So what happens in an Oxford interview?

Last week we took you through the practicalities of coming to an interview at Oxford. This week we’ll delve into the interview itself, breaking down what you might typically expect from a Modern Languages interview.  What we cover here is an outline of the general format of Modern Languages interviews but you should be aware that practice can vary a little between colleges. It is worth bearing in mind that the interview is not designed to trick you or make you stumble: it aims to stretch you intellectually and give the tutors an insight into the way you think and your motivation for applying for the degree.

The Format

  • You will have at least two interviews, possibly more, each lasting around twenty minutes. This is so that you have ‘two bites of the apple’, as it were. We know that candidates commonly get nervous during interviews and may not always feel they have performed at their best. Having two interviews gives you two chances to demonstrate what you can do and optimises your chance of showing us your best side.
  • Your initial interviews will be in the college that is hosting you or, occasionally, they might be conducted centrally in the Modern Languages department itself.
  • However, you might also find that other colleges want to interview you in a system we call ‘pooling’. This means that all the languages tutors across all the colleges can view your application and can request to see you. You shouldn’t read anything into this. It does not mean that your first college has rejected you. It simply means that colleges are keeping lots of options open to them. Again, it is another chance for you to show us your best.
  • There will be at least two interviewers in the room. They may split the questioning 50/50 or one may take the lead while another takes notes. Don’t let this faze you – it’s just policy. They will start by introducing themselves and explaining the format of the interview. Some might shake your hand. Others might not. Again, don’t overthink this: whether or not you shake a tutor’s hand will not affect your chance of getting in.
  • The interview is likely to be split into two or three parts, depending on whether you are applying for the language from scratch or post-A Level (or equivalent).
  • If you are studying the language at A Level or equivalent, there will be some conversation in the target language. This is likely to be just three or four minutes and is another chance for us to assess your linguistic skills. We’re not looking for perfection or fluency. We are simply expecting an ability to speak in the target language at the standard expected of a candidate who is predicted a grade A at A Level. We will be assessing your language skills alongside your written work submission and your performance in the MLAT, so this is not the be all and end all.
  • If you are applying for a language ab initio (from scratch) don’t worry, we will not ask you to hold a conversation in that language!
  • Regardless of whether you are applying for a language ab initio or post-A Level, you will probably be asked to do an exercise in close reading. You will be given a text about 20-30 minutes before the interview and asked to read and think about it. This may be a poem or an extract of prose. It is unlikely to be longer than a side of A4. Practice does vary a little between colleges as to whether this text will be in the target language: some may give you a text in English; some may give you a text in the target language with an English translation; some may give you a text in the target language and also provide a dictionary or vocab. list, or invite you to ask about any words you don’t understand at the start of the interview. If you are applying for a language from scratch you will  be given a version of the text in English.
  • Use your preparation time to read the text fully, make notes if you like, and draw some initial conclusions from the text. Ask yourself not only ‘what are my first impressions?’ but, more importantly, ‘why and how are those impressions created?’
  • The tutors will ask you about the text for around ten minutes.
  • There will also be some general conversation as part of the interview. During this portion of the interview you might be asked to talk about: academic work you have completed in the last year or two; any relevant wider reading or work experience you might have done; subject-related issues that are very readily visible in the wider world (you will NOT be expected to have an intricate knowledge of current affairs); things you have mentioned in your personal statement.

Top Tips

  • The first thing to remember is that the interview simulates a tutorial. Tutorial-style teaching is really the USP of Oxford and Cambridge: it is a method of teaching that focuses on discussion in very small groups (usually a tutor and two or three students) on a more-or-less weekly basis. The interview is a way for us to see how you would fare in this type of teaching environment.
  • As such, we are interested in seeing your ability to contribute to an academically challenging discussion: this will partly be a matter of forming, expressing and, at times, defending your opinions on a particular topic, but we will also want to see your ability to think analytically, to read perceptively, and to be flexible in your thinking.
  • Try not to be too rigid in your approach. Be open to receiving new information and to changing your opinion based on that information if appropriate.
  • Go back and re-read your personal statement – there is a good chance you will be asked about it. Make sure you can talk about any books or films you have mentioned, or explain your interests further.
  • Decisions are not based on your manners, appearance, or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond what you have learnt in school.
  • The questions will be focused and challenging but this is not a trap and it is not a vocabulary test. If there is anything you are unsure about, whether that’s the questions you are being asked or a particular word you might not understand, it is absolutely fine to ask the tutors to repeat or clarify their question.

