Virtual Book Club returns to French

The Virtual Book Club is back, and this episode features a discussion of a text in French. Here, Junior Research Fellow, Macs, talks to undergraduates Isobel and Hector about a short extract from Rachid Boudjedra’s Topographie idéale pour une agression caractérisée (Paris: Denoël, 1975, pp. 173-4).

They consider questions such as:

  • What is the style of this passage? Is it difficult to read and understand and if so, why?
  • Is there a relationship between the style and what’s happening in the excerpt?
  • What kinds of translation take place in this passage?
  • How does the protagonist respond to the image of the lotus? Is it right to say that he’s reading the advertisement even though he’s supposedly illiterate? Is he misreading it? What would a “correct” reading of this advertisement look like?
  • What language skills are required to read a map or an advertisement?

If you would like to be sent a copy of the text so you can follow the discussion, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

The next episode will be on German, and will be a special tie-in with this year’s German Classic Prize. Stay tuned…

Fabulous Translation

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we’re continuing our exploration of the exhibition ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation‘. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Cinderella story and how it has been transferred and adapted across cultures. This week, we’re thinking about how to translate fables.

You probably know that a fable is a short story that aims to convey a moral, usually involving animals. Famous examples include ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’, ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’, and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, to name but a few.  Such stories have been popular since ancient times, and can be identified in many different traditions, including Aesop’s ancient Greek fables, and the Sanskrit Panchatantra, which are among the world’s most translated texts. These stories have enjoyed an enduring popularity and are still widely told today.

Although we might think of these stories as being primarily for children, they were originally written for adults in order to promote a moral message. But, of course, when it comes to translation, that raises all sorts of questions: how far is it possible to transfer a moral framework between different cultures and communities?; why are animals afforded such a key role in fables, and do animals have the same associations across the world?

Below, we’ve included a worksheet that was designed for visitors to the exhibition. However, you do not need to have seen the exhibition to undertand it. Take a look at some of the discussion points raised, including, intriguingly, the surprising study that found that children who were told the story of ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ were actually more likely to lie after hearing it! You can right click and open the images separately to see a bigger version, or access a pdf here.

Remember, the exhibition runs until 2nd June – do pay a visit if you can!

Brazil Week

This week’s blog post was written by Franklin, a second-year student in French and Portuguese from scratch. Here, Franklin tells us about this year’s ‘Brazil Week’…

In Week Six of Hilary Term every year, the Portuguese Sub-faculty organises ‘Brazil Week’, a series of free events – talks, performances and film screenings, to name just a few – which are open to members of the University and local community. The aim: to raise awareness of the richness and diversity of Brazilian culture. Events, though organised from within the Modern Languages Faculty, are designed to underline the wide variety of disciplines in which aspects of Brazil and Brazilian life are being researched: politics, history, theology, anthropology and sociology, for example. Each year promises to be an engaging and exciting week, and this year’s Brazil Week – whose theme was ‘Brazil Now’, in light of the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency – was no exception.

The week began with a focus on film. On Monday evening, St Peter’s – one of the more than 30 colleges that comprise the University – hosted a screening of Flávia Castro’s Deslembro, a film that explores themes of identity and memory through the lens of the experiences of its teenage protagonist, Joana. The following day, we welcomed Dr Maite Conde, Lecturer in Brazilian Studies at Cambridge University, who spoke about her recently published book, Foundational Films: Early Cinema and Modernity in Brazil. Maite’s book discusses the reception of cinema in Brazil in the early twentieth century and explores how early films sought to represent cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, in a similar vein to European capital cities, notably Paris, and her talk was particularly insightful for final year students studying Brazilian cinema.

Photo by Davi Costa on Unsplash

Later on Tuesday, in what was perhaps the standout event of the week, the Brazilian writer and activist Anderson França gave a talk which touched on his 2017 collection of crônicas, Rio em Shamas (or ‘Rio in Flames’). Attended by students and staff of the University and members of the Portuguese and Brazilian communities in Oxford, Anderson’s talk highlighted the reality of growing up in Rio de Janeiro, how tourists don’t see the real Rio, and the precariousness of the political situation in Brazil.

A theatre workshop for students with the actor and director Almiro Andrade on Wednesday morning marked the halfway point. In it students were able to discuss ways of staging two canonical Brazilian plays, Auto da Compadecida and Morte e vida severina, both of which are studied in first year. Later that day, St Peter’s hosted a well-attended seminar, organised by postgraduate Andrzej Stuart-Thompson, for all those doing research into aspects of Brazil. Thursday saw the University’s Latin America Centre host Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke and Peter Burke, who delivered a lecture on the influential Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, whose work all Portuguese undergraduates come across at some stage in their studies, and, just as it started, the week drew to a close focussing on cinema, with a roundtable, chaired by Professor Claire Williams, involving three specialists in Brazilian cinema.

