Category Archives: Events and Competitions

Tolerance: Beacon of the Enlightenment

posted by Caroline Warman

You might have seen that in the vigils and marches that followed the Charlie Hebdo assassinations on 7 January 2015, posters of Voltaire like this one appeared everywhere, along with some of his polemical slogans about the importance of religious tolerance.


Dozens of university lecturers in France who teach Voltaire and other eighteenth-century writers, and who were all as distressed by the events and by the increasingly polarised politics that followed as anyone else, decided to put together an anthology of texts from the Enlightenment. This anthology would make available to everyone what writers of the time said about liberty, equality, and fraternity, about the importance of religious tolerance, about the rights of women, about the abomination of slavery, about the exploitation created by a system of global capitalism, and so on. It would contain the original text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, enshrined in the French Constitution since 1789, and it would also contain the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen drawn up by Olympe de Gouges, which was roundly rejected in an atmosphere of general hilarity. Some of the extracts would be witty, some would be serious or even tragic, some might even seem objectionable to us now, but all would be arguing their point with great passion, and the collection as a whole would shine a light onto a world and a century which have many more connections with us than we would ever have thought. This anthology, entitled Tolérance: le combat des Lumières, was published in April 2015 by the Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle.


We in the UK wanted to support and applaud this initiative, and we wanted to extend its readership. So we decided to translate it. And we thought, who better to translate this texts than our students? They are the citizens, female and male, of today and tomorrow, they are deeply engaged in our world, and they are brilliant at languages.


At Oxford we do a lot of translation anyway – we translate about half a page of French into English, and the other way round, every week.  We do that because it develops our language skills immensely – it challenges us to be linguistically inventive while never letting us off the hook in terms of grammatical accuracy and syntactical fluency. It is quite hard, but we love it, not least because we all do it together in college classes. You’d never believe how many different ways of translating a single sentence there are. Translation is also a particularly intense way of reading, because to translate something you really have to get inside the text. It’s incredibly stimulating, because you’re both reading and writing at the same time.


So, one hundred and two of us – tutors and their second-year students (who don’t have any exams) from lots of different colleges – translated the anthology this past summer term. And we published it on 7 January 2016, the first anniversary of the shootings. We launched it at the annual conference of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which supported the project, and it has received some nice coverage in the press and online. On the first day it was downloaded more than 4000 times. We were amazed!


So here it is, free to download. Every single text has a link to the original French, sometimes in the original eighteenth-century edition. Have a look! Because if there’s one audience we really want to reach, it’s you! You are our future, and our future needs open-minded thinkers, and it needs linguists. Go for it!


French Film Competition 2016!

Bande_de_filles_photo-Estelle-Hanania-©-Lilies-Filmsposted by Kate Rees

As in recent years, the Oxford University Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is organising a French Film Competition, run with the help and generosity of Routes into Languages (South).

The competition has been a successful and entertaining way of getting young people interested in France and French culture, and has attracted hundreds of entries over the last few years. The challenge is to re-write the ending of a film in no more than 1500 words. It is open to all students of secondary-school age, from years 7-13. We’re also very keen to encourage filmed entries via Youtube submissions, so please feel free to re-imagine the endings of the chosen films in as creative a way as you can.

This year we have chosen two films directed by Céline Sciamma, an up and coming French director. Pupils in years 7-11 are invited to re-write the ending of Tomboy (2011), which sees a young girl moving to a new Parisian neighbourhood and exploring her own identity.


Those in years 12-13 are encouraged to look at Sciamma’s most recent film, Bande de filles (2014), which depicts the life of a group of young black girls coming of age in the suburbs of Paris. Raising issues of gender, race and class, this is also a film about friendship and conflict.


We very much enjoy judging the competition and are always impressed by the imagination and wit of the submissions. Entries should be submitted by email to by noon on 31st March 2016.

A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning student in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. For further details about entering the competition (including the points in each film where we’d like you to take up the story), please see the questions below, and go to to find the link to the cover sheet for your entry.

We’re looking forward to reading your work!

  1. What counts as ‘the ending’ of the film?

We’d like you to start your re-writing from the following points:
Tomboy: from 1:06:03, when Laure’s mother says “Lève-toi tu dois t’habiller”

Bande de filles: from 1:16:59, when Marieme/Vic says ‘J’ai un plan’ to her friends.


