Tag: Philosophy

‘Jumping in and out of languages every day!’

Having posted an update a few weeks ago from David who, among other things, has spent a year teaching English in Colombia since he graduated, it’s a lovely coincidence to also be able to post this article by Luise who graduated in the same year and has also spent some time in Colombia since graduating, among many other things, as you’ll see below:

2019 Pawlig Ben Ledi from Callander‘When I started studying at Stirling University I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree. I changed courses from International Management with Spanish and French to Spanish and French and Philosophy. I firmly believe that if one thing is just not for you, you should try something else instead until you find something you like – ideally something you are good at. I seemed to do okay in languages and I loved learning them and as much about all aspects of them as I could. So, I knew that I would probably enjoy working with languages.

I had worked as an au pair in several countries before and during my time at university, so I knew that I was pretty good at working with kids, too, and, after finishing my degree, I went to Colombia to teach English in a secondary school. It was an amazing experience but I decided not to take further steps towards teaching for the moment because I would have had to do another course and I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to be a teacher.

One thing I have always loved, though, is literature. I have always enjoyed reading and writing and wanted to combine that with my languages. So, I started to think about becoming a literary translator. I attended various language events and tried to figure out how to start a career in literary translation. I got some helpful advice on how to get started in translation but never specifically for literary translation. It does not seem to be the most profitable branch of translation, that’s probably why not many people seem to be interested in doing it.

I didn’t want to study again right away and was looking at ways of getting some experience at work. That’s why I started working in bilingual customer service. However, the job was not for me and I also did not get the amount of translation work that I was hoping for. When I left my position in customer service, I finally decided to go straight for what I actually wanted to do: translate books.

During my research, I found a website (Permondo) where you can translate for NGOs on a voluntary basis. It seemed like a great way to get started because you don’t necessarily require a degree in translation to help them out. However, I have only heard from them twice and on both occasions they needed the work done within such a short time (within a few days or even hours) that I haven’t been able to get involved yet.

Then I came across Tektime. I created my profile, contacted the first author and sent them a sample translation of a small part of their novel. They accepted my translation proposal and now I’m working on books no.3 and 4. I am not quite sure yet how big the income from this work will be and I will have to figure out my way through taxation in Italy and the UK as a freelancer but I definitely enjoy what I’m doing and I am very grateful for the opportunity to finally get some ‘proper’ translation experience.

Given that I am translating from English into German at the moment, what I’m doing now does not have a lot to do with my degree in Spanish and French. Generally, though, I know that studying languages at university and the time abroad have improved my feel for languages. My understanding of how they work each a little different from the other and what they have in common has deepened. Just the experience of ‘jumping’ in and out of different languages every day and the translation exercises we did in class come in handy now.

If I were to start university again now with the idea of going into literary translation, I would probably make the same choices again because it ultimately got me where I want to be.’

Many, many thanks to Luise for finding the time to send us this update and we wish you all the very best for the translation work – do let us know how things go. And for readers who are interested in learning more about translation, you might also be interested in these previous blog posts and, of course, Stirling does also offer postgrad degrees in Translation

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!)…