Oxford Is Open!

Come and visit us this summer to discover what student life at Oxford is really like.

After two years of online open days, Oxford is once again ready to welcome prospective applicants and their companions! Regardless of which universities you are interested in studying at, open days are an important opportunity for you to get a feel for the cities and/or campuses in which you might be spending three of four years. We recommend visiting lots of different universities if you can to find out which places make you feel most at home.

Here at Oxford, we have University-wide Open Days running on Wednesday 29 June, Thursday 30 June and Friday 16 September. These days offer an ideal opportunity for you to explore Oxford, find out more about our courses, tour colleges and quiz our tutors and current students.

It will be busy and you will probably leave feeling that there just wasn’t enough time, but you will also have a really good idea of Oxford and whether it might be the university for you. The secret to open days is definitely planning, so do explore all the information given here.

It is not mandatory to register for an Oxford Open Day, although we strongly recommend that you do in order to receive our university newsletters, full of top tips on how to make the most of your day.

The Taylor Institution Library (commonly known as the Taylorian) 

In terms of Modern Languages, we will be running sessions across these days in the Taylor Institution Librarybetween 10:30am and 3:30pm. These will be a great opportunity to learn about our Modern Languages courses, talk to our tutors from our different languages, tour the Taylorian, and pick up prospectuses.

We do not take bookings for these sessions, but places are allocated on a first come, first served basis. You can take a look at the programme here for more details.

We look forward to welcoming lots of you to Oxford and the Modern Languages Faculty very soon!

The Stephen Spender Prize 2022

The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. The Stephen Spender Trust’s (SST) Resources hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.

This year, the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 17 languages.

SST Director Charlotte Ryland:

“Poetry translation is a perfect activity for these challenging times: it is a gentle and structured approach to creativity, without the intimidating blank page that can put off many would-be poets; it is an opportunity for parents and children to work together, in particular in families where more than one language is spoken; and it is a task that can be shared with peers and teachers.”

This year’s judges are acclaimed poets, translators and educators Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee.

Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee

Closing date: 15 July 2022

  • Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
  • Top prize of £1,000
  • All winning entries published in the 2022 Stephen Spender Prize booklet
  • Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Romanian, judged by Gabi Reigh

Full details on the SST website. Good luck to all participants!

Opportunity Oxford

Students at an Opportunity Oxford event

Today I’d like to introduce you to Opportunity Oxford, our university’s flagship widening participation programme. Modern Languages entered the programme with a pilot scheme last year, and we have more than doubled the number of language students enrolled for this coming summer.

Opportunity Oxford is a bridging course that happens between the time you receive an offer of a place on an undergraduate course with us in January of Year 13 and the start of the degree course itself the following October.

It consists of:

a welcome day in February,

an online academic course in the summer during July and August,

and a two-week residential in Oxford in September.

It’s part of the university’s drive to recruit students with the highest academic potential, whatever their background, and is open to students who are on track to meet the academic requirements of their chosen course and come from either an area with low progression to higher education or an area of socio-economic disadvantage, or both. Among those students, where admissions tutors feel they might welcome some introductory sessions on a few of the study skills needed for the degree course, plus a taste of Oxford student life before the course proper gets underway, they can decide to include an invitation to the Opportunity Oxford bridging programme in the offer of a place on the degree course .

Here are some students on the programme talking about their experience:

If you’re considering applying to Oxford and think you might be interested in or eligible for the bridging programme, then don’t worry: you don’t have to do anything at all from your side. Just apply to Oxford through UCAS in the normal way. If you’re eligible for the programme, we’ll know from the widening participation data that UCAS includes with your application. And then, once admissions interviews are over, if the subject tutors in your college think you might find the scheme helpful, then they’ll include an invitation to take part in Opportunity Oxford with the acceptance letter you receive in January.

You can find more details of what Opportunity Oxford is and how it works here.

We’re looking forward to welcoming this year’s Opportunity Oxford cohort to the bridging course this summer. And among those of you currently in Year 12 and thinking of applying to Oxford later on this year, some will be getting an invitation early next year to join the 2023 bridging course with us.

We’re Back!

We hope you all had a restful break with family and friends over the last couple of weeks, whether you were observing religious traditions or hunting for chocolate in the garden (or both!)

Here at Oxford, Trinity term is already underway and it looks to be another busy one, albeit much sunnier than the last!