  1. Does ‘re-writing’ mean I have to change everything?

There is nothing stopping you from watching the ‘real’ ending and then modifying it as you see fit. Indeed, you might find this helpful. Please note, though, that we’re looking for creative, entertaining and inventive new endings, which address as fully and plausibly as possible the strands of the story that are left unresolved at the end-points we’ve specified above.


  1. What form should the essay take?

There is no particular expectation as to how you submit your entry – you might like, for example, to submit it in screenplay format (with descriptions of camera angle, voice-over, lighting etc.), or as a play (with speech-prefixes and dialogue) or in prose, as in a novel. You might even like to submit your ‘new’ ending via YouTube or other social media..! If so, email us the link with your attached coversheet. The form should be the one you feel shows your creativity in the best light.


  1. Where can I or my school/college get hold of the films?

The DVDs are readily and affordably available via Amazon ( or


  1. Is there a limit to the amount of entries any one school can make?

Yes. There is a limit of 15 entries per school per age group.


  1. Should I enter as an individual or can I enter as part of a group?

We would ask you to keep to individually-named submissions, please: this is just to ensure as much as possible parity and fairness between entries, and to avoid any distinction between smaller and larger groups.

French Film Essay Competition 2015


bienvenue chez les ch'tis_2(1)

posted by Will McKenzie and Kate Rees

A feast of narrative imagination and directorial invention!The University of Oxford’s fourth French film essay competition was once more opened up to younger students (from year 7 onwards) and offered entrants the chance to write, direct and submit their own mini-film. An amazing total of 178 entries were received, from almost 50 schools.

The judges were deeply impressed by the range and richness of responses to the four set films: Le Petit Nicolas and Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (years 7-11) and Dans la maison and De Rouille et d’os (years 12-13)Entrants re-wrote the closing chapter, picking up narrative threads left hanging by each film’s ambiguous ending. So rich were the responses that, in addition to the winner and runner-up in each category, a selection of further entries were offered special and higher commendations. The winners in each age group were Joe Beadle (Years 7-11) and Jessica Binks (Years 12-13). The winners in the new ‘Film’ category were Class 7H of Bartholomew School. Further details are available at: .

Below are brief reports from the judges about the entries for each film.

Le Petit Nicolas

Rewritings (and filmed versions) of the end of Petit Nicolas offered a rich tonal and emotional range, from the gentle and tender – where the united family lives happily ever after – to the sudden and shocking – where the jealous Nicolas takes sibling rivalry to its murderous limit. The strongest entries gave emotional depth and richness to each of the wide cast of characters, including Nicolas’s friends and family, while retaining the rapid, quick-witted patter of the original. The judges were impressed throughout by the close attention entrants gave to all these aspects of the film, and by the sheer energy and enthusiasm invested in all the entries.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

There was a pleasingly large number of responses to this very successful French movie. The vanished wife gave entrants scope to take the film in all kinds of unexpected directions; an opportunity they eagerly seized. Some movingly melancholic, even tragic, entries impressed the judges enormously in their emotional maturity. Others retained the sweetly joyous tone of the original. Scottish entries often made wittily knowing allusions to the “North” of the Ch’tis as wet, cold but ultimately welcoming. While entrants’ level of French was not taken into account when deciding the winners, the judges often noted in passing an encouragingly good grasp of the language.

 Dans la maison

Our older entrants responded very well to this film, which deals expressly with the problem of writing the ending of a story. There were twists and turns as inventive as those of the film itself, and some sensitive responses to the original film’s cold, tense tone and analysis of status anxiety, snobbism and sexual jealousy. There were some gripping retellings in English and in French, strengthened by subtle, incisive description, good narrative pacing and intelligent plotting, where just enough information was released at just the right time to keep the reader guessing.
De rouille et d’os

While relatively few entrants wrote on this film, the entries we did receive were extremely accomplished. Entries here were characterized by their tendency to formal experimentation: there were more rewritings in verse for this film than the others, in English and in French. The judges were impressed especially by entrants’ ability to express themselves well given the constraints of versification, often awarding Special Commendations in recognition of this.

Another competition is planned for next year. We hope you’ll consider entering.