So that’s a rundown of Modern Languages interviews at Oxford. It’s a lot to think about and we understand you may justifiably be feeling a little nervous. Of course, not everyone who is interviewed can be offered a place, and we know that this can be disheartening. But remember, you have already done incredibly well to reach interview stage. Whatever the outcome of your application, you should be proud of what you have achieved simply by getting into the room. Above all, try to enjoy the process – it’s not every day you will have the undivided attention of world-leading experts in your subject who are interested in what YOU have to say.

Check out our other interview related posts on this blog by clicking the ‘interviews’ tag. All that remains to be said is good luck!

Oxford Interviews: the Practicalities

A few weeks ago we published an admissions checklist for everyone applying to Oxford in this admissions round. By now you should have submitted your UCAS application, sat the admissions test(s) or ‘MLAT’, and be about to submit your written work, the deadline for which is this Saturday, 10 November.

You’re probably now beginning to turn your attention to the interview. For many candidates, interviews are the scariest part of the process. Today we’ll walk you though the practical elements of the interview period. Stay tuned for a break down of the academic aspects of Modern Languages interviews, which we’ll cover next week.  

The Practical Stuff

  • Interviews for Modern Languages courses take place between Tuesday 4 and Saturday 7 December 2018. Precise dates will depend on which course you have applied for, but take a look at the interview timetable here.
  • Shortlisting for interviews happens in mid- to late- November. The college considering your application will write to you indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview, and the practical details. You may not receive this until a week before the interviews are due to take place. Usually the college contacting you will be the college to which you have applied. If you made an open application, it will be the college to which you have been allocated. Sometimes you might be invited to interview by a different college than that to which you applied: this is because we reallocate some candidates during the process to ensure an even spread of applicants across the colleges and give you the best chance of getting an offer.
  • You will be asked to come to Oxford for several days. Dates will be confirmed in your invitation letter or email. Once you arrive you will find out when your interview(s) will take place.
  • Your accommodation and meals during this period will be provided free of charge by the college which has invited you.
  • During your time in the college, undergraduate helpers will be around to meet you and advise you. They will take you to your interviews so you don’t get lost, and they are always happy to have a friendly chat and facilitate social activities in the times between interviews. You can see a helper’s account of the interview period here.
  • Most colleges will have a hub where candidates are encouraged to spend time when they are not in interviews. This hub is a social environment, often with TV, games, and other activities. Feel free to take this time to meet new people, ask the student helpers any questions, and essentially try to have fun!
  • If you have any additional needs, the college will support you. Mentioning your disability or specific learning difficulty will not affect your application: admissions decisions are made on academic grounds alone.

Join us next week when we’ll discuss the academic aspects of the Modern Languages interview at Oxford.

Tracing prismatic rays of translation

This post is an extract from a longer post on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Matthew Reynolds, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, is leading a research project on ‘Prismatic Translation’. Here he reflects on translation as a creative and diverse activity.

