Category Archives: Why study French?

Emma’s Modern Languages FAQs

posted by Emma Beddall, final-year undergraduate student at Somerville College reading French and German

Why French?

French is a fantastic language with a rich associated culture and history and has a strong literary tradition.  Not only is it a language spoken by our closest neighbouring country and a number of others, it is also widely spoken around the world by many as a second language.

Why Oxford?

If the course appeals to you, why not Oxford?  The French course is different to many other Modern Languages degrees  and provides a truly unique academic experience which allows you to gain an insight into another language and its literature.

How is the course structured?

The first year of the course essentially counts as an introduction to a wide-ranging selection of French literature through the set texts, as well as developing language skills such as translation.  Second year onwards, you then have the chance to make choices based upon your interests.   Third year is generally spent abroad (although there are certain courses, such as French and Arabic in which the year abroad occurs in the second), before returning to Oxford for the fourth and final year of the course.

What makes the Oxford course different?

The French course offered at Oxford is very different to the courses offered in Modern Languages elsewhere.  The main difference is that the study of French at Oxford is very literature-focused, whereas other courses tend to have more modules in topics such as politics, film, cultural studies and linguistics.  Furthermore, there is the opportunity to study a broad range of literature, including medieval and early modern texts which are infrequently offered for study at undergraduate level at other universities.  Although the course is more traditional in nature, there are a wide range of options available and these include modules on European cinema, linguistics and translation, among others.

What if I’ve done no literature?

It is not a problem if you haven’t already studied French literature before coming to Oxford, the most important thing is a willingness to study and engage with literature.  Everyone arrives having done different things at school, especially given that the range of A-level courses (or their equivalents) tend to focus upon different aspects, some include literature while others, for example, involve studying French films.  Furthermore, you may well have previously studied literature in English classes or written essays in various subjects and many of the skills will carry across.  I’d also advise trying reading some books in French, and you really don’t have to start off with the imposing classics of French literature, unless you really want to!

Is the course just literature?

No, and we don’t spend all our time just writing essays on literature.  Although the course does allow you to study literature in depth and this is an important component of the degree, the course is not solely focused upon literary studies and there is also language component, with oral exams, translation both into and out of French and French cultural studies.  Having heard a lot about the literature side of the course before attending Oxford, I was actually surprised by the extent of the language content within the degree.

What if I’m not sure I want to do a year abroad?

The most important thing I can state is that there is time and you do not have to immediately embark on a year abroad.  At present, going to university is a big step, especially if you are coming straight out of school, and the very idea of living abroad for a year may seem intimidating.  However, after two years of studying, you will likely see things differently and probably feel very different as an individual. The year abroad is an obligatory part of the course, except under specific circumstances, and most people end up loving it and the many experiences it offers.  After all, very few other courses give you the chance to spend a year partway through your degree going and doing something completely different of your choosing.

What options are there if I don’t want to do just French?

You can study French as part of a Joint Honours with a number of other subjects.  Furthermore, it is also possible to combine French with another language, both European languages and others such as Russian and Arabic.  For full details on available course combinations with French, see the prospectus.

Is it okay if I haven’t done any other languages before?

Yes.  You can do just French or study French with another subject.  However, there is also the chance to start another language from scratch (known as ‘ab initio’) and study it alongside French, if you would like the chance to learn a new language.

Can I study at Oxford with a disability?

Yes, there are many students studying at Oxford with disabilities or long-term health condition.   It may be particularly useful to speak to people at the Colleges or the department on an open day if you have any queries.   There is also a range of support available, including the Disability Advisory Service for the university, welfare structures within the individual colleges, and the student-organised Oxford Student’s Disability Community (OSDC).

Is the interview scary?  How do I prepare?

Think about what you’ve put in your personal statement, especially the books you’ve read and any statements you’ve made about why you want to study French, as these are likely to be the start point of discussion.  I actually spent quite a lot of my German interview talking about the Harry Potter series and the challenges it poses for translation.  You will likely be nervous beforehand and the interview sounds like a daunting prospect, but try to see it as a chance to discuss things that interest you with another likeminded person; you will likely be surprised by how quickly the time passes!

