Tag: Language Teaching

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!

Saying goodbye to colleagues

The blog is about to go quiet for a couple of weeks as everyone takes a little time to catch their breath after a hectic semester but there are a couple of posts we wanted to add before that happens. The first of these is a belated farewell to Emeline Morin, who has now taken up a post at the University of Liverpool. Emeline was part of French at Stirling for two years, a fantastic colleague and a good friend who will be sorely missed by staff and students alike. It was particularly strange to say goodbye virtually while we were all still in lockdown but we wish her all the very best in her new role at Liverpool and we look forward to keeping in touch over the years ahead. 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 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!

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!)

From a Paris living room to the ‘anywhere box’

As lockdown measures and confinement and a range of different restrictions continue to be implemented across the globe, it’s particularly welcome to receive news and updates from former students (current students are also very welcome to get in touch!) who find themselves dotted across the world. Like everyone else, they are adapting to the current circumstances and thinking about the impact on their plans (professional and personal) and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their thoughts with us and for finding the time to send through new blog posts.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIIToday, it’s the turn of David, whose travels in Colombia and Sicily regular readers will have followed over the past couple of years, and who has sent the article below with some photos of an empty but sunny day in the Parisian suburbs:

‘If you had asked me where I would be, at this point in time, seven months ago after my last blog update, my living room in Paris would definitely not have been at the top of my list! Before I tell you how I ended up here, however, I thought I could perhaps tell you about the joys of teaching!

As mentioned in my previous piece, I decided that I was finally ready to start my teaching qualification after a couple of years of experience. My course at the University of Glasgow consists of teaching theory as well as teaching practice as a language teacher. My first placement was in a school in Paisley where I saw first-hand how much work teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. As one of my colleagues said, you aren’t only teaching them a language, but also teaching them how to learn it. I hadn’t realised how much planning was involved in order to stay on top of the workload. Some teachers’ capacity to juggle classes made up of pupils with completely different levels is mind-blowing!

My second placement was in a school in Clydebank where I learnt to become more independent as a teacher and create my own resources for my lessons. Located to the west of Glasgow, an area that includes some of the most deprived parts of Scotland where many pupils live in very challenging conditions. However, the school showed me how being part of a community of teachers and parents could create more opportunities for underprivileged pupils by working together. Overall, the course at Glasgow has been challenging but ultimately rewarding as I have learnt to adapt to difficult situations inside, and outside, the classroom.

Looking back at my undergrad years, I am grateful for the flexibility of the courses offered at the University of Stirling as well as the range of topics that we had the opportunity to study, from French Canadian cinema to Latin American literature. The exchange programme was also one of the reasons I decided to travel and work abroad… How time flies!

Now, to come back to my living room in Paris, it turns out that, due to the unprecedented measures taken by the Scottish government, both face-to-face classes and my third and final placement have been cancelled. This means I will go straight into teaching as a probationer in August! I have opted for the lucky dip option by ticking the “anywhere box” to quote the General Teaching Council, so will be sent wherever I am needed in Scotland. As a result of the pandemic, I decided to return home since I wanted to be with family over Easter.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIThere were only about 30 people on the plane as most people had cancelled their trips and the French government announced yesterday that there would be a further two weeks of “confinement” during which we are only allowed to leave our homes for an hour a day in order to buy essentials such as food and medicine or for daily light exercise within a 1 km radius. It is quite an odd experience having to fill out a form before leaving the house as the police may stop people to check that they are sticking to the rules but then desperate times call for desperate measures! It seems that the U.K. is not at that stage yet. However, having been in touch (not literally of course!) with friends from Sicily and Colombia, everyone is following WHO guidelines and staying at home to avoid any risk of transmission.

So that’s it for now and remember: lavez-vous les mains!’

Many, many thanks to David for sending this update – good luck with the remainder of the course and we look forward to finding out where the GTC send you next year! Keep in touch and stay safe.

‘You might get knocked back a few times but your time will come!’

We’re on something of a roll at the moment with posts from former French at Stirling students, allowing us to paint a great picture of the variety of routes degrees involving languages can take you down, from financial crime analysis to tour-guiding and TEFL, from British Council Language Assistantships to the emergency services, via some thoughts on how to find ways to keep your language/s going after graduation… Today’s post takes in translation, postgraduate studies, proofreading, subtitling and teaching, courtesy of Stewart who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Spanish in 2015:

‘It’s been over 3 years since I graduated from Stirling now. A lot has changed in my life in that time. Some for the better, some for the worse. When I left Stirling, I had grand plans about what I could do with my degree and the places it could take me but life has a habit of getting in the way and putting unexpected obstacles in front of you.

When I last wrote for the French At Stirling blog, I had just got a Master’s in Translation from Heriot-Watt University. I was maybe naïve but I thought it would be relatively easy to get a job but for whatever reason it didn’t work out that way. It can be tough when you keep getting knocked back to stay positive especially in the age of social media when you can receive almost daily updates on how well friends and former classmates are doing for themselves. I was never the most optimistic guy at the best of times!