In a poetry workshop, a 9-year old child thinks of a word. She writes it: ‘oguek’. When she begins to explain what it means to her, the sentences form the beginning of a poem :

‘My dad always calls me that,
and it tastes like sweet, sweet
yoghurt.
The colour that it brings
is green, and when my dad says it
it makes me laugh …’

You won’t find the word ‘oguek’ in a dictionary. The writer of these lines, who signs herself only ‘Maja’, observes that ‘in Polish / You say it Ogurk’; the standard spelling Polish spelling and standard English translation are ‘ogórek’ and ‘cucumber’. Nonetheless, what’s happening here cannot be defined as ‘a mistake’. Maja is not trying to write anything that might count as ‘correct standard Polish’; instead, she is putting across the particular form, sound and meanings of this word, ‘oguek’, from the idiom which she uses with her parents. In doing so, she reveals a general truth about language: everyone speaks differently, and writes differently again; and all the many words in their shifting forms take on different meanings in different situations.

Photo by Ananth Pai on Unsplash

The Prismatic Translation project responds to this diversity, and thinks it through. For us, translation is not a matter of trying to achieve correct alignments between standardised languages, but rather a creative re-making of one particular instance of language into another particular instance, using different linguistic resources.

[…]

The same principles of the variety of language use and the creativity of translation extend to classic literature. Take Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which is the main research focus of our project. It has been massively translated worldwide: so far, we have identified 508 editions of translations, including three into Armenian and 30 into Farsi. In all these moments and locations it has been responded to and re-written in different ways. In Russia, Dostoyevsky read the book in prison. In Latin American Spanish it channelled feminist cultural awareness. In Japan, in the mid- to late-twentieth century, the moment when Jane encounters Rochester and he falls off his horse spawned a myriad imitations in manga and anime narratives.

This proliferation cannot be understood as a matter of translators trying and failing to achieve ‘the same meaning’ through translation. Rather, they remake the text in ways that put the categories of sameness and difference in question. This happens even at the level of individual words. Take ‘passion’: it is a key term in Jane Eyre’s mental drama (where it conflicts with ‘conscience’ or ‘judgement’); it is a matter of love and desire, of course, but also of sensitivity, suffering and rage; together with ‘passionate’ it recurs 49 times throughout the book. To adopt a phrase coined by the literary critic William Empson, it is a ‘complex word’.

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

In other languages, comparable words don’t cover the same range, so different ways of making meaning have to be found. Near the start of the book, Mrs Reed’s maid Bessie chides the young Jane not to be ‘passionate and rude’. In Greek, one translator puts αφηνιάζεις for ‘passionate’: it can be back-translated as something like ‘go crazy’. Another gives ‘θυμώνεις’ which is more like ‘get angry’. In Portuguese, we find ‘se tens mau génio’ (something like ‘bad-tempered’), or ‘exaltada’, (‘enraged’), or ‘impulsiva’ (‘impulsive’). (I am indebted to Dr Eleni Philippou, our postdoctoral researcher, and Dr Ana Teresa Dos Santos, one of our research consultants, for these examples). Ever more variations occur in other languages.

Just as with ‘oguek’, there is no point in calling these translations ‘failures’ or ‘mistakes’. Rather, they remake what Bessie says using different linguistic materials for another time and place. We could decide that none of them is quite the same as ‘passionate’; but what does ‘passionate’ mean? It is only by using other words that we can explain; and all the hundreds of other words used in the translations do exactly that, opening up the signifying potential of what is or might be going on in the scene. The text grows through multiple translation; Jane Eyre comes to exist in all the languages together, their words collaborating to co-create the world of the book and what happens within it. Our research traces these prismatic rays, and finds new ways of representing them, both in writing and via interactive visualisations online.

[…]

To find out more about Prismatic Translation see here.

Writing about Rimbaud

This week’s post explores one of the most famous French poets of the nineteenth century, Arthur Rimbaud, whose collections include Une Saison en enfer and Illuminations. Rimbaud captured the imagination of his readers, both on account of his experimental writing style and his turbulent personal life. Prof. Seth Whidden, Fellow and Tutor in French at The Queen’s College, has recently published a biography on Rimbaud. Here, he reflects on the writing process and the tricky relationship between life and literature.