Does my personal statement have to be full of classic French literature?  Should I make my personal statement sound like I’ve read loads of things?

First things first, honesty is always the best policy and if you claim you’ve read things you haven’t, you will potentially get caught out at the interview and this will inevitably be awkward.  If you happen to have read some French literature, go ahead and write about it.  However, you can also think outside the box, the idea is to show your enthusiasm for the French language, so don’t hesitate to write about your favourite French book, even if it isn’t the most literary of texts, or a French language film or play you’ve seen or how you’ve read the English translation of a classic French work.

 

100 Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages, Reason 89: Get into film and TV

Jessica Benhamou is a British-Israeli producer and writer who works in film and journalism. She produced the short film ‘Juliet Remembered’ which was shown at the Oxford International Film Festival. This post originally appeared on the Oxford Creative Multilingualism site.

I’ve been working in film and TV journalism since graduating in 2012 with a BA in Modern Languages. Highlights include working on Netflix’s “The Crown” and BBC Panorama. The latest short film I produced, Juliet Remembered, is also screening at the 2017 Oxford International Film Festival. I find that I draw on the skills I developed every day.

Superficially, my ability to speak and write in French has allowed me to travel and opened the doors to more opportunities. I’ve worked in Paris at France24, in Tel Aviv for i24news on their French channel and as a live-translator for Sky News. Beyond working in French, other linguistic and analytical skills have been highly transferrable for my creative work as a writer and producer.

Translation requires a precision and attention to language that I use all the time as a writer. Translation is a precarious balancing act where the writer tries to faithfully preserve the sense, style, tone and message of an original sentence in the most succinct way. Writing requires a person to be a wordsmith, and a screenwriter has to be particularly economical like a translator. You have to quickly establish an immersive world with compelling characters in 90 pages. Unlike novels, you cannot afford to have lengthy descriptions, vague images or share a character’s inner thoughts (unless you’re using a voiceover). You have to show a person’s character through action, dialogue, sound and visuals. Not only that, but your story has to be truly satisfying in a much shorter timeframe. Every word counts in a screenplay.

Studying a foreign language teaches you how to listen. A linguist knows how to detect subtle intonations, rhythm, irony and comic timing in a foreign language. This has helped me in post-production where the film comes together layer by layer. First you have the visual edit, followed by the sound design, music, colour grade and special effects. Having a good ear may help you detect whether a sound effect for clothes brushing seems more like leather or satin. It will help you know what kind of music would heighten a particular scene and engage an audience in the right way without being too didactic.

Beyond the linguistic component, a Modern Languages student learns about other cultures and other ways of thinking. Studying foreign works has allowed me to diversify my pool of resources. You may already be familiar with British classics and it can be useful to find your inspiration elsewhere. More generally, reading widely and critically for my degree has prepared me for the volume of script reading I have to do now. I can quickly assess the potential of a story or why a script is not working. Writing essays as part of my course taught me about the importance of structure and momentum. Both the script and the edit in post-production have to be tightly reigned in, but also keep moving resolutely towards a conclusion.

Finally, a Modern Languages degree teaches you about the power of imagination – to empathize with the lives of others. The desire to learn about other cultures surely attracts individuals with a curious, adventurous nature, who are looking to engage meaningfully with the world around them.

 

100 Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages, Reason 90: Because the Humanities Matter

posted by Simon Kemp

Modern Languages at university form part of a family of subjects, along with history, English, philosophy and several others, known as the Humanities. This week’s Good Reason to study modern languages is because it’s a humanities subject, and because all the humanities are important. (You can find the other reasons by clicking the ‘100 Reasons’ tag at the bottom of this post.) The American writer and academic, Francine Prose, makes an eloquent case for studying the humanities in a recent article, and suggests why these subjects might be more important than ever in today’s world. Here’s an extract:

Those of us who teach and study are aware of what these areas of learning provide: the ability to think critically and independently; to tolerate ambiguity; to see both sides of an issue; to look beneath the surface of what we are being told; to appreciate the ways in which language can help us understand one another more clearly and profoundly – or, alternately, how language can conceal and misrepresent. They help us learn how to think, and they equip us to live in – to sustain – a democracy.

