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.
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!’
All 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.
Term has finished now in Stirling but there’s still lots going on, in particular with our two days of events for secondary school pupils next week (more on that later!). It’s also a good point in the year to catch up with tales from current students finishing off time abroad and graduates whose post-graduation paths have taken them in unexpected directions like Brett who has just sent us this great post and who graduated in French and Spanish this time last year: ‘
‘If you’re a languages student on the cusp of graduating, you’re probably at the infamous crossroads: translation or teaching. I’ve stared down that path before too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk it. I’ve done translation work, and I like it, but I’m not ready to commit to specializing in any field just yet. I’m also quite sure that I don’t want to be a teacher in the UK either. So what does that leave me with? After working for TAPIF (via British Council) in France, and having the time of my life on Erasmus in Seville, I wanted more from language learning before diving into the pool of post-grad uncertainty.
As if Fourth Year isn’t hard enough (specially with studying two foreign languages), I decided to also study introductory Japanese ‘for fun’. If you’re questioning my sanity, you’re right to do so. On Thursdays I used to have a two-hour Spanish class, a two-hour French class, another two hours of Spanish and then two hours of Japanese from 6-8pm. There was method to the madness, however. I’d always been interested in Japan as a teenager, and even at the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to live and work there. I’d heard of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind, thinking there was no way I’d be eligible to go with basically no Japanese ability. But one day, during our weekly 2-hour Japanese class, representatives from the Programme came to Stirling University. It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind.
I started the application process. That in itself was a journey. Doctors’ appointments, trips to the Consulate in Edinburgh, and mountains of paperwork awaited me (I thought I’d had it bad in France). It paid off though, as I was notified in May that I’d been accepted. But in the afterglow of being successfully hired I was asked the same few questions.
“Urm, why are you going to Japan?”
“Don’t you think it’s a waste after studying Spanish and French?”
I just gave a smile and said “it’ll be an adventure!” But the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. Why invest so much time, money, and energy into something if you’re not going to utilize it? I pushed those thoughts aside as I got on the plane and endured the 18-hour flight to Tokyo. But the thoughts didn’t leave my mind during the 3-day orientation. It seemed everyone had studied Japanese, or had at least been to Japan before. Even though I had successfully gone through the same application and hiring process as everyone else, imposter syndrome started to creep in.
After the orientation, I flew to my final destination: Tottori City in Tottori Prefecture. Tottori Prefecture lies in Western Japan, and is very inaka (rural). It’s the least populated prefecture, with a rough total of 570,570 inhabitants. Starbucks finally made its debut in Tottori in 2015 (I’m using that as a measurement of ruralness). Other measurements of inaka-ness include; being surrounded by rice paddies, having to pay with exact change on the bus, and always hearing the hum of the cicadas wherever you go. As for weather, it’s hot and humid (around 35 degrees Celsius) in the summer and below freezing in winter.
My job is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a high-level academic Senior High School. You may have some preconceived ideas about Japanese students.
“They must be so polite!”
“They’re amazing at English!”
“They’re so clever!”
Of course, they are, in part. On the whole my students are lovely to work with. They always say “hello” in the corridors, they give me sweets or presents when they come back from holidays, and they often come to chat to me in the staff room. At my high school, every student wants to go to university, so learning English is important for them. This makes my job easier, because it means they try hard to begin with (a welcome change from my situation in France). Outside the classroom, I try to involve myself in cultural activities. I joined my school’s ikebana (flower arranging) club. I’ve also experienced tea ceremonies and attempted Japanese calligraphy.
Maybe you’re thinking, well that’s great, but you’ve not used your skills in Spanish and French. Au contraire. Being a Language Assistant in France gave me my first insight into teaching English as a foreign language. On top of that, my Erasmus semester gave me the courage to speak to people in a foreign language, without the safety net of English to catch me. You might have already experienced these things in Spanish and French-speaking countries, but it can be daunting when your new country doesn’t even use the same alphabet. Thankfully, I also have very kind teachers and colleagues to help me when I’m struggling.
I was lucky enough to be placed in a Super Global High School. What does that mean? Our school takes part in international projects (mainly focused on social and environmental issues). We also have students partake in international exchange programmes. Right now, we have an Argentine exchange student who doesn’t speak much English or Japanese. So, I’ve been proactively helping her, translating any information she doesn’t understand and speaking to her in Spanish when she’s struggling. I guess that’s a job that couldn’t be done if I hadn’t studied Spanish at university.
On top of all of this, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places that I otherwise would never have been to. I’ve also made my TV debut on both small local stations and prime time nation-wide programmes. Who would have thought?
Living in Japan has given me the chance to reunite with two other Stirling University alumni: Daisuke and Atsushi. They helped tutor me in Japanese and gave me some great advice before I left the UK. If I hadn’t studied languages at Stirling Uni, I would never have met two great friends and developed a support network before I even arrived in Japan.