Writing about one of France’s most famous authors was a daunting task, but what made it less so was what makes his story so compelling to all lovers of literature: year after year, generation after generation. If Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is French teenagers’ perennial favourite, it’s because during the course of his short life and even shorter literary career — he stopped writing poetry by the age of 21 and died at the age of 37 — he embodied some of the fundamental urges that we all have known, at one time or another: bursts of creativity; seeing how far rules can be bent before they break; and the desire to pick up and move away, expanding horizons and learning about self and the world.

Étienne Carjat [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It was those urges that I tried to capture in my recent biography. Some of it is well-known, and almost didn’t need to be recounted: his childhood in sleepy Charleville (now Charleville-Mézières), in eastern France; his brash arrival in Paris and torrid relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), which ended with Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in a Brussels hotel room; Rimbaud’s departure from poetry and Europe, criss-crossing half of the globe and ending up spending the last fifteen years of his life as a trader in the Arabian peninsula and present-day Ethiopia. Looking back at all that he did, it’s almost possible to forget that he wrote some of the most enduring poems in the French language, blowing his way through centuries of rules to create new ways of thinking about and writing poetry. His innovations include a collection of prose poems — poems set in paragraphs rather than verses — entitled Illuminations. In addition, some time before he left Europe in 1875 he wrote the first two free-verse poems (poems in verse but lacking end-line rhyme) in French.

Mixing life and literature can be dangerous business: reducing a poem to a biographical detail flattens the poem and removes so much of what makes literature sing (how it sounds, how it’s rhythmed, how it feels, how it moves the reader…). Instead, I set out to weave two parallel stories. Yes, of course, it is helpful to know that ‘Le Dormeur du val’ is dated October 1870, and so Rimbaud set out to his presentation of war’s bloody interruption ruining the bucolic Ardennais countryside just weeks after France capitulated in Sedan, a dozen miles from his hometown. But that knowledge doesn’t tell the full story of the poem, far from it: it leaves out how the final line is prefigured (spoiler alert!) in the repeated vowel sound of ‘bouche ouverte’ of line 5; of how the standard twelve-syllable line is destabilized several times, with punctuation an accessory to the crime:

C’est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit: c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme:
Nature, berce-le chaudement: il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

It is a green hollow where a river sings / Madly catching on the grasses / Silver rags; where the sun atop the proud mountain / Shines: it is a small valley which bubbles over with rays. // A young soldier, his mouth open, his head bare, / And the nape of his neck bathing in the cool blue watercress, / Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under clouds, / Pale on his green bed where the light rains down. // His feet in the gladiolas, he sleeps. Smiling as / A sick child would smile, he is taking a nap: / Nature, cradle him warmly: he is cold. // Odours to not make his nostrils quiver; / He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast, / Silent. He has two red holes in his right side. (translation from Rimbaud, Complete Works, trans. Wallace Fowlie, revised Seth Whidden, Univ of Chicago Press)

Life-writing can help connect some dots, though, and such connections are what makes this biography slightly different from others. In order to appreciate what made Rimbaud’s poetry so revolutionary, it’s important to understand the norm from which he made such a clear departure. Readers of this book will learn some of the basic rules of French prosody: just enough to be able to feel some of his creativity and rule-breaking. They will also see that his creativity doesn’t stop when he leaves Europe; instead, I propose a new way of looking at his African period. Rather than repeating the formula that has served the Rimbaud myth well for over a hundred years — Europe means poetry; Africa means commerce — I propose a new narrative in which inquisitiveness and creativity are constants in his life, informing his activities in both periods of his adult life. It can be easy to keep poetry elevated on its pedestal and assume that a life after poetry is an uninteresting one — easy for literary critics who love poetry, anyway! — but if poetry is just one manifestation of a broader creative force, then there can be other possible moments of creativity. They might not measure up to the brilliance of his poems, but their presence in the story of his life might be worthy of a little more attention.