To ease us back into the new term, here are a few exciting events and opportunities to get involved in over the next couple of weeks!

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Modern Languages Subject Day – Tuesday 10th May, Exeter College

If you are a Year 11 or 12 student who is interested in exploring your options for University, then this day is perfect for you! This Subject Day will include opportunities to experience sessions in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. 

To register for your place, please fill out this form, which should take around 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The deadline to apply is Tuesday 3rd May at 9am.

If you have any questions, please contact outreach@exeter.ox.ac.uk.

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Songs We Learn From Trees – Thursday 5th May, The Queen’s College

On Thursday 5th May, at 4:30-8pm, the Queen’s Translation Exchange are running an in-person workshop and readings based on Songs We Learn from Trees, the first anthology of Amharic poetry in English.

Sign up here to attend!

Sign up for free here to discuss and celebrate Ethiopian poetry in an evening of readings by Ethiopian poets and their translator, followed by a drinks reception.

The event will feature the following poets:

  • Misrak Terefe
  • Bedilu Wakjira
  • Kebedech Tekleab
  • Alemu Tebeje
  • Hama Tuma [virtually]
  • Mihret Kibede [virtually]

with translator and anthology editor, Chris Beckett.

The poets will read from their own and other poets’ work in the anthology, as well as answer any questions the audience may have about the thriving poetry scene in Addis Ababa.

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Modern Languages Open Day – Saturday 7th May, Examination Schools

There’s still a week left to sign up to attend our in-person Open Day at the Examination Schools, here in Oxford.

The Open Day will offer an overview of our modern languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning, with individual language sessions and a companions’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Academics, current students and members of staff from the Faculty will all be in attendance to answer your questions and give invaluable insight into studying languages at Oxford. You can view the full event programme here.

Please note that booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here

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Modern Languages Summer School – 15th-19th August, Wadham College

Wadham’s annual Summer School programme is an excellent opportunity for Year 12 state school pupils to be an Oxford languages student for a week.

Students on Wadham’s Modern Languages Summer School, taken from Wadham College’s website

Throughout the week, pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university. 

The Summer School is completely free and Wadham will provide financial support to pupils to cover any travel costs.

You can find out more information and the application form here. Applications are currently open and the deadline to submit is Friday 3rd June at 5pm.

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Faculty Open Day Reminder

It’s not too late to register your place at our Modern Languages Open Day at the beautiful Examination Schools (75 – 81 High St, Oxford OX1 4BG) on Saturday 7th May!

We’re so excited to be able to hold this event in person again and to welcome prospective students and their families/teachers to Oxford after two long years, and can’t wait to see as many of you there as possible!

The Voltaire Reading Room in the Taylor Institution, the University’s centre for the study of Modern European languages and literatures

As a reminder, our Modern Languages Open Day will cover ALL nine of the languages we offer here at Oxford: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Modern Greek, Czech, and Polish. Most of our Joint School degree subjects will also be represented. The event is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to consider their options are equally welcome to attend.

The Open Day will offer an overview of our Modern Languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning, with individual language sessions and a companions’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Academics, current students and members of staff from the Faculty will all be in attendance to answer your questions and give invaluable insight into studying Languages at Oxford.

You can view the full event programme here.

Please note that booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

We look forward to seeing lots of you soon!

Modern Languages Summer School

Calling all Year 12 French, German and Spanish students from UK state schools – an exciting opportunity awaits!

Wadham College are running their annual Modern Languages Summer School in Oxford from Monday 15th August to Friday 19th August 2022. This is a wonderful opportunity for Year 12 students who are interested in pursuing a degree in Languages to get a feel for life at university and at Oxford more specifically.

Throughout the week, pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university. 

This Summer School is completely free and Wadham will provide financial support to pupils to cover any travel costs.

Students on Wadham’s Modern Languages Summer School, taken from Wadham College’s website

In terms of the academic programme, pupils will engage in a seminar series led by Wadham’s language tutors, including language classes in their selected language of study (French, German or Spanish) with opportunities to try other languages as beginners (including German, Portuguese and Russian).  They will also complete an assignment on a main topic with feedback from tutors.  Pupils will also be able to receive support from current undergraduates and from the College on making successful applications to top universities.

