Tag: Language Teaching

Congratulations one and all!

Another very pleasant part of this whole blog catch-up thing is that it gives me a chance to pass on great news about successes for staff and students.

The University’s annual RATE teaching award ceremony took place at the end of last month so, firstly, congratulations to our Divisional colleague Bashir Saade who won this year’s prize for Excellence in Teaching in Arts and Humanities. It was fantastic to see a number of French at Stirling staff also being nominated for their hard work and commitment to teaching over this past academic year across a range of categories: Exceptional Student Support Award; Research Postgraduate Supervisor of the Year; Best Tutor; Fantastic Feedback and Excellence in Teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. And the feedback from the voters always makes us smile:

‘An inspirational teacher and one that I desire to be like myself’;

‘So passionate about her subject and creates an enjoyable atmosphere for learning. Where every student feels their opinion or interpretation is valid’;

‘Very constructive and friendly feedback that gave me the confidence to write essays with more ease’;

‘Most involved, best informed, best organised tutor and professor. Will always get back to you on time, will help with anything, always on time, always available for appointments.’

Thank you to all the students who voted for us – it really is very much appreciated by us all!

And congratulations, too, to Caitlin, Eszter and Eilidh, Stirling’s three successful applicants for this year’s Stevenson Exchange Scholarships, all of whom will be able to benefit from funding to undertake research projects while on Study Abroad or English Language Assistantships next year.

Eilidh – who is studying French with Spanish and Professional Education – will be working on a project exploring how a particular region balances its history and traditions against a desire to modernise and to exist within a changing world, with a particular focus on Lyon where she’ll be spending her year as a Language Assistant. Caitlin – who is on the same degree programme as Eilidh – is keen to explore the influence of Gothic art and architecture on the region around Montpellier where she’ll be working, also as a British Council Assistant. And Eszter – whose degree is in Spanish and Marketing – will be in Spain, on Semester Abroad, and examining feminism and the creative industries while studying at the University of Navarra-Pamplona. Congratulations to all three recipients of these competitive scholarships and we look forward to tales of your time abroad and the work you do with the Stevenson over the year ahead.

And thanks to Jean-Michel DesJacques and Jose-Maria Ferreira-Cayuela, Study Abroad Coordinators for French and Spanish respectively, for all their work in helping develop the applications.

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A Year in Geneva: Translation, Football and Alpine Road Trips

As regular followers of the blog will know, most French at Stirling students will either spend a year working as an English Language Assistantship at some point over their degree (usually between Year 2 and 3, sometimes immediately after graduation) or a semester on Study Abroad at one of our range of partners across the French-speaking world. Every now and then, though, we have a student who manages to spend a full year on Study Abroad and that’s the situation Tom finds himself in at the moment, in the 3rd year of his BA Hons in French and Spanish:

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 3 Mar19‘This year I have had the opportunity to study French and Spanish in the Translation and Interpretation Faculty at the University of Geneva. Having recently completed a year of teaching in Colombia with the British Council, I headed to Switzerland back in the hot seat as a student again.

Having never previously visited, my initial thoughts of Geneva were a pleasant surprise – everything worked, things ran on time and the locals were kind, welcoming and accepting of my rusty French. I had a week to settle in before university started, giving me time to explore the city and the surrounding areas, as well as to find a regular game of football. After a few meet ups with ESN I met some great people from all over and I went from there.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 2 Mar19University life here has been great, learning translation in both Spanish and French has given me great opportunities to test out a potential career path and what’s more is that the other modules on offer at the university also help me further my other interests such as history and reading. The best part, however, are the people you meet at the university and around the city – be they other ERASMUS students or students from other walks of life.