Overall, the week was a great success, spotlighting the vitality and diversity of Brazilian culture and showcasing the breadth of research focussed on Brazil being carried out at Oxford. Brazil Week is one of many opportunities that students of Portuguese can get involved with to expand their knowledge of the Portuguese-speaking world and be introduced to cutting-edge research. Other events that the Sub-faculty organise include the Research Seminar, which regularly welcomes academics from around the world to speak about their latest work. This year, we have had talks entitled ‘Lima Barreto: An Afro-Brazilian Crusader’, ‘Memórias íntimas marcas: post-war transnational dialogues in Angolan art’ and ‘Critical futurities and queer-disabled existence in Mozambican, Ugandan and Zimbabwean political cultures’ amongst many more, reflecting the global nature of Portuguese as a language and the richness and vibrancy of the cultures of the Lusophone world.

 

Cinderella – Translation and Transformation

In February, we brought you news of an exciting exhibition that is currently running at the Weston Library in Oxford, ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. The Babel exhibition is running until 2nd June. If you’re passionate about all things multilingual and interested in how translation has shaped cultures, we would recommend a visit – perhaps after coming to the Modern Languages open day this Saturday. You can also get involved in the creative translation competitions, which run until 15th May, organised by the Creative Multilingualism Programme.

For now, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into one of the exhibition cases: traversing realms of fantasy. This case includes a number of fascinating items, including translations of Through the Looking Glass, translations of the Harry Potter series, and various translations of Cinderella. As one of the curators tells us: “Fantasy allows us to travel without restriction to new places, and inhabit or invent new scenarios. Fairy tales, magical plots and even insignificant items such as a slipper can prompt inventive retellings and manifold adaptations. It’s not surprising therefore that fantasy and magic are uniquely well suited to being passed on from one cultural group to another. Translators play a vital role in that process –and it’s often futile to distinguish rigidly between translation, retelling and creation.” (Katin Kohl, Faculty Lecturer in German, Fellow of Jesus College, in the Babel Teacher’s Guide).

The story of Cinderella is an example of how a fairytale can overlap many diverse cultures. Versions of the story have been around for millenia and exist all over the world. While the premise of the story often remains the same – a young girl is mistreated by her family before escaping, with the aid of a magical creature, to a better life – details can vary from one tradition to another. The Cinderella story raises questions like: to what extent can translation be considered a process of transformation? Does the translator have an obligation to remain ‘faithful’ to the original text? What does ‘fidelity’ even mean in the context of linguistic transfer?

Here is a worksheet produced for visitors to the exhibition. It touches on versions of Cinderella from France, Germany, Ancient Greece, the Caribbean, Korea, Nigeria, and Cambodia.  If you’re interested to find out more, have a read of it (if you’re struggling to read it within the blog, try right-clicking and opening the images separately, or access a pdf here). You don’t need to see the exhibition itself to understand the material included here but we would certainly encourage you to do so!

Career Profile: Being an actor

This week on the blog we bring you another career profile from one of our recent graduates. Ellie, who studied French at St Anne’s College, now works as an actor in London. Acting is, perhaps, not a career many of us would automatically associate with Modern Languages. However, did you know that many famous actors are multilingual? As well as speaking English, Jodie Foster, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bradley Cooper, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all speak French. Colin Firth speaks fluent Italian, Gwyneth Paltrow speaks Spanish, and Sandra Bullock speaks German. Meanwhile, some actors speak a whole range of languages: Natalie Portman (Hebrew, German, Spanish, Japanese); Viggo Mortensen (Danish, Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Norwegian, Swedish); Penélope Cruz (Italian, Spanish). And these are to name just a few!

Ellie tells us how languages are giving her a boost when it comes to a career in acting…

Name: Ellie Shaw
Profession: Actor and Singer
Studied: French sole, 2012-2016

After graduating with a degree in French in 2016, I trained as an actor and singer at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama where I earned an MA. I’m now building my career as an actor in London, and I also currently work at the Tate Modern and the Barbican Centre. When I initially undertook my actor training I never thought languages would be immediately useful, but countless directors and my agent have all really emphasised the utility of having foreign languages at hand. As an actress in London it makes me stand out. In fact, I just wrapped a short film where I was speaking French and I’m about to do a self-tape for my agent for an audition for a feature set in France; fluent French is a must for this role. Indirectly, learning a foreign language and going on a year abroad equips you with the kind of confidence to get any job you want – for me, it’s standing on stage or in front of a panel making a fool of yourself fearlessly. You learn to process written information more quickly and understand nuances in communication more effectively. It’s also – most importantly – part of my long-running campaign to marry Timothee Chalamet.