Ultimately, it’s up to the reader to decide: the reader of Rimbaud’s poetry, first; then the reader of this biography. My final chapter poses a series of questions, and I hope that anyone interested in creativity, rule-bending, and seeing the world will recognize therein some of the questions that we all ask from time to time: about literature, about life, about ourselves and about the world around us.

Careers Profile: Working in Advertising

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path you can take if you have a background in Modern Languages. Sarah Greaney, from Wrexham in North Wales, studied French at St Anne’s College and graduated in 2011. She now works as a media manager in marketing and advertising. Here, Sarah tells us how the skills she acquired during her degree are put to use in her job.

Communication skills are a must in advertising (Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash)

I decided to study French at university because of the versatility of the degree. The language course I chose offered much more than just grammar and language tuition, covering French literature, philosophy and art from medieval to modern times.

It’s easy to see why employers value a language degree: studying grammar develops close attention to detail and structured thinking, while learning about another culture through the development of its art, history and thinking down the ages nurtures a wider and deeper appreciation of the values that shape societies other than your own. Not to mention the year abroad, which throws you into the very uncomfortable situation of having to set up an existence from scratch in an unfamiliar place!

Although I don’t directly use French in my career, the transferable skills developed in my degree have stood me in good stead in the advertising and communications industry where developing strong, lasting relationships and communicating ideas in a succinct and compelling way are both fundamental parts of my job.

Languages help you to build lasting relationships (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Admissions Checklist

It’s that time of year when we are looking forward to receiving lots of applications from prospective students so we thought it would be useful to include an Oxford admissions checklist on this week’s blog. Year 13 students: if you are thinking of applying make sure you have prepared for all the points below. Year 12 students: it’s never too soon to start thinking about your applications for next year.

Step 1: UCAS application – remember that the deadline for Oxford is earlier than the usual UCAS deadline. Submit your application by 6pm on 15 October 2018.
You’ve probably been hard at work on your UCAS application for a little while now and will know that it consists of: your actual grades (e.g. GCSE), your predicted grades (A Level or equivalent), your personal statement, and a reference from your teacher. Here are some key things to remember about the personal statement…

  • You’ll submit the same personal statement for all the universities you apply to. Therefore, focus on the course/ subject, not the universities.
  • Show us your academic ability and potential, and your commitment to the subject. It’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond schoolwork.
  • Only mention your extracurricular activities if they are relevant to the subject for which you are applying. We want to see how your interests beyond school have helped to stretch you academically or motivate you to pursue your subject.
  • Be honest and be yourself – we’re interested in you as an individual. Also remember that this is not the time for false modesty – feel free to sell yourself!
  • Don’t list qualifications like your GCSE grades or anything else that’s covered elsewhere on the application.
  • Be sure to re-read your personal statement before an interview – the tutors may ask you to talk about things you’ve mentioned.

Step 2: Admissions Tests. The deadline to register for a test is also 6pm on 15 October. Your schools or test centre must register you. Ask your school or test centre for your candidate number now so that you know you have been registered.

  • You will sit the test in your school or test centre on Wednesday 31 October.
  • For Modern Languages, you must take a test in each language you apply for which you are studying at A Level or equivalent. For example, if you are applying for French and German and are sitting an A Level in both of these languages, you will take the tests in French and German. If, on the other hand, you are applying for French and Italian ‘ab initio’ (from scratch), and you will only have the A Level in French, you do not need to take the Italian test.
  • For languages for which you are applying post-A Level, the test is a grammar test, so it’s useful to start revising things like tenses, prepositions, subjunctives, adjectival agreement etc. The test is not designed to be a vocabulary test and there are likely to be words you don’t know: do not worry about this. We are not expecting a perfect score – we just want to get a sense of how solid a grammatical foundation you have in your language at the point of application.
  • If you are applying for a language from scratch you will need to take the Language Aptitude Test (LAT). This takes a made-up language and asks you to spot patterns and rules within that language, based on some sample sentences. We are interested in your instinct for language learning and your ability to spot potential grammatical structures based on the internal logic of a language. There are examples of this and other admissions tests online – have a practice in timed conditions so you get used to the exercises.
  • If you are applying for a ‘joint schools’ degree (a language in combination with another subject: English, History, Classics, Middle Eastern Languages, Linguistics, Philosophy) you may need to take additional tests in those subjects. Check here for details.

