There is shock and dismay in Modern Languages at Oxford, you won’t be surprised to hear, as there is more widely across the university. I have seen professors in tears in the days following the news that Britain has voted to leave the European Union. What does it mean for Modern Languages as a subject, and for you as someone who may be considering studying a language at university?
In practical terms, there is nothing to worry about any time soon. University courses and UK student funding arrangements remain unchanged. Courses in European languages and cultures at Oxford and elsewhere will continue to enrol students, and students of modern languages will continue to take a year abroad in their degree as before. It’s true that some year-abroad options, including many university exchanges and internships, currently take advantage of European Union support through the ERASMUS programme. This support will be in place for at least the next two years, and very possibly longer. While it’s uncertain what arrangements will be in place in the longer term, we can be confident that student exchanges to European universities, work placements in European firms and teaching assistant posts in European schools will continue, regardless. No matter what happens between the UK and the EU, European schools and businesses still consider English-speaking students a valuable resource and are keen to host them, while European universities will still invite British students over for a year in exchange for a year at a British university for one of their own students. All of this was happening long before we were part of the EU and ERASMUS, and will carry on happening if we leave. So if you’re concerned about whether you should take a modern languages degree in post-Brexit Britain, then I don’t think you need to worry. Nothing fundamental will change where our courses are concerned in the next few years, nor is there likely to be a major change in the careers and life-opportunities they offer.
But something has changed.
Britain is pulling out of the European Union. Some people are afraid that, in the years to come, Britain will be turning away from the continent, turning inwards on itself. It may be that, decades from now, British people will have fewer opportunities to live and work in other European countries, fewer occasions to experience life among the French, Germans, Spanish or Italians. Less chance to make friends with our neighbours. The United Kingdom has reached a fork in the road, and the path we’ve chosen seems to be leading us away from the peaceful, prosperous and vibrant community of cultural and economic exchange that we’ve been part of for as long as most of us can remember. Nobody can really predict with any confidence what lies ahead of us as the century unfolds.
We know that Britain’s young people — the 18-24-year-olds who were eligible to vote in the referendum and the sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who were not — are the people most likely to see the worth of the European Union, and the people most keen to see us remain a part of it. Perhaps you’re one of these people, and you’ve been looking forward to studying European languages and cultures at university, spending time in Europe on a year abroad, and then going on to a career that makes use of your skills. Perhaps what happened last week has left you feeling bewildered and discouraged.
If that sounds like you, I urge you to take heart. Britain’s future relationship with Europe is uncertain, and it will be up to your generation to shape it. Where we go from here will be largely up to you. It’s never been more important for open-minded, outward-looking people to get involved. Learn to communicate in another European language. Get to know another European culture. Find out for yourself who our fellow Europeans really are. There are many big challenges ahead and many more difficult decisions to be taken as we continue to work out our new place in the world. If you’re going to rise to the occasion, you’ll need to be prepared.
Here, in the latest of our occasional series, is another short film about what you can do with modern languages at Oxford. European and Middle Eastern Languages is a popular and fast-growing two-subject “joint school” with modern languages. If you choose to study it, you can combine any one modern language out of French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese or Greek with any one Middle Eastern language out of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish. French and Arabic is a popular combination. Students taking it can use their options in each course to investigate the long and sometimes fraught history between France and Arabic-speaking North Africa and explore the wealth of connections between French and Arab cultures.
Here are tutors and students talking about the course:
There’s more information here if you’re interested, and you can find out about all our courses here.
You know those kinds of language exercises where you have to spot the grammar, spelling or punctuation mistake and correct it? Well, here’s one. What makes this one a little different is that every one of the errors below has been permanently inked on skin by French tattooists. The lucky clients can either wear the mistakes for ever as a sort of walking grammar test, or negotiate to find out how much it costs to add an extra circumflex to an existing design.
