Tag: Schools outreach

Language Ambassadors: Encouraging Pupils to Learn Languages

Over the course of this Autumn/Winter semester at Stirling, we’ve continued to develop our work with secondary schools, sometimes focusing primarily on French, sometimes working in collaboration with our colleagues in Spanish, always underlining the advantages that come through studying languages. We’re hoping to post a few more updates about these activities over the coming weeks and, to start with, we’re pleased to be able to post the following article, co-written by Laura, who is in the final year of a BA Hons in English Studies and French, and Michael, who is in Year 2 of his BA Hons programme in Professional Education (Primary) with a specialism in Modern Languages. Laura and Michael’s day saw them representing French at Stirling as Language Ambassadors at Williamwood High School in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire.

For Michael: ‘When I was asked to be a part of the group of students going to Williamwood High School I was keen to accept the invitation. I thought that it would be a worthwhile opportunity to speak to high school pupils just beginning to think about their futures, about the possibility of going to university, and hopefully to encourage them to study a modern language. On the day of our visit, we represented the University of Stirling at a careers fair organised by the school’s modern languages department and got to speak to three groups of fourth year pupils who attended the fair. We started off each group with a presentation about the modern language courses offered at Stirling and the different pathways they could follow. Specifically, we covered the standard four-year degree structure; the possibility of a year or semester abroad; popular joint degrees with a modern language; and how a joint degree with Primary or Secondary Education differs from other courses. We were able to go into some depth about the differences caused by Education as a few of us, including myself, are doing a joint degree with Education.

At the end of the presentation, we had time to take some questions from the pupils. Most questions were centred on the countries and places you could go on a semester or year abroad, and what it was like to live in a foreign country. Other questions focused on the student experience and campus life. Our group from Stirling was comprised of second, third and fourth year students so we were able to give the pupils a number of perspectives.

All the pupils listened well and told us they found our presentation interesting. I myself enjoyed hearing about the experiences of the older students in our group. I was also glad that I could make studying languages at university something for the pupils to consider when thinking about their plans for after school.’

As for Laura: ‘As well as thinking about the content of what we presented it is also relevant to emphasise the reason why we did it. In my opinion, when we are young, we tend to think that our future is still very far away, and that we have got time to think about our future jobs; but when it comes to learning languages, it is never too early to start, and schools should always encourage students to study languages and show them the  different pathways they can follow after their high school. This is basically what we did at Williamwood High School.

From another perspective, I am a Catalan student in Stirling doing English and French and I found the idea of going to a school to talk about the language degrees opportunities, the importance of speaking more than one or two languages and the life in university all very important. Not only were the themes in our presentation important, but also the fact that we are students and we explained to them this information from our point of view and from our own experiences helped the pupils to think that they can also accomplish their career goals if we are also doing it.

When I was in high school, I was already doing English and French as foreign languages alongside Catalan and Spanish. Everyone kept telling us, study languages is always very important in life and for your future, but we were never told why it was important and what pathways we could take if we wanted to focus on languages. In order to motivate students to do and to accomplish something, I think it is important to show them examples and to have people explaining their own experiences as a way of motivating and encouraging students to follow similar pathways. Besides, schools should promote the idea that learning languages opens many doors in life and especially in terms of employability; in this way, they see that learning languages is not pointless and they can set their goals easily with examples.

Although I already had my future ideas very clear, unfortunately, my own school teachers did not prepare me for this, and this is why I accepted the invitation straight away so as to show students that what they are doing right now really matters for their future by illustrating my experiences as an example for them. It was important to present them the wide range of choices they have in terms of languages courses and degree combinations but also the opportunities the university gave us such as the mandatory semester abroad specially in the French case, it gives the chance to students to discover the real francophone culture that was represented in the textbooks and the news.

All in all, I think our message is clear: we want to encourage students of all ages to learn languages, to take advantage of all the opportunities that the French department (and Languages more broadly) in Stirling offers and to never stop learning languages.’

Many, many thanks to Laura and Michael for having taken the time to put together this blog and to them and all our Language Ambassadors for the great work they continue to do. And thanks to the pupils and staff at Williamwood for the warm welcome!