Step 3: Written Work. The college considering your application will contact you about submitting written work. The deadline for submission is 10 November. You will need to complete a written work cover sheet for each piece of work that you submit.

  • For Modern Languages, you will need to submit one piece in each language you intend to study, and in which you will have A Level standard (or equivalent) before university.
  • AND one piece in English (e.g. an essay on literature, history…)
  • If you are applying for a joint schools degree you will need to check what schoolwork is required for those subjects.
  • The work you send in should be your original school or college work, marked by a teacher, and not re-written or corrected in any way. It may be typed or handwritten – as long as it is legible – and photocopies are acceptable.
  • We would expect the piece in English to be no more than 2,000 words.
  • The piece in the Modern language can be much shorter: we would recommend around 300-500 words.

Step 4: Interviews. These take place in early December and, for many applicants, are the scariest part of the process. We’ll do another blog post in the coming weeks about interviews so stay tuned…

Step 5: Decisions! You will be told if you have an offer on 9 January 2019.

Best of luck to everyone who is applying. Remember, you can always ask us any questions you might have about admissions by emailing schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Launching the 2019 Oxford German Olympiad!

Calling all Germanists and aspiring Germanists: the Oxford German Network (OGN) is pleased to announce the launch of this year’s German Olympiad – a prize for German learners aged 9 and up. The theme this year is Tiere und Monster [Animals and Monsters]. There are a range of activities to take part in, depending on your age, and you can submit an entry as an individual or as a group. This year there are also some activities for those of you who might be new to German. Read on for more details, and please consult the full guidelines on the OGN website.

Years 5 and 6 (age 9-11):

  • Draw a monster and label its parts.
  • Draw a picture of your home from the perspective of an animal or insect living there. Label the things in it and include a title indicating the type of creature it is.
  • Find a German fairytale about animals and draw a comic strip retelling it.

Years 7 to 9 (age 11-14):

  • ‘Gibt es wirklich Monster?’ Write a dialogue between two people who disagree about whether monsters really exist.
  • Create an advertising brochure for a zoo or wildlife sanctuary.
  • Research the history of the Krampus figure and Krampusnacht, and create a poster explaining them.

Years 10 and 11 (age 14-16):

  • Research the roles played by animals in the First World War and present your findings in an article.
  • Paint or draw an animal or animals in the style of the artist Franz Marc and write about the work of art that inspired it.
  • Retell a story (originally in any language) featuring animals and/or monsters.

Years 12 and 13 (age 16-18):

  • ‘Was tun Zoos für den Artenschutz?’ Write an article using the information on the website of the Berlin Zoo and at least one other German, Austrian or Swiss zoo.
  • Create a comedy sketch retelling Kafka’s Die Verwandlung. Submit it as a script or a filmed performance.
  • Write a short story about a female monster.

Open Competition for Groups or Classes (4+ participants)

  • Create a film or PowerPoint presentation about Tierversuche.
  • Write and illustrate a short book for children about an animal or a monster.
  • ‘Unser Leben mit einem Monster.’ Create a film or song on this theme.

Discover German – Taster Competition (1-3 participants with no prior experience of studying German)

  • Years 7 to 9: find words used for animal noises in German, and film yourself saying them together with the equivalent English word.
  • Years 10 and 11: rewrite (in English) the story of Hänsel and Gretel, setting it in a real modern German city and including 15 German words.
  • Years 12 and 13: choose three of the following animal nouns: Hund, Katze, Schwein, Pferd, Kuh, Schaf, Hase, Vogel. Find compound words (e.g. Osterhase – Easter Bunny) and idioms (e.g. Schwein haben – to be lucky) that contain them. Write a blog post about how you found them and what differences from English you discovered.

