Tag: Oral and aural classes

New Semester, New Oral Classes

Our new Languages for Employability module is not the only teaching innovation for this coming academic year. Last year, we launched fortnightly paired oral sessions for Year 3 and 4 students, led by our great Language team of Jean-Michel DesJacques, Brigitte Depret and Mathilde Mazau. Building on their success, we’re expanding this provision for the new year ahead.

This year, all our final year students will benefit from a weekly paired session, while our Year 3 students will continue to benefit from fortnightly sessions. The idea behind the sessions is partly to offer more scope for students to prepare for the format of oral assessments they encounter in the final two years but it’s also a means of giving our students a greater say in the topics they discuss since they are responsible for finding articles to talk about at each session.

For Year 1, 2 and 4 students, we’re also introducing weekly 30-minute conversation sessions to provide further opportunities to build fluency and confidence. These sessions will be led by incoming French exchange students from across our partner institutions, helping them to get to know their Stirling peers at the same time as they get a chance to develop their professional experience.

When we asked last year’s finalists for advice they’d pass on to future students, many of them picked up on the importance of oral and aural classes, emphasising the importance of speaking up and not being afraid to make mistakes. This advice is echoed by our Language Assistants in the workpacks they prepare for oral classes: ‘The Spoken Language class is your best opportunity to improve your speaking skills. Of course, you will be confused at times, make mistakes many times (as we all do when we learn, whether it be a language or any other skill), but most importantly, your tutors will be there to support and guide you. We aim for this learning process to be a successful adventure, which means you have to be involved without holding back. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy, and your language abilities will go from strength to strength. You will all learn from your own mistakes but also from each other’s in a relaxed atmosphere.’

With this in mind, we’re looking forward to feedback on the new oral formats from our current students!

French and History: ‘The best imaginable environment to study in’

As this year’s finalists nervously wait to get confirmation of their results, and look forward to graduation and life beyond, and our continuing students embark on Summers of work and travel and study, it seems a good time to resume our series of profiles of current French at Stirling students. To start us off again, we’re delighted to be able to post the following article by Charlene, who has just completed Year 2 of her BA Hons in French and History and who gives a sense of the range of journeys that have led students to Stirling:

2017 Charlene Hoag Profile Pic June“Bonjour! Hvordan går det? I’m Charlene and I’ve have decided to throw in some Danish and French to begin my explanation as to why I’m studying French & History at the University of Stirling!

I essentially moved to Scotland because I wanted to take an undergraduate degree taught in English. Previously, I lived in Denmark and studied the International Baccalaureate program for two years. Before that, I lived and grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. My dad’s American, and I really spent most of my childhood-teenage years in the States. I was, however, born in Copenhagen, Denmark and spent some early childhood years growing up on the West Coast of Denmark as well.

My family decided to move us all back to Denmark when I was about 18, and after staying in Denmark for 2 years, I then travelled and worked for a while before settling down in Stirling. I taught Business English in Paris, France, where I fell even more in love with the culture and language! I had previously studied French in my American high school for 3 years.

I was accepted into both Strathclyde University and the University of Stirling, and when I moved to Stirling permanently after making my decision, I was both relieved and excited at my choice! The campus provides the best imaginable environment to study in. The lake, trees and giant hill in the distance make the views stunning across campus!

The French department has been super helpful- the tutors are always willing to help and take a genuine interest in their hundreds of students! I would recommend finding a French exchange student to practice speaking French with throughout the semesters- I found it really improved my confidence and helped me prepare for the oral exam.

All in all, Stirling is THE campus to be at if you’re interested in a healthy working environment and plenty of staff support- and, considering how international the campus is, you’ll be surrounded by various cultures! What could be better that that? Salut et bonne chance!”

Many, many thanks to Charlene (Tak!) for taking the time to send us this profile and we look forward to more profiles of continuing students over the weeks ahead.

Student Language Ambassadors

A few weeks ago, three of our students (Stefano, David and Ross) were invited to McLaren High to act as Student Language Ambassadors and to talk to a wide range of pupils about their own experiences of studying Languages at University. The visit was a great success and I’m delighted to be able to pass on Stefano and David’s accounts of their day:

Stefano: “Why did you choose to study Languages at the University?… What does it mean to be a Language Student?… Is it true that you can then travel a lot?… These are just few examples among the several questions we were asked at McClaren High School in Callander by crowds of enthusiastic and curious pupils of different ages during our visit as Language Ambassadors on 9 February.

This semester I have been asked by the French Department to represent Stirling, together with my colleagues and friends David and Ross, in an ambassadorial role for the promotion of the languages at University level and I am glad to have the possibility to share here some of the highlights of our visit. In two words: great experience!