Ellie is currently starring as Daisy Buchanan in the immersive theatre show The Great Gatsby.

Bonus… Here’s a video of Viggo Mortensen speaking seven languages!

German at Oxford – the view from the ground

This week we’re highlighting a number of videos that offer glimpses of German at Oxford. German is one of our bigger languages and is currently offered at twenty-three colleges (although not all colleges will offer German in combination with every other language or subject). For a list of which colleges offer the different language and subject combinations, see here.

First, we hear from Prof. Almut Suerbaum, Fellow in Tutor in German at Somerville College. Prof. Suerbaum teaches a range of topics as part of the undergraduate degree. These include: German language; German literature, specialising in medieval culture; religious writing, medieval drama and prose narrative, gender, and theory of translation.

Next, we can hear from two students: Martha studied German and History, also at Somerville College, and graduated last year; Nyasha studies German at St John’s College.


We’re very grateful to Somerville and St John’s for putting these videos together, and we hope they have given you an insight into German at Oxford and perhaps whet your appetite for more!

 

Open Days – the big one

We had a lovely time meeting lots of you at our open days for German, Spanish and Portuguese, Slavonic Languages, and Italian in February and March. However, for those of you who were not able to join us at these events, or those of you who are interested in languages not represented at those events, we have another open day on the horizon and we would love to meet any and all prospective students. This is particularly true for Year 12 students, but you are equally welcome if you are in Year 11 and are starting to explore your options.

This open day will cover ALL of our languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Modern Greek, Czech, and Polish. Most of the joint school degrees will also be represented.* It will offer an overview of the degree, Q&A sessions for indidivdual languages, and a chance to chat to current students and tutors.

The open day will take place at the Examination Schools on the High Street on Saturday 4 May. A full programme is below. Booking is compulsory – at this link. We hope to see many of you there!

 

 

*Joint degrees with Linguistics, English, History, and Philosophy will be in attendance, with Classics TBC. Students interested in the degree in European and Middle Eastern Languages should note that the Faculty of Oriental Studies will also hold an open day on the same date. You are therefore advised to visit both the Medieval and Modern Languages open day and the  Oriental Studies open day in the same trip. A programme and booking details for the Oriental Studies open day can be found here.

Virtual Book Club: Italian Episode

In January, the Virtual Book Club returned with our first ever Spanish episode. Swift on its heels, here is the second episode of 2019, which focusses on Italian. This episode is a discussion of an extract from Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), by Italo Calvino. The discussion is led by doctoral researcher Rebecca, with undergraduates Pauline and Maga. If you would like to sign up to receive a copy of the text, or to receive information about future episodes, please email schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Out last Italian episode is available here. Stay tuned for the next episodes in French and German over the next few months!

Career Profile: Being an Academic

This week, in our series on career profiles, we’re speaking to Gemma Tidman, who studied French at Worcester College and graduated in 2011. Having attended a big comprehensive school in a small village in Somerset, Gemma now researches and teaches French literature, at St John’s College, Oxford. She tells us a bit about her route into an academic job…

During my degree, I figured out that I wanted a number of things from a career: the ability to use my language skills on a regular basis, to travel, to meet interesting people and to continue learning new things. I also knew that I loved my degree, that I enjoyed academic writing, and during my year abroad I learned that I really liked teaching (I was an English-language teaching assistant in a lycée in South-West France). I wasn’t sure what all this meant in terms of a career, but it sounded like these were things I could keep doing during a Master’s, so that’s where I started. I did the Oxford Master’s course in the European Enlightenment (2011-12), and had some brilliant tutors who inspired in me a love of eighteenth-century French literature and cultural history.

After the Master’s, I still wasn’t sure what to do next. I applied for a PhD, but in the end decided that I needed to try something beyond university. So, I took a job at the Wallace Collection, in London – a national museum that specialises in eighteenth-century French visual and decorative arts, among other things. I worked with a great team of people, on projects involving marketing, public engagement, and fundraising. I loved the job! I got to use my French skills now and then, and to pursue my interest in eighteenth-century France. But, after six months or so, I realised that I missed teaching and research. So, in 2013 I decided to go back to university… and I began a PhD in French, back in Oxford.