Studying the classics and philosophy teaches students where we come from, and how our modes of reasoning have evolved over time. Learning foreign languages, and about other cultures, enables students to understand how other societies resemble or differ from our own. Is it entirely paranoid to wonder if these subjects are under attack because they enable students to think in ways that are more complex than the reductive simplifications so congenial to our current political and corporate discourse?

 I don’t believe that the humanities can make you a decent person. We know that Hitler was an ardent Wagner fan and had a lively interest in architecture. But literature, art and music can focus and expand our sense of what humans can accomplish and create. The humanities teach us about those who have gone before us; a foreign language brings us closer to those with whom we share the planet. The humanities can touch those aspects of consciousness that we call intellect and heart – organs seemingly lacking among lawmakers whose views on health care suggest not only zero compassion but a poor understanding of human experience, with its crises and setbacks.

Courses in the humanities are as formative and beneficial as the classes that will replace them. Instead of Shakespeare or French, there will be (perhaps there already are) college classes in how to trim corporate spending – courses that instruct us to eliminate “frivolous” programs of study that might actually teach students to think.

You can find the full article here.

Ninety-Six Percent

posted by Simon Kemp

96%. That’s the satisfaction rate among our students with the French undergraduate course at Oxford.

That compares with an average of 93% satisfaction for courses across Oxford university, a satisfaction rate of 88% for courses across the ‘Russell Group’ of universities, and a satisfaction rate of 84% for undergraduate courses in all UK universities.

We’re very proud of that achievement, and always working hard to make sure our course is the best, most challenging and stimulating course that we can make it.

You can explore statistics on many aspects of our French course here, and through the Unistats link to the government website, you can compare data on our course with those at other universities. (If you do, one odd statistic I noticed is the suggestion that our French course has ‘0% coursework’. I presume they mean ‘0% compulsory coursework’, which is true, but in practice almost all our students choose to include at least one coursework portfolio or dissertation project among their final exams.)

Note too that 92% of our students agreed that teaching staff were good at explaining things to them (which leaves a little room for improvement still, but compares very well to our rival institutions), and 90% of students were in full-time work or study (such as Masters courses) six months after graduating. The excellent employability prospects of a modern languages degree, from here at Oxford or from anywhere else, is something we’ve talked about before, and really can’t emphasise enough.

100 Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages: Reason 91

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posted by Simon Kemp

You get to read.

You get to read stories, poems, novels and plays.

You get to lose yourselves in the worlds created by some of the greatest authors in history, and venture into other lives and other minds awaiting you between the pages.

You get to shed a tear for Emma Bovary as her dreams of romance are slowly crushed.

You get to cheer on Julien Sorel as he climbs slippery social ladders up into high society and regular ladders up into other people’s bedrooms.

You get to hiss the judge who condemns a man to death because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral.

And you get to do all three at the same time, and feel oddly confused about why you’re doing that, as the Marquise de Merteuil weaves her clever schemes around the love-lives of unsuspecting innocents.

 

Yes, your language confidence and your knowledge of French culture and history will come on in leaps and bounds as you read these stories.

Yes, you’ll develop your skills in critical thinking,  researching for evidence, building and defending arguments, and articulating your ideas as you analyse these texts, and you’ll take all of these vital skills away with you to the workplace, where they are much in demand.

But a Modern Languages degree at Oxford offers more than that. It offers the opportunity to to be charmed…

to be provoked…

to be moved to tears…

to be shaken in your beliefs…

… as you link minds with some of the great men and women of European culture and encounter their greatest masterpieces. Some of these masterpieces — let’s not get carried away here — won’t really grab you, and you’ll slog through them dutifully before writing a tidy essay about them. But then you’ll open some other book on the course, and who knows which one it will be, and it will speak to you deeply and drag you down into itself. And when you finally look up from it, you’ll feel like you’re looking at the world with fresh eyes.

Discovering literature with us is an experience that will stay with you the rest of your life, and an experience that will leave you changed.

Are you tempted at all?