 

Language teaching and juggling acts

Among the various blog posts that have been lurking in my inbox waiting to make it onto the blog is the following update from Fiona who graduated in English and French from Stirling in 2012 and then came back to complete our MSc in Translation and TESOL in 2013-14. Since then, Fiona has undertaken teacher training and she has just started a permanent post in Renfrewshire where life remains as busy as ever:

2019 Nov Fiona Mears Pic IV‘Having gained provisional registration with the GTCS in June 2018, I embarked on the next stage of the ‘becoming a fully-fledged teacher’ process. I was placed in a school in Falkirk Council for my NQT year, and what a year it turned out to be! I was solely responsible for classes at all stages of secondary schooling, including a bi-level certificated class doing National 5 and Higher. I still vividly remember the agonising wait for exam results back when I was at school. I hadn’t, however, bargained on just how nerve-wracking results day is for the teacher! Thankfully the hard work put in by all paid off and my first ever certificated class did me and themselves proud.

The year was a steep learning curve. I had to hit the ground running and very quickly get to grips with all the administration and reporting that comes with teaching, never mind get used to putting schemes of work together and planning lessons. The expectations placed on me as an NQT were huge. I had to attend weekly CPD sessions run both by my school and by the council. I found myself involved in a range of activities outwith the classroom, from helping at a weekend-long team-building residential for senior pupils to attending the senior ceilidh and prom.

2019 Nov Fiona Mears Pic II also volunteered to help out with the school’s Duke of Edinburgh programme, which saw me frying sausages using trangias in Beecraigs Country Park, climbing Dumyat early one Saturday morning and spending several nights sleeping in a tent between expeditions to North Berwick, Aviemore and Arran. While it required a big-time commitment, including staying late after school for training and giving up weekends, my involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh programme without a doubt left me with some of my most treasured memories from my NQT year.

Sadly, budget cuts meant that my school was unable to keep me on and I had to move on to pastures new. In May, I secured a permanent position at a school in Renfrewshire Council, where I’ve been settling in well. On top of my teaching responsibilities, I’ve decided that this is the year to start the Certificate of Continuing Education in Spanish (basically a part-time undergraduate degree) to gain dual qualification in French and Spanish. The course is proving to be fast-paced and very full on, but mostly it’s a welcome return to studying and learning. How I’ll manage to keep up with the course during busier-than-usual spells at work remains to be seen, but for now I’m just about managing the juggling act between teaching, studying, socialising and a hefty commute.’

Many, many thanks to Fiona for finding the time to send us this update and the photos. All the best for the new job and we look forward to more blog posts in the future. And, who knows, maybe we’ll have a chance to meet some of your pupils at a future Stirling Languages Day…

2019 Prize Winners!

It has been a busy few weeks for French at Stirling from the success of our taster days for secondary schools all the way to graduation last week via some unexpected challenges in the shape of flooding in our building. All of that has taken precedence over keeping up with the blog for a little while but, as many of us head off in different directions for holidays before coming back to prepare for the new academic year, we wanted to just post a few updates starting with congratulations to the recipients of this year’s prizes for French at Stirling.

A number of awards have been made this year, recognising outstanding performances across the board by students on degrees involving French. Amy, who is at the end of Year 1 of our Professional Primary Education degree, with a specialism in Modern Languages, is the recipient of our prize for the best Year 1 performance in the Beginners’ stream for French. The prize for best Year 1 performance in the non-Beginners’ stream was awarded to Mihaela who is studying for our BA Honours programme in International Management with European Languages and Society.

The prize for best performance in Year 2 has two joint recipients this year. Like Amy, Marc is also on our Professional Primary Education programme, specialising in Modern Languages. For him, ‘having this opportunity to study the language to such a high level alongside my main degree is extremely beneficial to my future career. Having never been to France before, the department structures French studies in such a way which enables me to not only learn the language, but also the historical and cultural context of France and the French empire which is something I’ve found particularly interesting.’ Marc’s co-recipient of the Year 2 award is Victoria who is studying International Politics and Languages with us and will be off for Semester Abroad in the Spring next year. Victoria moved to Stirling from Germany for her degree and, before moving, says that she couldn’t have imagined ‘the possibilities my studies would bring about but I must say that I am really happy to be given the opportunity to learn French in such an international environment. I am aiming to spend my spring semester next year in Morocco and am thankful for all the support the French faculty has given me so far in order for this to be made possible.’