‘Large Drawing Room: The Wallace Collection, London’ (M.chohan. Wikimedia creative commons)

My PhD looked at the history of how literature was taught in France, during the second half of the eighteenth century (If you’re interested, you can read more about it here). But a PhD is more than just the 80,000 words you produce at the end of four years: it’s also four years of great experiences. During the PhD I spent a year living in Paris, where I taught at a French university. I spent afternoons conducting research on 250-year-old handwritten papers, held in archives in a castle. I had a month as a visiting student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, working with wonderful academics and students. And I got the chance to do more teaching, which I loved. I also had the time to pursue other projects I cared about: I became involved in university widening participation and outreach work, and I took up triathlon!

After my PhD, I managed to land a one-year research and teaching post at Worcester College: back where I started as an undergraduate. If you had told me, when I began my BA in 2007, that I would be working there as an academic a decade later, I never would have believed you. After that, I moved to my current post at St John’s College. In spite of (or perhaps because of?) some long, hard days of reading, thinking, writing…and sometimes deleting it all and starting again… I love what I do. I’m lucky to work with great colleagues and students, on a subject that I’m passionate about, and to get to contribute to the way we think about, and teach, French literature and cultural history.

Chateau de Vincennes (Image from Wikipedia)

I’d say to anyone wondering whether they have ‘the right’ profile for academia that there is no ‘right profile’. I’m from a first-generation, comprehensive school background; I didn’t always know I wanted to be an academic; I didn’t go straight through from undergraduate to PhD: and I’ve made it this far. If you enjoy reading and writing about your subject, and if you’re up for some hard work, they are probably the key skills you need. To all budding academics: go for it!

Languages at University – not just for specialists

This post was written by Marion Sadoux, Head of Modern Language Programmes at the University of Oxford Language Centre. Here, Marion explains what the Language Centre does, and interviews a current student, Hannah, who is studying History of Art.

Most universities have a Language Centre – this is where you will find the largest body of language learning taking place in the UK; this is also where many make up for lost time and opportunities. Here at Oxford, the Language Centre works closely with divisions, faculties, or departments to develop courses that specifically support, widen or enhance a specific field of study – whilst also offering general courses that support employability and international mobility. Students know that these courses offer a precious boost to their studies and future careers.

Marion Sadoux, Head of Modern Language Programmes for the Language Centre at Oxford University met up with Hannah Healey, a secondyear student on a BA History of Art course and an avid language learner who is keen to make the most of these opportunities to widen her horizons.  In her first year, Hannah joined the Language Centre on a compulsory course in Italian for Art Historians (French is also available, and German will soon be an option too).

Hannah hard at work

In your first year, a specialist reading course was compulsory. How did you feel about that?

I think this is a wonderful opportunity and it has an enormous appeal to others too.  When I work as a student ambassador on the University Open Days, I get a lot of questions by prospective students about whether or not they will be able to continue with their language study when they come here and they are really happy to hear about this course and about the other opportunities through the Language Centre.  Thinking back on the course itself, I remember how at the beginning we all thought it was impossible that we would be able to read specialist texts and sources from the Renaissance by the end of the year… but we did it.  It was amazing and so good to build confidence.

Why do you think that learning languages is so important alongside a subject like History of Art?

For a start, if you look at any kind of job description for a curator or a researcher you will see that you need at least another European language.  In America for all the postgraduate courses in this field, you need German; you need to be able to read German.  Art History as a discipline has really important foundations in 1840’s Germany, a lot of core texts are in German and still today as much as is published in English is also published in German. There is a lot that you cannot access without reading German, because not all of it is available in translation, so there are huge areas that you cannot access if you can’t at least read the language.

You are now continuing with French which you studied at A Level, taking a Historian’s specialist course, in addition to a beginner’s course in German.  For German, you chose a comprehensive course rather than an academic reading course, why?

I do like to speak and write a language as well, I find it really interesting, so I like to do a bit of everything.  For German, I did learn it a little bit at school for two years. They stopped doing German at my school at this point but I didn’t actually like it at the time, I didn’t remember much of it because I didn’t actually enjoy it, nothing of it has stuck with me at all so that is why I have had to start with it right from the beginning again.  Now that I am older, I have been to Berlin and my husband would like to live there one day as well. I would really like to be able to speak it as well although it is primarily for an academic reason.   

I think it is really nice learning later in life because everyone who is there is really interested so the atmosphere of the class is really great.  In the French class (for Historians) I get to meet people on a similar course but in different colleges that I would not meet otherwise and in the German class it is great to have people doing PhDs in Chemistry – it makes it a nice break from your coursework.

Hannah has much to say about the importance of learning languages for global citizenship – what it means for her future. She also knows that any language learning she may need to do after she leaves University might be very expensive and time consuming – so for next year in Oxford she plans to make the most of the Language Centre and learn Spanish. 

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!