One of the language teachers from McClaren High School, Mr Alistair Brown, picked us up early to give us the chance to deliver a brief presentation at the pupils’ general assembly in the morning. More than 150 students attended and it was really good to get a chance to talk to them about our own experiences and the many opportunities that languages (and Stirling University) can offer.

After the initial gathering, David, Ross and I were asked to go to different classes with some of the teachers from the school in order to talk to smaller groups of pupils more broadly about what studying languages at the University really means.

My first class was French, Higher and Advanced Higher, with David. There, we told them our different experiences as language students at Stirling, focusing both on the possibilities in terms of jobs and travel and on the reasons that led us to undertake this path. It was great to share our passion for languages with interested pupils, hoping to make them realise how fascinating and convenient knowing more than a language can be! Most of the students in class immediately engaged in an interesting group-conversation, asking us questions and sharing with the rest of the class their thoughts and expectations about the possibility to further their knowledge of French.

During the class that followed, things got even more interesting; after another short talk about my experiences as an international language student, the teacher asked the class to put some good French into practice by practising “la conversation orale” together and by…asking me to teach them a bit of Italian in exchange! We all had great fun practicing our French and trying out some simple Italian sentences, because, after all, who knows? Maybe some of them will eventually end up studying Italian too in the future!

After a break, Ross and I attended a class together where we talked more specifically about the possible careers available with a Language degree. Once more, we did not miss the opportunity to have some fun with languages; knowing that we are respectively fluent in Italian and Spanish, the teacher asked me and Ross to try a “multilingual” conversation to see whether or not we could understand each other! Quite surprisingly, we managed to get through a short dialogue and we showed how knowing more languages can in fact lead also to great fun.

For my last class of the day, I went to another French class with David, where the pupils were especially interested in our experiences at the University of Stirling. We told them how and why we decided to come to Stirling to study Languages by sharing with them some of the amazing opportunities that our University can offer, from excellent quality in teaching and different and exciting experiences abroad to the numerous clubs and societies where it is possible to meet friends from all over the world and, once again, to engage and learn different languages.

To our great surprise and teachers’ astonishment, some of the pupils we met on that day immediately asked for the forms to pursue the study of languages at their Higher classes for the next year! Donc, ça a été une journée très spéciale!

It was a great honour and a pleasure to represent Stirling and Languages on this special occasion. I personally believe that, as language students, we have a huge opportunity (and responsibility) not only for ourselves, but for our future societies in terms of the capacity to understand and meet people from different cultures and it was amazing to share the beauties of this journey with the younger generations.”

David: “Taking part in the Student Ambassador initiative at McLaren High, near Callander, was a genuinely enriching and fun experience for me. I went with two other students, Stefano from Italy and Ross from Scotland. We thought that trying to convince students to pick languages as their Highers would be a difficult task but it turned out that the students were really interested in what we had to say. In fact, the pupils were extremely curious, interested and engaged, asking us many questions ranging from our favourite type of food to why we had chosen to study languages. It was quite tiring talking to different classes about the same topic but the questions were varied and we really enjoyed the pupils’ willingness to participate.

I think this initiative can have a very positive effect on high school pupils as, in the past few years, language teaching has been declining in Scotland. Many students don’t realise the importance of learning languages, especially nowadays in such a globalised society. Many told us they didn’t think it was necessary to learn another language as “everyone speaks English”. This mentality is exactly what we are trying to get rid of; they don’t realise that Spanish, for instance, will soon be the most widespread language around the world, in front of English and Chinese. I am hoping that after our discussions at the high school, we will hopefully have inspired the pupils to take an active interest in languages, even if they don’t choose it as one of their study options.

Being from a bilingual background myself, I have first-hand experience of the advantage of speaking more than one language and I hope to return to the high school as a language assistant and further encourage students to realise the potential of learning another language. Overall, it was a very eye-opening experience and I would love to take part in such an initiative again.”

Many thanks to Stefano and to David for sending these blog pieces, and to all three of our Student Language Ambassadors for having made the time to undertake this visit. We’re looking forward to continuing our visits in local schools – and schools beyond the local area – over the weeks and months ahead. And if any of this has made you curious about studying Languages at Stirling, come and meet us at one of our upcoming Applicant or Open Days.

What’s it like being a ‘lectrice’ at Stirling?