As time wore on, I eventually found success. Out of desperation I had applied for two translation jobs at the same time and got interviews for both. One based in Scotland, one based in Spain. I nailed both interviews too. The Spanish one was done over Skype and conducted in 3 languages. I was quite proud to come through that in one piece. I was eventually offered both jobs. Decision time! Guess which one I took…

2020 Mar Stewart H Bute Palm Trees
Bute Palm Trees

Scotland won the day. If you read my last blog you probably understand why. Although I study languages and like to travel, I’m very much a fan of home comforts. I come from an island which a lot of people my age refer to as “The Rock”. It has a declining and ageing population. Most young people leave when they go to university or to find a job on the mainland and don’t return. There are still times when I can’t wait to leave yet when I am away, I can’t wait to come back. It must be an islander thing!

Anyway, I was now working as an in-house translator. I gained experience translating medical and legal documents and met some new people but after some time, I started to realise it just wasn’t for me. I found myself staring at a computer screen all day and was living on my own. Life’s too short to be stuck doing something you don’t enjoy.

2020 Mar Stewart H Do sth different

After I left that job, I moved back home to mull over my next move. It was April 2018 and the FIFA World Cup was just around the corner. I’ve always been a massive football fan and I got the opportunity to combine two passions of mine in football and languages. I worked as a remote translator, proofreader and subtitler. I was able to watch all the games and then translate interviews with players and coaches all from the comfort of my own home. This was the dream but there are only so many World Cups! I liked the flexibility of being freelance and being back home, but I also found myself wanting to get out more and meet new people.

After a few months, I decided to apply for a PGDE in Secondary Education at the University of Glasgow. I was going to become a teacher. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. My dad had been a Geography teacher years ago and I was struck by how many of his former pupils had got in touch when he passed away showing just how big an impact he’d had on their lives. I’ve also always felt at home when studying for some reason. It gave me a purpose knowing I had some test or exam to pass or a deadline to make. I feel in retrospect I missed that drive when I left university.

The course at Glasgow gave me a good grounding in what it takes to become a teacher. I did 3 placements throughout the year giving me a taster of what to expect when in front of the class but nothing can truly prepare you! Luckily my decision to choose Argyll & Bute paid off and I am now teaching French and Spanish in the same school where I first learned languages as a pupil all those years ago. It has been a steep learning curve and there is never a dull day, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Will I still be teaching in 5, 10, 30 years’ time? Who knows! Life has a habit of getting in the way, but I will give it my best shot while I am still doing it.

I know I wouldn’t be in this position were it not for my time at Stirling. I still keep in touch and meet up with some of my old classmates who are all doing different and exciting things with their own lives. I would advise any current students or recent graduates who are looking to make that next step and find a job to stay patient. You might get knocked back a few times but your time will come!’

Many thanks indeed to Stewart for sending through this great update! We’re really pleased to hear that things are going well with the language teaching and look forward to future blog posts.

From Stirling to Soissons: History, Travel and Bell Chimes

After Emily’s account of working as an Emergency Services Officer in the Australian desert, it’s back to Europe again with an update from Alex who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Maths last June:

‘Just even writing this, I cannot believe that it has already been eight months since I graduated from the University of Stirling. As much as I am missing seeing the Ochils and Wallace Monument every day, the last six months have been awesome. I am just over halfway through my British Council placement in France for the academic year 2019/20 and it has been fantastic. I was allocated to the Académie d’Amiens and more specifically, two high schools in the town of Soissons in the north-east of France.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons CathedralAlthough Soissons has a small population of 30,000, about two-thirds of the size of Stirling, there is just as much history to be found in this part of France. Under the reign of King Clovis I in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, Soissons was under the rule of the Franks, after the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD. And when Clovis died in 511, it became the capital of what we know today as north-east France. All of this history can be discovered in the Musée de Soissons, which is just 2€ entry (bar the first Sunday of every month when it is free!). There are two abbeys and a cathedral all within walking distance of the centre of town. I live a two-minute walk away from the cathedral, in fact I can see it from my kitchen window! You never get tired of hearing the bell chimes every 15 minutes (from 8am to 10pm) and looking at this amazing piece of architecture.

I feel incredibly lucky with the allocation of my schools. One school is a 15-minute walk from my accommodation, whilst the other is just a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of town, and the buses are less than 1€ per ride. I work with four different teachers and they are all fantastic. Personally, I think it’s beneficial to see different styles of teaching and approaches to assessments and language learning. Sometimes I work in groups of between 4 and 8 students outside of the main class, or I will stay with the main teacher and we’ll work on an activity together. I have even had the opportunity of teaching full classes myself, particularly with presentations on Anglophone culture or certain points of grammar.

In both of my schools with the 14-15 year-old students (3èmes), we have been doing débats citoyens every week, debating a wide range of topics such as:

  • “Footballers deserve to earn the salary they receive”
  • “Capital punishment should be reinstated for the most serious of crimes”
  • “TV reality shows teach us about life”
  • “Art is necessary for the development of man”
  • “Teachers in the USA should be allowed to carry firearms in the event of a mass shooting”

This is a great way for the older students to become more confident and spontaneous at speaking in English. It also provides them additional cultural exposure to the Anglophone world that they might not see in class.