Your task below: spot and correct all the errors in the tattoos pictured. (We’ll tell you how many mistakes there are to find.) Answers at the end of the post.
1. One grammar mistake to find:
2. One grammar/spelling mistake to find (not counting the colloquial shortening of “ne” to “n'”):
3. Three mistakes to find in this one:
1. ‘Si j’avais le choix entre toi et la vie, je te choisirais car tu est ma seule raison de vivre.’ Should be ‘tu es’, not ‘tu est’. The whole sentence means: ‘If I had to choose between you and life, I’d choose you as you’re my only reason to live.’
2. ‘La vie n’se respire qu’une seule fois, Et le bonheur ça se vie sans aucune loi.’ Should be ‘ça se vit’ (from ‘se vivre’, to be lived), not ‘ça se vie’. The sentence means: ‘Life is only breathed once. And happiness is lived without any laws.’
3. ‘Ma vie à commencée le jour ou tu es né.’ Should be: ‘Ma vie a commencé le jour où tu es né’ (‘a’ not ‘à’; ‘commencé’ not ‘commencée’; and ‘où’ not ‘ou’). The whole sentence means: ‘My life began on the day you were born.’
How did you do?
5/5: Excellent! There may be a lucrative career for you as a French tattoo artist.
3/5 or more: Well done! You can perform a useful public service as a French tattoo corrector.
2/5 or less: Good try! Maybe take a dictionary along with you when getting any French tattoos of your own, though.
These and many more French grammar fails are to be found at Bescherelletamere.fr.
A nice tradition in Oxford is our Inspirational Teacher Award, where current first-year Oxford undergraduates are asked to nominate teachers or careers advisers who inspired them to apply to Oxford, fostered their passion for a particular subject or supported them through the application process. The students asked to nominate teachers are all from UK state schools or colleges with a limited history and tradition of sending students to Oxford.
This year, one of my own students at Somerville, Fis Noibi, who’s studying French and Arabic, nominated the head of sixth form at her old school, and he was selected as one of the winners.
Mr Course, from Robert Clack School in Dagenham, was named as one of 10 inspirational state school teachers from across Britain. In an interview with the Barking and Dagenham Post, Fis said Mr Course is ‘more than deserving of the award because, if not for him, I would not be doing my current course, let alone in this university. Mr Course is such an inspiration’
The winning teachers were honoured at an awards ceremony at St Peter’s College. The award scheme, which was established six years ago, recognises the crucial role teachers and careers advisers play in encouraging talented students in their schools or colleges. Here are the teachers and students, with Fis and Mr Course four minutes in:
2016 marks the fifth year of Oxford University’s French film competition, in which school pupils are invited to watch a selected French film, and write an essay or script re-imagining the ending. As last year, the competition was open to students across secondary school year groups, with a large number of entrants from pupils in years 7 and 8. We received almost 200 entries, from over 50 schools.
The judges were deeply impressed by the range and richness of responses to the two set films, both directed by Céline Sciamma: Tomboy (years 7-11) and Bande de filles (years 12-13). The winner in the younger age category was Sophie Benbelaid, who came up with a startling and creative interpretation as to the young Laure’s decision to act as a boy. (An extract from Sophie’s entry is below.) Runners-up in this category were Nano Quirke-Bakradze and Nikolas Thatte. Kate Lopez Woodward and Bridgette Dancel were highly commended; six more students received commendations (Roxy Francombe, Jamie Sims, Rose Tingey, Rachel Dick, Megan Bradley, Neave Reilly).
When judging the older age category, we were so taken with the overall standard of the entries that we decided to offer prizes to joint winners. Read an extract from Gurdip Ahluwalia’s imaginative French-language script here. George Jeffreyswrote and directed a filmed ending to Bande de filles, reflecting the tensions and energy of Sciamma’s own cinematography. In this category, Amy Jorgensen and Jack Butler received high commendations; four more pupils received commendations (Elena Albot, Clare Borradaile, Lucy Morgan and Isabelle Smith).