The obvious thing to mention is the challenge of learning the Japanese language. It’s different in almost every way to English, Spanish and French. Forget the patterns of “Subject, Verb, Object” and noun/adjective placement. I’ve had to unlearn the knowledge I acquired over the last ten years and treat this as something completely new. On top of that, there are three writing systems used in Japanese! Yes, three! Although it’s been a slow process, I feel like I’ve made some small progress in the (almost) year that I’ve been here. In July I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and aiming for N5 level (the equivalent of A1/2 in the CEFR exams).
I’m still not sure what the future holds, but I know I’m going to be in Japan until at least August 2020. After that, I still haven’t made up my mind. I’m torn between staying in Japan, moving to South Korea or travelling around South America. I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that there is no one way to do things. So, if you’re standing at a crossroads and you can’t decide which route to take, why don’t you forge your own path?’
Many, many thanks to Brett for this fantastic post – we’re delighted that JET and Japan are working out so well for you and look forward to more updates over the months ahead. Do keep in touch!
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.
All 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!
Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:
‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.
Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.
As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!
This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).
In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’
Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!
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!
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.
One of the combinations that hasn’t featured as often here is Psychology with a European Language, a programme that enables students to combine modules in Psychology with modules in either French or Spanish, so it was particularly good to hear from one of our recent graduates, Luisa, who completed precisely this programme a few years back:
‘After graduating, I went on to do an MSc in Health Psychology at Stirling, as I was torn between what to continue with. I’d say the biggest overlap between the two areas (French and Psychology) was that I used a psychological approach called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis for my French dissertation and it was one of my highest grades that year. It was the first time I had combined the two subjects but it worked well. I also had to write a Psychology dissertation that was due about a week after the French one: definitely a good test of time management and pressure having to write both at the same time.
I have taken a year to work in retail and I am now applying for jobs related to Psychology. However, I have also looked into jobs relating to French, as I had been told by a fellow 2016 French graduate that an organisation in Stirling was advertising translation jobs. I have always enjoyed the prospect of having more options because of having a joint degree. I still try and use French whenever I can and I hope to re-integrate it into my life in the near future.’
Many thanks to Luisa for sending us this blog post and we wish you all the best with the job applications, whichever route they take you down.
And as well as responses from colleagues, the thoughts of students on the question of language uptake and what prompted them to become language learners also keep coming in, like the following post from Samantha who is currently in her final year of a BA Hons in French and Spanish:
‘I started learning Spanish after I moved house at 6 years old. I found my dad’s old Spanish vocab and grammar books from when he studied it in high school and, although I couldn’t read much of my native language at that age, it just amazed me that there were so many people out there that could speak and understand a language different from my own, so I wanted to break down that barrier and learn more because that fascinated me so much.
I had a very basic knowledge of Spanish until I went on holiday to Spain for the first time at age 10. I absolutely fell in love with the language, the culture and the country and decided to keep learning it until today. Then when French was introduced to our course in Primary 6, I could relate it to what I already knew in Spanish which, in turn, facilitated my learning and understanding of French. Around this time, a Polish girl came to my school and she couldn’t speak a word of English, so I learned some Polish and we became good friends, and I am still more or less conversational in Polish.
In high school I absolutely loved learning French, but we couldn’t learn Spanish until we were in 3rd year and I forgot quite a lot of it. I was always quite disappointed with the languages system in my high school as there was only the option to choose Spanish or French, and due to the fact that nobody in the two years below mine chose French, they had totally eliminated it from the curriculum and replaced it with Spanish, which I was really quite sad about. I then went to Uni at 16 to continue studying languages, and now I can speak Spanish, French, Italian, Polish and some German and Japanese.
I think languages are so, so important in a world as globalised as ours, and it felt so great to make friends with people that I may not have become friends with in the first place if I didn’t speak their language. We often seem to expect people to speak English when we go abroad, and I’ve witnessed first-hand British people going abroad and shouting repeatedly in English when a native of that country didn’t understand them, and it always annoyed me. So, personally, I felt like when going on holiday the natives of that country immediately had a lot more respect for me and were more open to conversing with/helping me when they found out that I could speak some of their language.
When I found out about the BBC study, I was so shocked. I think that due to language apps and online translation services as well as the expectation for people to speak English no matter their mother tongue, more and more people nowadays no longer feel the need to learn a new language. However, I think learning languages is essential for a variety of reasons, both for going on holiday or professional opportunities, as well as giving life new perspective and seeing the world in a different light through learning about other cultures and meeting people from other countries. I feel like learning a language helps bring people in this world together.’
Many, many thanks to Samantha for this great blog post and we hope you’ll continue with your current languages, and keep finding ways of picking up new ones over the coming months and years!