Please spread the word to your Greman-speaking friends. The deadline for submissions is noon on 15th March 2019. If you have any questions please contact the Co-ordinator of the Oxford German Network at ogn@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk  . We look forward to receiving your entries.

Krampus figure in Salzburg, Austria (photo by Matthias Kabel). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krampus_Salzburg_2.jpg

Careers Profile: Working at the UN

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path one of our graduates has followed. Emily Duggan, from Taunton in Somerset, now works as a Translator and précis-writer at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland. Emily graduated with a degree in French in 2010. Here, she tells us about how she went from Oxford to the UN.

I studied French at the Queen’s College from 2006 to 2010. During my year abroad in Paris, I worked first as a language assistant in two primary schools, then as an intern in the dictionary department of Éditions Larousse. After graduating, I decided to take a break from studying and moved to London, where I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. My language skills were put to good use: I ran an after-school French club with the French language assistant and helped to organize a school trip to Paris.

In 2011, I moved to Paris to pursue a two-year Master’s course in economic, technical and editorial translation at the École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (ESIT), with financial support from the Leverhulme Trust. As part of the course, I completed a three-month internship at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I was inspired by that experience – the nature of the work, the focus on quality, the multicultural environment – to aim for a career in an international organization.

When I graduated from ESIT, I was offered an internship, then a full-time job, at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The work was fast-paced and varied; I translated a wide range of documents, including speeches, reports, press releases and blog posts. In 2015, I passed the United Nations language competitive examination and was recruited by the United Nations Office at Geneva shortly afterwards. Although the work is intense and challenging, with short deadlines and strict editorial rules, it is also very rewarding. I am proud to work for an organization that is devoted to maintaining international peace and security and to protecting human rights worldwide.

Las bufandas – Spanish Flash Fiction

This week we are delighted to showcase the winning entry in the Year 12-13 category of our 2018 Spanish Flash Fiction Competition. This story comes from Charlotte Collerton and is a poignant evocation of familial relations across generations, told in a simple but graceful style. The judges were impressed by Charlotte’s excellent command of idiomatic Spanish, but also her poetic sense of rhythm that permeates both the form (vocabulary and sentence structure) and the content of the text (the action of knitting, the rhythm of seasons and sequence of generations).

¡ Felicidades, Charlotte!

Las bufandas

Ella empezó tejer la primera bufanda hace cuarenta años cuando estaba embarazada de su primer hijo. El invierno era constante y la bufanda se convirtió en manta para el bebé.

Ella tenía siete hijos y cada bebé tenía su propia bufanda como una manta para proteger de los inviernos atroces.

Con los años los bebés crecían y ellos creaban la próxima generación y las agujas de tricotar se reanimaban de nuevo.

Cuando ella colgó el guante la familia recogió todas las bufandas y cosió un chal de cada uno. El invierno era impotente contra la tibieza en su ataúd.

Photo by Philip Estrada on Unsplash

The Scarves

She started knitting the first scarf forty years ago when she was pregnant with her first child. Winter was constant and the scarf became a blanket for the baby.

She had seven children and each baby had her own scarf as a blanket to protect it from the severe winters.

Over the years the babies grew and they created the next generation, and the knitting needles were revived again.

When she passed away, the family gathered all the scarves and sewed a shawl from each one. Winter was powerless against the warmth of her coffin.

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma: my unexpectedly fun and rewarding discovery of Russia.

In this post, current undergraduate Joseph Rattue, who studys at Somerville College, offers a candid and entertaining reflection on his year abroad while studying Russian from scratch.

