should be easily accessible to all. Our hope is that they will be a useful resource for anybody who is planning to start a degree involving French in the coming academic year. Or, come to that, for anybody who just wants to see what University language study might be like and wants a kind of taster version.

Obviously, there are some caveats that we should add here:

  • Universities are different. Our Bridging Materials reflect what we do at Stirling and how we do it. So, if you’re going to study French elsewhere, please do remember that your University may structure its classes differently, may have a different focus (we tend to work on contemporary France and the wider Francophone world at Stirling), and will definitely be planning for your arrival in the Autumn and will doubtless be in touch with you over the coming months with more specific information on your courses.
  • In ordinary times, there are tasks in our Bridging Materials that our incoming students can get feedback on – I’m afraid that’s not something we can do with this open access version of them and we’re certainly not assuming or suggesting that, for example, tutors at other Universities or school teachers will be able to do this. Part of what the Bridging Materials are about is learning the more generic skills that go with University study, including, for instance, the importance of independent learning. These are not resources that someone else will correct. As you’ll see, there are often some elements of guidance from us that are already incorporated and the aim is to make use of them to keep your French going over the Summer and, specifically, to think about the shift to University-level study.
  • There’s a lot of stuff in these materials and, although we’re posting them in large chunks, we wouldn’t recommend that you try and work through it all in one go. If you do use them, then pace yourself. Work through them bit by bit, as and when you have time over the months ahead.

So, over the next little while, there’ll be a few blog posts – one for each of the ‘strands’ (Culture, Written Language, Oral/Aural) – with links that should take you to the documents. We hope they’ll be useful to you over the months ahead. And, of course, if you are coming to study with us, we look forward to welcoming you in the Autumn and would encourage you to get in touch with any general questions over the Summer (not specifically about the Bridging Materials but if there are things you want to know about French at Stirling). And if you’re going to study French elsewhere, we wish you all the very best.

À bientôt.

Support for the British Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 June Louise Walker Pic III Balmoral

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

À la prochaine fois!’

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

2020 French Finalists and their plans

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

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

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

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

2020 May Finalists Kirstie I

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

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

2020 May Finalists Caitlin Strasbourg

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

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

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

2020 May Finalists Evelyn Vieille Bourse Lille

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

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

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

2020 May Finalists Caitlin View from Sedan Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Languages and Mental Gymnastics

Two blog posts for this sunny (lockdown) Thursday, both tinged, in different ways, with thoughts of the current Covid context but both also fascinating insights into the lives, thoughts and plans of Languages students and graduates. We’re starting things off with an update from Mira, who graduated in 2014 with a BA Hons in French: 

‘It has been an entire lifetime since I graduated. I have now worked as a Public Service Interpreter for close to 5 years. Even though I absolutely love my job (and often say if I was paid more, I would never even consider a change of career!) I think about changing my career often, especially in light of the recent developments. 

The job itself is great. I get to experience incredible moments, not all happy, but all an intimate window into the personal lives of people and professions. I love getting dressed in scrubs when interpreting at an operation or standing by the witness box conveying a witness response to a jury. I love the mental gymnastics of interpreting and I love continually evolving my ability to master languages. It’s not always easy and there are serious issues linked with interpreting in first person, saying “I am depressed” or “I committed this crime”, but that’s a story for another time. 

What I would like to talk about today is the industry. Which isn’t great. You may sometimes hear that interpreters get paid well (and I’m sure that some interpreters working in a private sector, conference interpreters etc may, indeed, earn good money). This is however not the case for Public Service Interpreting. The market is saturated with agencies, each one trying to outbid another for the cheapest rates. What do you think about being offered £11.50 per hour, for travelling to Carlisle? Having to negotiate hard for any travel time being paid and probably no travel expenses? This is a very ridiculous, but real example. 

There are many issues that contribute to this situation. Unlike in some other countries the interpreting profession isn’t regulated in the UK. There are a couple of bodies that are or are attempting to do this but essentially anyone can say they are an interpreter and start practising. This leads to the profession and the skills required not being valued. Which is followed by frankly ridiculous hourly payment offers from agencies, which professional interpreters with years of experience, diplomas and certificates refuse to take. This then means that it’s the less experienced ones who often end up filling in the gaps and, sure, everyone has to start somewhere but remember what I said about lack of regulation of the profession and anyone being able to show up and say they are an interpreter? Such a thing would be seen as absurd and dangerous if we were to speak of doctors, teachers, electricians! And yet an interpreter is a crucial player in many highly important, life and death situations. 

The current situation has heavily impacted the interpreting industry. Face-to-face interpreting has all but stopped and there are very few assignments and a lot of interpreters. Telephone interpreting has taken a front stance and the fear is that some agencies will stick with this post-lockdown. I don’t know what the public interpreting profession will look like at the end of this year. I hope all current moves to regulate the profession will pay off and in 5 years’ time the situation will be different, in a positive way for interpreters and the people using their services. 

If you do want to go into the public sector, my advice would be to diversify as much as you can, and join a union.’ 

Many, many thanks to Mira for taking the time to send us this great and very honest blog post. We wish you all the best for the months ahead and look forward to more updates in happier times.