Geneva can be difficult for immersive language learning, as individuals come from a variety of countries to study, live and work there, making English the de facto language at times. Nevertheless, I found a variety of local cafés and bars that provided me with opportunities to improve my French and after a couple of weeks it had improved to the point where I could hold conversations.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 5 Mar19

Geneva is famous for plenty of things but, after a year in a small Colombian town, the most notable for me is the high cost of living. It can be extortionate at times, but this has just encouraged me to explore a wider variety of places. My friends and I often get buses, cheap flights or rent a minibus to do weekend trips, ticking off places such as Milan, Lake Garda, Interlaken, Bern, Paris, and Berlin. That has been one of the best things about Geneva, its central location in Europe has given me the opportunity to get around everywhere. I can highly recommend taking road trips through the Swiss alpine countryside, you can see the whole landscape and get a real feel for the culture of each place.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 1 Mar19Living in a different country has its positives and negatives, the comforts of home can be sorely missed, I’ve realised however that being proactive, doing activities and exploring your new home is the best antidote.

Overall, my experience has been a great one and my language skills have improved immeasurably (even if I sometimes forget how to speak English!). Although tough at times, these have been the situations where I’ve learned the most and I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity to meet new people, live in a new country and experience a different university.’

Many thanks to Tom for the great blog post and pictures – we’re delighted this year has worked out so well and look forward to welcoming you back to Stirling in the Autumn!

Erasmus in Stirling: ‘A great experience I’ll never forget!’

The start of a new week in Stirling and, as we’ve already mentioned, we’re looking forward to welcoming Joëlle Popineau on her Erasmus staff mobility from Tours tomorrow, but we thought we’d start this week with the thoughts of Ulvi who is also in Stirling as part of the Erasmus programme but as a student:

2019 Altin Photo I Mar19‘Hi everyone, my name is Ulvi, and I’m a student in Master 1 at EM Strasbourg BS and currently on my Erasmus exchange year at Stirling!

At the beginning of my exchange I was a little bit scared because this is the first time I have ventured so far, alone! Nevertheless, it is a great experience that I will never forget. Indeed, the welcome at the University of Stirling is very warm. We are immediately supported by the administration which allowed me to know what I was doing.

2019 Altin Photo III Mar19

The university and the campus suit me perfectly. We’re right in the middle of nature and I take full advantage of the University’s sports complexes which offer me a feeling of well-being every day. Moreover, it is a very international place where I have been able to meet many new cultures and share mine with my new friends.

2019 Altin Photo VI Mar19Finally, since September, I have had the chance to lead informal conversation sessions with students taking French as part of their degree. During these sessions I work with groups of students who come from all over the world to enjoy a moment of discussion on any topic, all in French! These are very enjoyable sessions that we share with new friends, very well managed by Dr Johnston and her team. Personally, I have integrated myself well within this programme and it have helped strengthen my own speaking, confidence and openness in groups with many different nationalities. If you’re a potential (French-speaking) Erasmus student reading this, I would strongly advise you to get in touch with the French team about these great sessions if you get the change: they have already given me some great memories!!’

Many, many thanks Ulvi for the lovely blog post, as well as for all his much-appreciated hard work on our informal conversation sessions, and we hope you enjoy the remaining few months of your time in Stirling.

‘Foreign languages open up new horizons’

And after Alex’s recollections on the start of his language learning, it’s over to Natalie, who is also in her final year, studying International Management with European Languages and Society:

2019 Cochrane Colmar 2 Mar19‘I started my language learning journey at nine years old where I had the opportunity to learn French which was a compulsory language at my primary school. I would say that I was initially inspired by visiting foreign countries with my family at a young age which motivated me to want to be able to learn a few phrases to speak in the local language. After learning the basics of the French language, I realised that speaking a language has many advantages and I decided to continue my language learning at high school where I also choose to study Spanish.

2019 Cochrane Strasbourg Mar19My secondary school (St.Modan’s, Stirling) highly promoted language learning by exposing pupils to language events and school trips in different countries which further inspired me to continue learning both languages until my final year of school. At the age of 17, I decided to do the Scottish Baccalaureate in Languages which involved a project focusing on the differing attitudes towards learning foreign languages in Scotland, France and Spain. After carrying out research, I discovered that there were alarming trends emerging within the UK concerning the decline of students committed to learning a foreign language and I became interested in changing perceptions of language learning. For me, foreign languages open up new horizons and the ability to speak French and Spanish has enabled me to become more culturally aware and more open-minded. In addition, I hoped to expand on this research, develop my passion for promoting languages and enhance my own linguistic skills at university.