Evening Sun
Evening Sun

Brexit and Modern Languages

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Post-Brexit front page of a French newspaper. The caption reads: ‘Massive shock in the United Kingdom and many questions in the EU member states after a Brexit victory of 51.9%, due notably to Boris Johnson.’

posted by Simon Kemp

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.

A detailed view of the earth from space with night lights --- Image by © Matthias Kulka/Corbis

100 Good Reasons to study modern languages at university: Reason 92

Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, Tom Hollander as Major Corkoran, Elizabeth Debicki as Jed Marshall, Olivia Colman as Angela Burr, and Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper - The Night Manager _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC Itís the first TV adaptation of a le CarrÈ novel in more than 20 years and the first adaptation of The Night Manager. The novel, originally released in 1993, has been updated as an contemporary interpretation ñ the original novel is based predominantly in South America and Mexico - and sees Roper selling weapons to the Colombian drug cartels. The story has been updated so that it is set in the modern day Middle East ñ it is very current with the first episode opening with the Arab Spring in Cairo. Olivia Colmanís character, Angela Burr, was written as a man in the novel (Leonard Burr) but the decision was made to make the character female to modernise the story. Olivia was also pregnant when she got the part, so they incorporated this into the story too. Susanne Bier (director): ìWe had decided that Burr should be played by a woman, rather than a man as in the book, because we thought there was an exciting chemistry between a woman and a man engaging in the power struggle that Roper and Burr have.î Hugh Laurie has been trying to get the adaptation made for many years, having read the novel when he was young ñ he tried to get the rights but they were owned by Sydney Pollock who originally tried to make the novel into a film. Hugh Laurie (plays Roper): ìI fell in love with this book when I first read it back in 1993. Iíd worshipped le CarrÈ since I was a teenager, but this story, in particular, I found endlessly intriguing, powerful and romantic, mythic almost.î

posted by Simon Kemp

While the Intelligence Services may not recruit their spies with a tap on the shoulder and a whispered conversation any more, they’re still very interested in modern languages graduates. If you’re interested in languages, you might as well bear them in mind as a career option…

Not long ago, The Guardian published an article on the topic. The full article is here, but here’s an extract:

If Kim Philby or Guy Burgess were able to stroll today around the famous Great Court of their old Cambridge college, Trinity, they might raise an eyebrow at the scruffiness of some students, but otherwise little has changed. It’s not just the surroundings that are remarkably consistent; so is one of the job opportunities: spying.

Top universities remain a useful place to find new entrants, not just linguists but also those with increasingly vital technology skills, or with the more varied and nebulous talents needed to be an agent in the field.

However, these days the net is cast far wider. For a couple of days this week if you entered “Russian language” and “university” into Google’s UK search engine, above the results popped a jaunty, paid-for advertisement. “Understand Russian?” it asked. “Help protect the UK.” A link took you to MI5’s careers website.

One Cambridge student said she knew of a handful of the 20 or so final-year Russian linguists who were contemplating the security services. She thought it an unlikely path for her, but still asked to not be named in case she changed her mind.

Another student, in her second year, who received the same email and also asked to speak anonymously, said it was a tempting route for students facing an uncertain economic landscape and laden with significant debts. “It’s probably an attractive career for a lot of people. Everyone is so concerned about not getting a job at all, so if you’re being offered something so secure, why wouldn’t you think about it?”

As a modern job it is not just secure, but also a very different working environment from the often lonely, drink and cigarette-fuelled world of the 1950s traitors. Characters such as Burgess – who spent much of his time during a posting in Washington drunk and was described in an FBI file as “louche, foul-mouthed … with a penchant for seducing hitchhikers” – would not be tolerated for long.

MI6 declined to comment on its recruitment policies but pointed the Guardian to the careers section of its website. This now includes a “wellbeing” page, which stresses a commitment to health and safety, and talks of counsellors being available to staff. Anonymous profiles of intelligence officers include a woman who recently took maternity leave and praises the work-life balance.

MI5 also declined to comment but GCHQ, the Cheltenham-based communications and interceptions centre, said it was “always looking to recruit those with language skills relevant to the world today”. A spokesman said: “A combination of workforce changes and the requirement from government that GCHQ continues to deliver on its mission to keep the UK safe means that we are currently looking for those with skills in a number of languages, one of which is Russian.”