On top of my British Council contract, I managed to gain an hour a week through the Soissons Town Hall of doing English activities with primary school students in an after-school club. Although I prefer working with 11-16 year-olds, this has been a great opportunity for me to work with children between 8 and 11 years old, and discover the level of English children have before attending high school.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons AssistantsI have been very lucky in where I live too! I was offered accommodation by one of my teachers in a boarding school in the centre of Soissons. Turns out that I live with 6 other assistants, with all of us coming from different parts of the world; England, Northern Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the USA, and the Bahamas! We get on really well and they are a huge part of the reason why this experience has been so good. Having other people there with you every single day makes it so much easier, so I would suggest (if possible) new assistants try to live with other young people to make you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.

And since I only work 13 hours a week (British Council – 12 hours, Soissons Town Hall – 1 hour), I have had a lot of time to travel. In fact, each académie in France will encourage you to “profitez de vos week-ends et voyagez!” Since October, I have so far been to (in France) Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Rennes, Amiens, Reims, Rouen and Saint Malo, and I will heading further south during the warmer months! I have also journeyed outside of France to both Belgium, to the cities of Brussels and Ghent, and the Netherlands, visiting Rotterdam. Therefore, I would advise the same to anyone thinking of doing an assistantship: take advantage of your weekends and 2-week half-term breaks and travel across France and the rest of Europe! I would recommend buying either a SNCF Carte Jeune or a Carte Régionale (for each Département in France), which gets you 30% and 50% off rail fares respectively. Flixbus is also an absolute gem if you’re looking to travel cheaply!

2020 Mar Alex Strasbourg

So, where does this leave me after this experience? I have decided after this experience that I would like to become a secondary school teacher and am in the process of applying for my teaching qualification. Whether I teach in England, Scotland or elsewhere, who knows! All I know is that I want to make a difference to students’ lives, and the British Council experience certainly does that.’

Many, many thanks to Alex for this great update and best of luck with the interviews for teacher training that are coming up! We look forward to hearing how the rest of your time in Soissons goes.

From Tour-Guiding and TEFL to International Marketing: ‘Language Skills and Cultural Knowledge’

2020 Feb Kitti MarseilleTime for another great update from one of our former students – after Paul’s tales of financial crime analysis, this time, we’re delighted to have news from Kitti who graduated just over two years ago:

‘My name is Kitti and I studied French and Global Cinema and Culture between 2013 and 2017. I really enjoyed my time at Stirling, I met some wonderful people, I learnt so much and I had a lot of fun. I spent a semester in the South of France studying at Aix-Marseille University. I was having a hard time with the accent, so I promised myself I would move back to a different part of France once I graduated.

2020 Feb Kitti Bordeaux TourShortly after graduating I moved to Bordeaux. I loved this gorgeous city from the moment I arrived. Everyone was kind and welcoming and I found the accent much more understandable. I started working on the reception of a youth hostel, and soon a local tour company hired me as one of their guides. I enjoyed every minute spent tour guiding. I learnt so many interesting things about the city and I met a lot of different people. I spent six months in Bordeaux, after which I returned to Scotland and started thinking of going into French teaching, even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was for me.

I completed my application, but I already had a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, so I thought why not make some use of it and gain some experience before starting the PGDE course. I applied for a few TEFL jobs and I landed in a role in Madrid, Spain. I worked in two schools, a nursery and a so called ‘business vocational school’, which is similar to colleges in Scotland. I loved both of these jobs. However, I started giving evening classes for teenagers in a language school, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I found working with teenagers much harder than working with any other age group, and I started asking myself if teaching French in high schools is really the right path for me.

2020 Feb Kitti Cadiz

After returning to Scotland five months ago, instead of going for the PGDE, I decided to give myself a little more time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Since I have teaching experience, I got a job in a primary school, where I support children with learning difficulties. In the meantime, I kept wondering and asking myself what should my next step in life be. I do love working with children but I felt like there might be a more suitable path for me, so I kept searching for career options.

Recently I was accepted to study for a Masters at Edinburgh Napier University. The course is called International Marketing with Tourism and Events and it starts in September. I am over the moon and cannot wait for it to start. All modules sound as if they had been tailored to my interests. When I first read about the course, I couldn’t believe how perfect it all sounded. The year is split into three trimesters, two will take place in Edinburgh while the third one in Nice at IPAG Business School. I am most excited about studying festival management, as I hope one day I can work on film and music festivals. I am equally looking forward to working in settings where I can use my language skills and cultural knowledge. In the end I am happy I decided to take my time to figure out what I truly wanted, I am certain it will pay off. I just hope I will find the southern French accent easier to understand this time round.’

Many, many thanks to Kitti for finding the time to send us through this post and photos. We wish you all the best for the Masters next year and look forward to updates over the months and years ahead.