One of the main reasons for continuing to study both Spanish and French at Stirling University was to be able to use the language in real life situations and to eventually become fully immersed in both French and Spanish culture. Without a doubt, deciding to study languages at university was one of the best decisions I have ever made and it has become more than an academic subject. The ability to speak French allowed me to study at a French business school where I made some lifelong friends. It also enabled me to become more confident as a person and more aware of cultural differences.

2019 Cochrane European Parliament Mar19

Furthermore, speaking Spanish allowed me to live and work with Spaniards every day during my role as an English Language Assistant in Spain. The language enabled me to understand the culture in a way which would have otherwise been impossible and I became fully integrated into the Spanish way of life. Similarly, I had the opportunity to continue my passion for promoting languages by working closely with SCILT in order to promote the Spanish language and culture within a local primary school.

The recent news regarding the decline in students wanting to study languages deeply saddens me as I look back with fond memories at the opportunities I have had thanks to my ability to speak two foreign languages. Certainly, I hope to continue to study languages after leaving university as the advantages of speaking multiple languages go beyond the classroom and they have become an enormous part of who I am today.’

Many, many thanks to Natalie for another great post singing the praises of languages – thanks for taking the time to do this! From our perspective, what has been particularly lovely in the responses from students is the level of passion that is coming across and it’s great to get a chance to share that.

‘Studying a language is awesome!’

As we mentioned in the previous combined posts, a few of our students got back to us with longer responses to the questions we sent out but also to the report and its content, so we thought it’d be good to post those responses as separate articles, starting with these thoughts from Alex, a finalist in French and Maths:

2019 Janes Provence Photo Feb19‘If you hadn’t heard already, a BBC News article was published this week by Education Editor Branwen Jeffreys stating that “Foreign language learning is at its lowest in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most”. Reading this article filled with me with sadness and slight infuriation and I decided to share my reaction with my friends on Facebook with the following caption:

“As a languages student, this is super sad to see and is undoubtedly caused by English becoming such a universal language. We as British people are very lucky to grow up communicating in a language that a great deal of the world has a desire to learn, but that should not immediately make us become incredibly lazy and not learn other languages. There are so many opportunities available through having a second (or more) language, and that’s what should be promoted from a young age. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have brilliant teachers in the years I’ve been studying French and without them, I would not be studying the degree I am now.”

After thinking about this further, I became reminiscent of my language studying days and thought that those should be shared, potentially with the prospect of encouraging others to study languages at GCSE if not in further education. In all honesty, I don’t really remember learning French in primary school so I only started to acknowledge studying it in high school. Once I got to the age of 13 at the stage of choosing my GCSEs (Standard Grades to Scottish folk), the top half of my school, academically speaking, had to take the language under the Baccalaureate system which was either French or German. I was lucky enough to have a native French teacher in my first year of high school, who may be the fundamental reason I continued to study the language for years to come. It was maybe one of the first times I had heard a non-British accent, and I remember thinking it was so cool. My interest for the subject grew at the rate I was learning vocabulary and tenses, and the passion and drive to succeed worked as I achieved an A* at GCSE.

Going onto sixth form, I was excited at the prospect of developing my French competence even further and that proved to be the case. My teacher was fantastic and really stimulated my interest to spend lots of time on doing more than just studying the language. I’d always known I wanted to do a Maths degree but this casted a cloud of ambiguity about what I wanted to do. As you might have seen on my first ever blog post back in early 2017 (blimey!), I ended up doing the two subjects together.

2019 Janes Monaco Photo Feb19Reasons why I continued to study French? The first reason has to be the opportunities to go to the country of that language. My experience of living abroad in France in the first half of 2018 was AIX-traordinary (no pun intended), and would 100% recommended those kinds of experiences to anybody. Secondly, the teachers I have had over the course of my studying French have been brilliant. Languages are a department that often gets underrated but is maybe one of the toughest subjects to teach as the ability to pick up a language and to continuously keep students interested is not an easy task at all. Thirdly and finally, the skills you obtain from learning a language are vast. Communication, confidence, competence; 3 Cs that many employers look for in most jobs, which make you a very exciting employee to take on board.