Open Days in 2015

The Taylor Institute Library, where you get to study when you’re a student here.

 posted by Simon Kemp

If you’re considering applying to study at Oxford, then the best way to check us out is to come to one of our open days. The Modern Languages Faculty holds four open days in the course of the year, in which you can see some of our facilities, hear about all the courses we have available and ask questions of the tutors and current undergraduates.

Due to pressure of numbers, all the open days need to be booked for, which you can do online. The May 2nd day is our largest event, and usually gets fully booked, so it’s worth getting tickets early. The other three days, on July 1st and 2nd and September 18th, are smaller scale, but have the advantage of coinciding with the general university open day, for which all the colleges of the university open their doors for you to wander around the grounds and meet the tutors. (You don’t need to book in for college visits.)

Here’s our schedule for this year:


Open Days schedule and bookings

Open Day Date Programme Bookings Contact
Main Faculty Undergraduate Open Day 2nd May 2015 Programme Book a place | Amend a booking | Cancel a booking Nicola Gard
*Faculty Undergraduate Open Day 1st & 2nd July 2015 Registration will open in the next few months Nicola Gard
*Faculty Undergraduate Open Day 18th September 2015 Registration will open in the next few months Nicola Gard

After booking, you will receive a ticket via email. If you do not receive your ticket within 24 hours, please check the spam folder in your email system and, if it is not there, contact

Due to restricted places on our Open Days and the sheer volume of students wishing to attend, if after booking a place you are then unable to attend, please do cancel your place using the ‘cancel’ option(s) above, or email the relevant contact above to cancel your place for you.

Further Information

The Modern Languages prospectus for undergraduates is available by clicking here

A general prospectus for undergraduates is available by clicking here

Further information from Undergraduate Admissions is available by clicking here

Further details on our Open Days can be found by clicking here.

We hope to see you there.

Be an Oxford Student for a week this summer (for free!)

Web 28_0

posted by Simon Kemp

Would you like to spend a week with us this summer, living in an Oxford college, learning about French language and culture, and getting a taste of what it’s like to study here as a student? All entirely FREE of charge, food and accommodation included? (We’ll even pay for your train ticket to get here.)

If you’re currently in Year 12 of a state school studying French, and have nothing better to do from the 4th to the 10th July this year, please do think about signing up for the course, or for one of the dozens of others on offer, including German, Spanish, or ‘beginner languages’ to give you a little experience of Russian, Portuguese and Italian languages and cultures. (Note that different courses run on different weeks through the summer.)

Here are the details of the French week:

This UNIQ course is a chance to immerse yourself in the literature, theatre, poetry, film and linguistics of the French language.You will spend daily sessions at the Language Centre practising and improving your existing language skills, followed by fascinating lectures and seminars, and the chance to use the world famous Taylorian and Bodleian libraries for private study. 

Our aim is to give you a taste of what it is really like to read French at Oxford, and to give you a sense of the unrivalled breadth of our course. Throughout the week, you will have the opportunity to hone your language skills and consolidate your knowledge of French grammar. You will also participate in classes introducing you to an exciting array of topics, ranging from Linguistics and 17th-century tragedy to French-language cinema and 19th-century poetry.

You will be expected to do some preparatory reading before the course so that you can make the most of the week you spend here: we’ve chosen Annie Ernaux’s 20th-century classic autobiographical text La place.  We will post a copy of the book to all successful participants in early June. Following a lecture that will explore some of the key themes and contexts surrounding Ernaux’s book, you will have the chance to test out (and flesh out) your ideas in a seminar. On the Friday, you will even experience an Oxford-style tutorial, in which you and three other students get to discuss your close reading of a poem with a specialist.

Student Experiences

“I really enjoyed the intimacy of the Alumni Dinner. Also, I enjoyed the morning grammar classes and the 17th Century French Theatre lecture as I was not expecting to enjoy it but really loved it!”

“The mentors were really friendly and easy to relate to, and the tutors were not as scary as I had thought they would be! It was a real adventure and one I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.”

You can find details of all the courses on offer here, along with information about how to sign up. The deadline for applications is February 12th, so you don’t have long to think about it, I’m afraid. We hope to see you in July!

French Film Competition 2015


posted by Kate Rees and Will McKenzie

As in recent years, the Oxford University Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is organising a French Film Competition, run with the help and generosity of Routes into Languages and the Sir Robert Taylor Society.