Rewritings of the end of Tomboy offered a rich tonal and emotional range, from the gentle and tender to the sudden and shocking. Laure was often seen as disturbed by uncertainty of her expression of her gender, running away and contemplating suicide; her mother too was often seen as angry and confused, and the mother’s pregnancy was seen to end traumatically in a number of entries. Other entries attempted to envisage a future for Laure in which she opted for gender realignment surgery. The strongest entries were those which captured something of the quiet intimacy of family life seen in Sciamma’s film, along with the childlike vision of the young Laure; various entries explored the relationship between the sisters in attentive and authentic ways.
In the older age category, there were some exceptional re-imaginings of the ending of Bande de filles. Many were written in French, and a number, too, opted to present their entries as a film script, imagining appropriate visual close-ups and musical insertions. Marieme/Vic was variously imagined accepting Abou’s offer, selling drugs, and sometimes being tempted into other criminal acts such as bank robbery; others opted for a more positive ending which saw her returning to study or coaching girls’ sports teams. As was the case with Tomboy, those entries which focused attention on the family relationships or on the interaction between the girls in the ‘bande’ tended to be particularly successful, introducing moments of tension, intimacy and credible dialogue.
The Medieval & Modern Languages Faculty congratulates all participants and expresses its gratitude to their teachers for supporting their entries. Particular thanks are offered to Routes into Languages for their generous support of the competition.
Gurdip Ahluwalia (extract):
[A L’EXTERIEUR DE LA MAISON]
[MARIEME PREND QUELQUE CHOSE DE SA POCHE. LA CAMERA REVELE QU’ELLE TIENT A LA MAIN UN TEST DE GROSSESSE. LE TEST EST POSITIF. ELLE SOUPIRE ET ESSUIE LES LARMES DE SES YEUX]
[ON REVIENT CHEZ ISMAEL. IL LIT LA LETTRE, CONFUS ET INQUIET. ON ENTEND LA VOIX DE MARIEME, QUI LIT LA LETTRE]
LA VOIX DE MARIEME : Ismaël, Je sais que je viens de dire que je t’épouserais, mais j’y ai pensé. Cette proximité à Djibril, la réputation d’être une putain. Ces deux problèmes signifient que je ne peux pas rester ici. Je risque d’être bloquée ici, sans avenir, sans possibilité. Je ne veux pas cette vie pour mes sœurs. J’ai vu la vie de ma mère. Elle travaille sans arrêt, elle n’a pas de motivation, elle, même, a peur de son propre fils. Si je reste ici avec toi ma vie sera la même. Et mes sœurs et moi, nous avons le droit de quelque chose de meilleur. Je veux faire quelque chose avec ma vie, je veux être quelqu’un, je veux montrer à mes sœurs qu’elles peuvent être les femmes qu’elles veulent être. Je ne peux pas t’épouser dans de telles circonstances. Peut-être si les choses étaient différentes. Mais elles ne le sont pas. Après tout, je ne peux que dire que je suis désolée. Je t’aimerai toujours, mais il faut que je fasse ce qui est meilleur pour les filles. Marième
[ISMAEL RESPIRE DE PLUS EN PLUS PENIBLEMENT, DEVENANT EN COLERE. IL DECHIRE LA LETTRE, EN PLEURANT. IL JETTE LES MORCEAUX DANS LA POUBELLE. IL Y A UN VASE SUR LA TELE. IL LE PREND AVEC VIOLENCE. LE VASE S’ECRASE CONTRE LE MUR]
[MARIEME MET LE TEST DE GROSSESSE DANS LA POUBELLE. ELLE SOULEVE MINI ET LE SAC-A-DOS. ELLE PREND LA MAIN DE BEBE. SON PORTABLE SONNE. ON VOIT QUE C’EST LADY. APRES AVOIR ATTENDU QUELQUE MOMENTS ELLE SOUPIRE. MARIEME MET LE PORTABLE DANS LA POUBELLE AUSSI]
MARIEME (SOURIANT TRISTEMENT AUX FILLES) : Allons-y. Une nouvelle vie nous attend
Sophie Benbelaid (extract):
“Lève-toi, tu dois t’habiller,”
Laure a respiré. Elle a entendu sa mère ouvre les rideaux. Fatigué, elle a tourné lentement sur son dos et a ouvert ses yeux – un œil et puis l’autre.