Four years ago, I sat looking through some testimonials in Oxford Modern Languages leaflets at an open day, in awe of the list of amazing places students had been on their years abroad. With law internships in Berlin, banking placements in Zürich, and events management in various châteaux in the picturesque French countryside, it was a list of great promise. A list that would convince anyone of the excitement and glamour of a degree in French, Spanish, German or Italian at Oxford. A list from which the location of the year abroad for Beginners’ Russian was markedly and suspiciously absent. After some digging around on the internet through the Russian sub-faculty’s web page, I found the city where second-year Russian Ab Initio (from scratch) students go for their year abroad, and didn’t think much of it in the face of the cosmopolitan metropoles I’d read about earlier that day. Today I have a photo plate of it on the wall above my bed.

Yaroslavl. Probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of a place to spend your year abroad. Unknown to most people outside Russia, it sits modestly 272.3 km north-east of Moscow, and a trying 13-hour overnight train ride south-east of St. Petersburg. If I thought the scale of these distances was daunting before I arrived at the airport “in” (45.8 km south of) Moscow, it got even more extreme when I asked the minibus driver when we would reach the train station to go to Yaroslavl, only to discover that Yaroslavl was considered “next to Moscow,” as the 6-hour bus ride ensued. After the 5am start in the UK, it would be fair to say we all slept pretty well that night once we’d arrived at our home stay hosts’ flats.

Yaroslavl, photo by Joseph Rattue

For anyone wondering why I haven’t mentioned what we were actually doing there, fear not. All in good time. First, though, there are some things to do with the structure of the Russian Ab Initio Course which need some explaining. If you read the opening of this post and were a bit puzzled about why I talked about second-years going abroad, you were right to pick up on this. Nearly all Modern Languages degrees at Oxford are arranged for students to go abroad in their third year, unless the degree includes Beginners’ Arabic or Beginners’ Russian, in which case the second year is the year abroad. If you do Beginners’ Russian, you spend the whole of the first year doing almost exclusively language work, with a 1-hour poetry reading class every week in the second term designed mainly to help with the resonance of words, and to give the basic outline of some literary movements in Russia. In their second year, all the Oxford Russian Ab Initio students go to Yaroslavl and do a language development programme designed specifically for them by Yaroslavl State University, making it easier to tackle Final Honours texts in Russian in the third and fourth years. Yes, this can have its downsides; you are away when your friends are back home in Oxford, and your linguist friends are away in third year when you come back. But this does not exactly spell the end for your social life. Without sounding too cheesy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my social experiences on my year abroad were some of the best I’ve ever had. I went to a new place, discovered a new culture, and made new friends, many of whom will be in Oxford with me this coming year and mean a lot to me.

It’s not often that you go to a monastery with a bear called Masha inside it, or a café where tens of cats live, or a museum with a whole room dedicated to different kinds of traditional irons which can also be musical instruments. Nor is it every day that you sing traditional Russian folk songs and drink mulled wine with your teachers to celebrate “Old New Year” in mid-January because Russia used the old Julian calendar until February 1918. It is these sorts of things that have made my year abroad not only so much fun, but so meaningful and fulfilling. Being in a class with the other Oxford students gave me an immediate group of close friends, and together we discovered Russia. Whether it was watching Yaroslavl Lokomotiv play ice hockey with our Russian friends, staying up to see the sun rise over the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, or belting out Russian pop songs about new year at 1am, the year could hardly have been more full of shared, new experiences that brought us closer to each other and to Russian culture. The other people who made all this possible were our hosts, or “babs” (short for “babushka,” the Russian for “grandma”), who lived with us, fed us, and shared their stories, ideas and lives with us. When I met my bab, Emma, at the start of the year, I could hardly understand a sentence she said. By the end, I was interpreting for her as she told my parents all about her family, past and present, and which English writers she liked reading. I visited Yaroslavl again this summer, 4 months after the end of my year abroad in March, and left a box of chocolates for my friend to give to Emma when she got back from her holiday. Two days ago Emma got those chocolates, and said hi.

All in all, it has been an unforgettable year, one full of discovery, new people, and both academic and personal growth. What felt like a very foreign country now feels like a second home to me. To that end, the Yaroslavl year abroad is the epitome of what a year abroad should be.

A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!