As always, competition was fierce for our Simone de Beauvoir prize which is awarded to the final year student with the strongest performance across their French modules but this year’s recipient is Bethany who has just completed her BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society. Bethany was also the very deserving winner of our final year Translation prize and she kindly took the time to send some thoughts on her time at Stirling:

‘Studying Advanced French and Francophone cultures at University enabled me to gain a more profound and realistic understanding of French identity and cultural issues that I had witnessed first-hand in France itself. It was just incredible to discuss current challenges with a rational step back from the social situation and critically analyse what is occurring in society today. I realised that French studies was deeply aligned with my interests as studying felt seamless and effortless. The tutors constantly deepened my interest and made me engaged with the topics raised, making me want to learn more, grow more and gain more from the University experience. Walking though the French corridor in Pathfoot always filled me with butterflies in the pit of my stomach, anticipating the next lesson or debate. I felt it provided me with a bold emotional attachment that united me back to France throughout my time at University and made me desire to return to my adoptive country and undertake future studies to generate change to overcome some of the negative issues that France is tackling. Winning two Prizes for French filled me with an immense feeling of pride, recognition and gratitude towards all my lecturers and tutors who I cannot thank enough.’

2019 Prize Winners Natalie Photo ICongratulations, too, to Natalie, who has also just graduated in International Management, having studied both French and Spanish throughout, and who was the recipient of the equivalent final year prize for her work in Spanish. Natalie was ‘overjoyed to have received the Jose Blanco White Prize for Spanish. It has been a wonderful way to end what has been a fantastic four years at Stirling. As well as studying Spanish, I have enjoyed learning about French and Francophone cultures through exploring literary texts, films and engaging in fascinating discussions. I believe that my passion for the French culture and language was enhanced by the support and commitment of all the tutors who work incredibly hard to promote languages within the University.’ A particular highlight for Natalie was the opportunity to work as a Student Ambassador for Languages to promote French and Spanish in local secondary schools and during our Open and Applicant Days: ‘I feel proud to be part of a team who play a fundamental role in inspiring our young people to learn foreign languages. Another of my highlights would definitely have to be my semester abroad in Strasbourg which I spent at EM Strasbourg Business School: a fantastic opportunity to use my French skills in real-life situations and to become more confident in my abilities. I feel extremely proud to have been part of a wonderful faculty and I am incredibly thankful to all of the tutors who have helped me along the way!’

And finally, congratulations to Stefano who has just graduated with his degree in International Politics and Languages and who was named one of the University’s Students of the Year in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the University over the past four years. In particular, Stefano has been recognised for his energy and commitment to helping others feel part of a welcoming, inclusive academic community.

Félicitations à toutes et à tous!

 

Schools Day Success

As regular blog readers will know, this week the time had finally come for our Languages event for S5 and S6 pupils from schools from all across Scotland. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we welcomed a total of around 300 pupils to the Pathfoot Building and colleagues from French & Francophone Studies and Spanish & Latin American Studies led them through a day of mini lectures, culture and language classes, CPD sessions for the teachers and a series of presentations by current and former students, as well as our Faculty Employability Officer, on the benefits of time abroad as part of a degree (whether within Europe with Erasmus+ or well beyond), English Language Assistantships and the many, many doors that languages open up in the wider world beyond University.

davAfter a brief welcome from the Faculty Dean Richard Oram, and the event organisers, Pete Baker and Cristina Johnston, the pupils were split between French and Spanish activities for a short opening lecture and then for the classroom activities. Those doing French enjoyed a lecture on ‘Race, Religion and the Republic’ by Aedín ní Loingsigh before heading off into smaller groups for culture classes examining extracts from Autour il y a les arbres et le ciel magnifique led by Cristina Johnston, Emeline Morin, Aedín ní Loingsigh, Elizabeth Ezra, Hannah Grayson and Beatrice Ivey. At the same time, those doing Spanish enjoyed Pete Baker’s lecture on Frida Kahlo and further discussion of Kahlo’s work in culture classes led by Pete and his colleagues Inés Ordiz and Ann Davies.