“Vite,” sa mère a dit encore, “va t’habiller.” Avec des pas chancelants, la jeune fille marchait à son armoire. Les portes étaient fermées.
Laure a fait demi-tour en entendant ces mots, “Quoi?” Laure a demandé avec une tonalité d’être encore demi-dormant.
“Tu t’habilleras dans cette robe,” et un vêtement en bleu était lancé sur les couverts du lit. La mère regardait sa fille très intensément pour sa réaction mais Laure restait tranquille; elle pensait au son rêve de la nuit avant. Elle s’est assise et a vu la robe qui était affalée sur son lit. Ses yeux se sont élargisses en choc.
“Non,” elle a murmuré, “Non, non, non!” Laure criait encore et encore et a couru à la porte où sa mère l’a empêché de s’évader. Elle a tenu sa fille au lit et elle y a mis.
“Arrête, Laure!” La mère a hurlé à sa tortillant fille. “Ça suffit, Laure! Arrête!”
Laure a senti les mains de sa mère sur ses épaules. Elle a arrêté de se bouger, mais elle s’est cachée son visage dans l’oreiller.
“Ça suffit, Laure,” sa mère a dit encore. Cependant, elle a eu une plus douce voix, cette fois. Elle est restée immergé dans son oreiller, mais elle écoutait. “Tu ne peux plus mentir à tes amis. Ce n’est pas juste pour eux.” Laure a commencé de se tortiller encore. “Ça m’est égal si tu veux t’habiller comme un garçon…” elle a caressé la tête de sa fille, “mais ils ont le droit de savoir la vérité.”
“Je n’irai n’importe où!” Laure a crié de façon agressive, “Tu ne peux pas me forcer,” elle a marmonné. “Je n’y irai,” La mère a soupiré, mais est restée près de la porte de la chambre. “Laisse-moi d’aller seule,” Laure a dit.
“Avec la robe?”
“Non, mais laisse-moi rendre visite à mes amis,” Sa mère a tiqué et a adopté un visage d’incrédulité. “Non,”
“Si tu iras avec la robe, tu peux aller. Mais si non…” le reste n’a pas besoin d’être dit à voix haute.
Sa mère a soupiré tristement. “Écoute, Laure, je sais que tu veux faire…”
“Je ne comprends pas que tu dis,”
“Oh, tu sais,” la mère a commencé de caresser sa fille encore, “mais tu ne veux pas l’accepter la vérité”. Laure n’a rien dit. “Laure, tu peux t’habiller comme lui, mais il ne reviendra jamais.”
Laure a fermé ses yeux et a pressé les serrés.
“Je ne veux pas parler au sujet de ça,”
“Et quand, alors?”
“Jamais? Ça c’est absolument ridicule. Est-ce que tu n’as pas écouté ce que la thérapeute a dit? À un moment, tu as besoin de parler au les choses qui-ce passent.”
“Oui, à un moment – pas en ce moment!”
Le silence que s’est ensuivi avait tant de tension que ni la fille ni la mère a bougé.
Petit à petit, les défenses de Laure se sont effondrées et, bientôt, Laure était en larmes. La mère a marché à sa fille et l’étreignit longtemps.
“Mon bébé, pleure,” Laure a fait de l’hyperventilation contre la poitrine de sa mère, qui a caressé sa fille dans un rythme stable pour la calmer. Même si ses yeux étaient fermés, Laure encore voyait l’accident devant elle.
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!