Among ways to attract new people was through “regular engagements with universities”, the spokesman added.

Sitting in a cafe in one of the university’s modern buildings, the Cambridge students who spoke to the Guardian said many more of their peers were applying for the Foreign Office fast-track scheme for budding diplomats, now also much changed, with a first round consisting of internet-based aptitude tests.

Both said returning to Russia as an intelligence operative rather than a diplomat could prove difficult.

“If you’ve spent time in Russia and got to know Russian people it could almost feel a bit strange returning there as a spy,” said the second-year student. “It’s almost as if you’re betraying the Russian people you know, or at least your relationship with them might be very different.”

Her friend echoed this point: “When I was in Moscow I volunteered at a fostering commune, which was amazing. It would be very different going back there as a spy. If you like the country and like the people it could be difficult to do that sort of job.”

She added: “When I started my course Russia wasn’t the big enemy. It’s strange how it’s all changed so quickly. I didn’t expect my degree to be so in demand like this.”

 

But what’s it really like? History and Modern Languages

posted by Simon Kemp

Next in our occasional series of short films about Oxford’s various courses with modern languages comes one of our most popular combinations: History and Modern Languages. Click the video below to see students and tutors talk about the course.

You can find out all the details of the course and how to apply for it here, and details of all our courses here.

100 Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages at University: Reason 93

 

NIAMEY, NIGER - AUGUST 12: Nigerois boys play a game of soccer on August 12, 2005 Niamey, Nigeria. Niamey is the Capital of Niger. Niger is experiencing a food crisis which is threatening the lives of thousands in the impoverished West African nation. A combination of sever drought and a locust plague has caused the famine which has affected at least 2 million people in Niger and approximatly 5 million in the region. Niger is the second poorest country in the world, with 64 percent of the 12 millions inhabitants surviving on less than USD1 (81 euro cents) day. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
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French is a growing language. There are currently 220 million French speakers in the world. By the year 2060, there may be 760 million.

A recent study that claimed French would be the world’s most widely spoken language by 2050, overtaking Spanish, English and Mandarin, may have been a bit over-optimistic. Nevertheless, the number of French speakers around the world is growing sharply, especially in francophone Africa. As L’Express discussed in a recent article,  population growth and increasing levels of education in Africa are an important factor in the growth of the language in countries where it is the official language, as well of countries where it plays a mediating role between several local languages, or serves as the language of administration, business and the media.

According to the Observatoire de la langue française, there are likely to be 715 million French speakers in the world in 2050, which is 8% of the expected global population of nine  billion.  This is then forecast to increase to 760 million francophones by 2060. This may well cause it to creep up the rankings of global languages from its current fourth place, behind English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

The centre of gravity of the French language is also shifting southwards. In 2050, 85% of French speakers will be in Africa. That figure rises to 90% of young people aged 15-29, given the starkly different demographics of the European and African continents.

The future is definitely francophone, even if it’s not necessarily French.

Subtitling Geordie Shore

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What’s it like to be fluent in more than one language?

What language do bilingual people dream in?

Are they more emotional in their one language? More rational in another?

Never mind those questions. How about these:

How does stand-up comedy work in India, when performers and audience members may speak English, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu or several other languages, and not necessarily the same ones?

And most importantly, what’s it like to be employed to watch entire seasons of MTV reality show Geordie Shore, translate all the dialogue into your native language, and then try to boil it down into coherent subtitles?

Yes, Geordie-Shore-Subtitler is a real job, that actual people are doing across Europe right now at this very minute. Would you like to meet one of them? And would you like to find out how “I should have a degree in pulling women” comes out in German subtitles?

Of course you would.

Well, all these questions are answered here. It’s an episode of the BBC Radio Show, Fry’s English Delight called English Plus One, in which Stephen Fry looks at bilingualism, and talks to people who combine English with another language.  He finds out what it’s like to live in two languages at the same time, and also why it might be a good idea to pick up a second language and become bilingual yourself.

StephenFry_landscape

The programme is thirty minutes long and available to listen to (in the UK at least) until the end of September. Geordie Shore in German is around twenty minutes in.