The Competition has been a successful and entertaining way of getting young people interested in France and French culture. The challenge of the competition is to re-write the ending of a film in no more than 1500 words. It is open to all students of secondary-school age, from years 7-13. This year we’re also encouraging Youtube submissions for a new filmed entry category, so please feel free to re-imagine the endings of the chosen films in as creative a way as you can.

There is a choice of films in each age category, Le Petit Nicolas (2009, directed by Laurent Tirard) or Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (2008, directed by Dany Boon), for years 7-11. Both are comedies: Le Petit Nicolas offers a glimpse into the mindset of a young French schoolboy confronted with the prospect of a new baby sibling, while Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis humorously explores misunderstandings about life in the north of France.



Students in years 12-13 can opt to re-write the ending of either Dans la maison (2012, directed by François Ozon) or De Rouille et d’os (2012, directed by Jacques Audiard). The first is a study of the twists in a relationship between a teacher and his student. The second focuses on the relationship between a boxer and a young woman badly injured after an accident at a marine park.



We very much enjoy judging the competition and are always impressed by the imagination and wit of the submissions. Entries should be submitted by email to by noon on 27th March 2015.

A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning student in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. For further details about entering the competition (including the points in each film where we’d like you to take up the story), please see the link below, which offers more details about how to enter. It’s great fun and an excellent exercise in creativity! So please do enter!


The trailers for all four films are below:

Joyeux anniversaire!


posted by Simon Kemp

One year ago today I set up this blog with colleagues and students of the French department at Oxford University as a way to promote French language and culture, and encourage people to consider studying for a degree in modern languages at university (preferably at our university). I was pleased in the early weeks as the hit count on the blog started to creep up into three, then four figures, as we started to get visitors from other European countries and beyond.

Now, twelve months later, we’ve seen our quarter-of-a-millionth hit, we welcome up to six thousand visits a day, and have visitors from over a hundred nations, including Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Tuvalu. And the numbers are still growing every month.

So I wanted to take a moment to thank you for visiting and supporting this blog. We’re nothing without our readers and commenters, and I’m delighted that we’ve found an audience out there, interested in reading about French literature, French film, French grammar, even, and what it might be like to come to Oxford to study them.

Over the course of the year we’ve offered our reading recommendations for those of you who are interested in exploring French literature, in the original language or in translation, including all of these:


Capture d’écran iPad 1




And we’ve suggested some films you might like to try as an introduction to French cinema, including these:



We’ve explored why musketeers are allergic to muskets, why French Voldemort is embarrassed by his middle name, why French grammar guides obsess over women injuring themselves, and how the pioneering spirit of M. Eugène-René Poubelle has left an enduring mark, if a grimy one, on the French language.

From the students of the university, we’ve learned, among many other things, how to book a hotel room if you happen to get stranded in fourteenth century France, how French people pronounce the word ‘lunch’, and how to win the Year Abroad (by being mistaken for a French person by a French person, apparently).

We’ve also learned what it’s like to apply here, what it’s like to study here, and how you might go about writing a personal statement or preparing for an admissions interview if you were interested in coming to Oxford as a student.

There’s lots more to come. If you find this a useful resource, do please tell people about us, and help word to spread. If there’s something you’d like to see more of, something new we could be doing, or something we could be doing better, then let us know through the comments. Thanks for reading, and I hope our regular Wednesday posts can carry on trying to keep you informed and entertained for a while yet.

New Look

Bright bookshelf 008

Yes, this is still Adventures on the Bookshelf, the Oxford University French blog. We’ve had a redesign, with a new, clearer layout that allows you to navigate more easily via the categories and tags. (The Categories are the eleven subject headings that all the posts fall into – they’re listed on the left on computer screens, or scroll down for them on your phone. They group together all the posts on, say, applying to university to study modern languages, so you can see all the information in one place. Tags appear at the bottom of posts highlighting names and topics from ‘cats’ to ‘Voldemort’. Click them and they’ll bring up any related posts on the subject.) The new version also works better on mobile phones, so that you can see a selection of recent posts on the front page and you no longer have to scroll down endlessly to reach the category list. Plus, the doughty Adventures on the Bookshelf plastic soldiers now have some new foes to contend with, and a new selection of classic French literature to contend with them in front of.  (Is that too many prepositions?)