So if there’s any students reading this, especially between the ages of 7 and 16, studying a language is awesome and I would definitely recommend it!’

Many thanks to Alex for this fantastic plea on behalf of Languages and language learning, and for the terrible pun…

Why Study Languages? What our students say…

As promised, then, as well as having gathered responses to questions about language learning (which ones, why, why not, why keep going with them…) from colleagues, we’ve also been delighted to receive (and to continue to receive!) a number of responses from our students. We’ll post a couple of these separately but, without further ado, here are some of the initial thoughts and experiences from students across different years and different programmes:

For David, who is in the first year of a BA Hons in French with us, French started at the age of 13 at secondary school but, in his words, he was ‘a bad student and count only count to 10 by the time [he] left.’ He then restarted learning French at the age of 50 and is now, as I say, in his first year with us. The motivation for taking up French again came from David having had to stop work and he says that ‘French is not an easy subject but a great challenge due to its difficulty, beauty and culture.’ He also did Beginners’ Spanish in an access course last year but didn’t continue with it because he found that it was too difficult to be learning two languages at the same time.

Catriona is also a mature student, studying French with us who explains: ‘I started learning French in 1st year at high school, aged 11. I think that was in 1968! I remember being delighted when I realised I could understand the French bit of the Beatles’ song ‘Michelle’!’ In her 3rd year, she took up German as well and did two years of Latin in 1st and 2nd year. Her mum had also enjoyed French and German at high school (both to Higher) so she wonders whether that influenced her though she points out ‘it didn’t have the same effect on my brother so maybe that’s not the cause!’ She liked French and found it fairly easy (‘probably because I liked it’) and the same applied to German. She would also have liked to have done Russian or Spanish but neither was available. Having done Higher French and German, Catriona then pursued a career in nursing but has done various continuing education courses in both languages over the years. She’s doing French now because ‘I still like learning it and don’t want to forget what I know. I like the country and the culture and like being able to speak to the people in their own language and read things I see when on holiday etc. I suppose I’ve got a bit of a fascination with foreign languages and learning them.’

Chelsea is a final year student whose dissertation happens to be looking at language learning, anxiety and motivation in secondary schools so she has been particularly interested in the news coverage. She started learning French aged 10 (in P6) and initially, very honestly, continued learning it because she had to study a language up until S4. Chelsea’s decision to study Higher French was largely based on getting good grades and she says: ‘I didn’t actually start to enjoy French until I was studying it at Higher.’ She went on to take it at Uni because she enjoyed learning it and was good at it but also because she wanted to improve her spoken French. She also took Beginners’ Spanish in first year but had to stop because it didn’t fit any more into the structures of her degree.

Chloe is in the first year of her degree in Primary Education with a Specialism in Modern Languages, having started learning French in P7 when she was about 10. Her initial motivation for continuing with it came partly from needing a qualification in French to get into her University course as she wanted to do languages teaching and enjoys learning languages. She travelled to Romania and had to learn the basics of Romanian to get by there but found that she would get it confused with her French so stopped it after that particular trip.

Like Chloe, Lauren is also in the first year of a degree with Education but, in her case, our Professional Education (Secondary) programme with French and Spanish. The first language she learned that wasn’t her own was French and she started learning it at 4 years old. At that age, her grandparents got her involved with a French class outside of school but she stopped aged 8 after her teacher fell ill. She started another one around a year later and her teacher was a franchisee of La Jolie Ronde. Lauren says she kept up with her languages due to the influence of her grandparents: ‘my 84-year-old grandpa often texts me in French and we have conversations in French at dinner times whenever I visit.’ Lauren decided to study languages at University as ‘it’s the one passion I’ve had since I was little that hasn’t changed and has been ever present in my life.’

As is the case for those of us teaching French at Stirling, those studying it with us come from a range of backgrounds, having taken up languages for all kinds of reasons. We’ll keep adding any responses that come in from other students over the days ahead and we’d like to thank all those who’ve already been in touch!

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!)…