At all levels of study in French at Stirling, our students have weekly oral and aural classes, in small groups, taught by our native Language Assistants, Brigitte Depret and Mathilde Mazau. Given the key role they play in our students’ progress through their studies, we thought it’d be good to start the year with their take on what it’s like to be a lectrice at Stirling. Here’s Brigitte’s view of things:

2016 Brigitte Photo

‘Since first being introduced into universities the lectrice or lecteur has become essential to students’ language learning. Despite the considerable versatility of the job in terms of responsibilities, most of us have teaching qualifications or a university degree. I had a previous teaching activity in France where I taught English. Now, my main activity consists in teaching my native language at university level, being a free-lance translator and in my rare spare time, writing a book. As teachers, through peer reviews and seminars, we are given the opportunity to improve or even maintain the quality of our teaching, to update, evolve and meet the increasingly varied demands of students.

The content and the level to which I teach can vary significantly. Firstly, at undergraduate level, I teach the technical or grammatical knowledge of the language, through the teaching of syntax, focusing on competence in writing or comprehension and production. I also teach oral/aural language classes at the same level. Here, the focus is on oral/aural competence. Occasionally, I offer specific language seminars where I teach or give talks to post-graduate students in the realm of translation studies. Finally, my role goes beyond teaching too. All teachers’ roles have an administrative side too. Before the start of a semester, my work includes putting together an exercise work pack here, several oral language work packs there. On a weekly basis, it includes preparations, corrections, marking, sampling, feed-back, invigilating, replying to emails, meetings and a couple of feedback and guidance hours when students can pop in if need be.

We cannot evoke our beautiful French language without mentioning its thorny grammar. Ah, French grammar! All our students have to get through it and the grammar remains a very technical and confusing part to especially our English native speakers who tend to have learned their own grammar intuitively. Through the first couple of years, in weekly seminars, our students will be taught and explained our daunting French grammar that is full or rules and exceptions, which will often times leave them scratching their heads. They will complete exercises where grammar is taught in context, so it is not just theory. The seminars aim at enhancing the students’ technical language skills so they can confidently apply what they have learned in writing their own piece.


To be able to teach French grammar, doesn’t only require a very accurate knowledge of my native language, but also the ability to walk in the students’ shoes so I can offer them clearer explanations. It does involve a lot of patience and creativity! Indeed, sometimes one explication won’t suffice and I will have to find strategies, tricks and more examples to ensure that they all have understood the point.

As far as the speaking skills are concerned, these are the hardest skills to work on as the success of the course strictly relies on the students’ implication and will to communicate. The differences in level (we have some bilingual students, false beginners, shy students…) and the fact that we welcomes more and more students whose native language is not English, make an oral language class, an interesting ‘dance’ where the participants sometimes try hard to follow the steps not to lose the rhythm. The various themes we work on with our students, range from cultural aspects (humour, politics, ecology, feminism, cinema, songs, comics) or linguistic aspects (colloquial French and slang).

It’s the personal choice of the lectrice to decide which material to choose to support our activities. It varies, but usually, these are press cuttings, videos links, extract of a book etc. They are put together in a work pack for the students’ use.

In a spoken language class, I often question my practice: ‘Am I speaking too fast? Did they get what I said? Should I repeat in English for those who are lost? Should I ask someone to rephrase my question?’ In fact, I think I question myself more than the students dare ask me to repeat! Don’t we all have this awkwardness when we don’t understand a sentence and feel very uneasy to ask ‘Vous pouvez répéter, s’il vous plaît?’

The fluency in the oral language is the most difficult skill to perfect as it regroups all the fine competences required to be able to communicate on a satisfactory level: listening, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, syntax structure and last but not least, intonation and rhythm. This is a heavy load on the beginner’s brain. At the beginning I often ask my students to try repeating in a chorus. It works well. I feel like a conductor and they are my musicians, training together first, in a view to letting them play solo at a later stage.

It’s good to see the students gaining confidence, but sometimes the lectrices alone cannot perform miracles. This is what saddens me the most in my practice when I don’t see quick positive results. However, all is not lost! Students who have had the opportunity to study abroad in France or another French-language country are proud to come back and show us how their French has improved. Most importantly, the mastering of a language, really comes together when the students have no other choice than to speak French when they find themselves in total immersion.

This is why I truly believe the perfection of their oral practice is not all down to the teachers. We strongly encourage our students to expand their knowledge by reading, listening to radio shows, watching the news or movies in French outside of the classes, since we cannot spoon feed them at that level. The students have numerous tools at their disposal in this big era of the social and digital media. We have a Facebook page on which we post relevant pieces from the French press on a daily basis for the students to read.

Finally, one of the last things I wish to mention about this job I do absolutely love, is that I have had the chance to organise a few cultural or celebratory get together with my students. Beyond teaching, to connect with them outside of the class through my language, or when they email me news from France writing in a perfect French, to tell me about their experience and how nicely they have progressed, that in itself is enough to make my day and want me to keep teaching as long as I can.’