After lunch, it was back into the classrooms for some written language and listening work, led by Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau, Fraser McQueen and Cristina, Emeline and Aedín for French, and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, along with Pete and Inés for Spanish. And while the pupils were hard at work in their culture and language classes, their teachers were being led through CPD activities focusing on feedback and assessment, as well as the challenges that arise in the transition from secondary to HE, by Emeline and Aedín. The CPD sessions also included an opportunity for the teachers to benefit from a guided tour of the AHRC-funded Experiences of Exile exhibition by Beatrice Ivey.

All the pupils and teachers were brought together for the final session which included presentations by a group of Languages graduates, as well as current students at different stages in their degrees, and our Employability Officer, Elaine Watson. They all spoke passionately about their experiences of Study Abroad, teaching English as a Language Assistant, travelling during time abroad, career paths they have embarked on or are considering as a result of having studied a language and, in the words of Meg, one of the speakers, the confidence that comes from knowing that ‘if you can navigate France through train, plane and University strikes, you can do anything!’

2019 ASMCF Logo IIAll in all, a great chance for us to get to talk to a fantastic group of pupils and teachers, and an opportunity for those pupils, in particular, to get a real taste of what University and Languages at University is like and where it can lead you. Many thanks to all those who came along, to all the colleagues who led sessions over the course of the two days, to the students and graduates who gave up their time (and sent photos!) to come and speak to our visitors, and to the Division of Literature and Languages and the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France for their support.

Fantastic uptake for languages event for secondary schools

More will follow about this – as promised! – in the weeks ahead but we just wanted to post a brief update to say that there has been a fantastic response to our planned languages event for S5 and S6 pupils and their teachers, jointly organised by French and Spanish at Stirling. Such a fantastic response, in fact, that we’re running the event not once but twice!  

There’ll be mini-lectures, language and culture classes, opportunities for the pupils to meet some of our current and former students to talk about Study Abroad and employability (our Faculty Employability Officer, Elaine Watson, will also be coming along), as well as CPD sessions for the teachers covering assessment and feedback and the challenges of the transition from secondary to University.  

2019 ASMCF Logo IIAll made possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of colleagues across both language areas at Stirling but also thanks to generous support from the Division of Literature and Languages and, for the French-specific elements, from the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, via their Schools Liaison and Outreach funding. 

We’re looking forward to welcoming around 80 pupils and 20+ teachers on each of the two days and will post updates over the weeks ahead!

 

Double Funding Success!

As ever, with the rush of the final weeks of semester, the blog has gone a little quiet but the sun has just come out over Stirling’s campus and that seems like a good time and a good reason to quickly try to catch up on things blog-related. By way of a starting point, it’s great to be able to share some good news about funding successes for colleagues in French at Stirling.

2019 ASMCF Logo IIBuilding on the success of a similar event we organised back in June 2017, we’re currently in the midst of organising an event for secondary school pupils that’ll take place on campus in a couple of months. More will follow on that soon but we were delighted to hear, just a few days ago, that Cristina Johnston has been awarded funding through the ASMCF School’s Liaison and Outreach Fund to support some of the activities we have planned for that event. Watch this space for more details and thanks to the ASMCF for their support.

And our other piece of fantastic funding news is that Fiona Barclay has been awarded a grant through the Stirling Fund to create a micro-website as part of the University website that will enable staff and students who are interested in learning and practising another language to get in touch with each other. In essence, users will create a profile stating which language they are looking to learn, and which native language they are offering. They can then use private messaging to contact other users whose profiles match what they are looking for. It’s aimed at helping Stirling students to build confidence and language ability, and also at helping visiting students to integrate and get to know UK students. The website is due to launch in September so, again, keep checking the blog for updates and congratulations to all concerned!

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!)…