Students talking to a Wadham Student Ambassador, taken from Wadham College’s website

Wadham are delighted to be able to run this Summer School event in-person, allowing participants the best experience of life at the university. The feedback from last year’s Summer Schools was hugely positive with a third of participants subsequently securing offers to study at the university.

You can find out more information and the application form here. Applications are currently open and the deadline to submit is Friday 3rd June at 5pm.

Don’t miss out on the chance to be an Oxford student for a week!

Un sac de billes: What is ‘une musette’?

by Simon Kemp

Un sac de billes, by Joseph Joffo

This is a post about the memoir Un sac de billes by Joseph Joffo, which you may encounter on the French A-level course.

A single marble that looks like a miniature Planet Earth…

a star-shaped piece of yellow cloth with the word ‘Juif’ written across it in stark black letters…

a canvas bag full of marbles with a shoelace as a drawstring…

…some of the objects we come across in the opening pages of Joseph Joffo’s Un Sac de billes take on outsized meaning for us as readers and for the two young protagonists who are about to go on the run from Nazi persecution in Occupied Paris. Among these objects are the musettes, the cloth bags in which the boys’ mother packs changes of clothes, soap and toothbrush and folded-up handkerchiefs on the evening that they are sent away from home:

Sur une chaise paillée, près de la porte, il y avait nos deux musettes, bien gonflées, avec du linge dedans, nos affaires de toilette, des mouchoirs pliés. (p. 35)

And out of all the things we see at the start of the story, it is the musette that returns to focus at the end. Joseph notes on his return to Paris:

J’ai toujours ma musette, je la porte avec plus de facilité qu’autrefois, j’ai grandi. (p. 228)

And the final image before the epilogue is of his reflection in the window of the family barber’s shop, full circle to the home he left years before:

Je me vois dans la vitrine avec ma musette.

C’est vrai, j’ai grandi. (p. 229)

A musette  is a cloth bag with a shoulder strap, sometimes translated as satchel or haversack. It’s often associated with ordinary soldiers in the two World Wars, so kit-bag is another possible English rendering. Plus, if you fill it with oats and put the strap over a horse’s ears rather than over your shoulder, it can also be the French word for a nose-bag.

If it seems an odd word for a bag, that’s because it’s actually related to cornemuse, the French word for bagpipes, and musette can actually still mean a variety of French mini-bagpipes, as well as the sort of traditional French country music you might hear played on them – although these days you’d be more likely to hear it on an accordion. Even more oddly, the muse part of the words musette and cornemuse doesn’t seem to be related to musique/music at all: rather, it comes from museau/muzzle to refer to the face you have to make as you puff out your cheeks to inflate the bag while you play the pipes.

In the novel, the epilogue shows us why the musette is the thing Joffo has chosen to tie the start of the story to the end of it. Partly, it’s to show the literal circularity of Jo’s and Maurice’s journey, drawing our attention to the things that are the same (a boy with a bag standing in front of a barber shop window), and the things that are not (the child is now a young man, his father is no longer on the other side of the window). But as the epilogue makes clear, it’s also about another kind of circularity: the cycle of history repeating itself, generation after generation. The adult Joffo imagines what it would be like having to say the same thing to his own son as his father once said to him:

J’imagine que ce soir, à l’heure où il va pénétrer dans sa chambre, à côté de la mienne, je sois obligé de lui dire : « Mon petit gars, prends ta musette, voilà 50 000 francs (anciens) et tu vas partir. » Cela m’est arrivé, cela est arrivé a mon père et une joie sans bornes m’envahit en songeant que cela ne lui arrive pas. (p. 230)

But this ‘boundless joy’ is not the emotion on which the novel closes a few lines later. Rather, it’s on a note of foreboding that we end with an image of the musettes stored away in the attic, just in case:

Les musettes sont au grenier, elles y resteront toujours.

Peut-être… (p. 231)

When Joffo’s father was forced to flee, we learned back at the start of the book, it was the violence of the anti-Jewish pogroms that forced him and his family from their home. That home was ‘un grand village au sud d’Odessa, Elysabethgrad en Bessarabie russe’.* The region of Bessarabie is part of modern-day Ukraine. As people once again flee from Odessa and the surrounding area in fear for their lives, while at the same time not one but two far-right candidates are prominent in this year’s French presidential election, Joffo’s work has never felt more timely than it does today.

* Joffo’s Elysabethgrad may or may not be today’s Kropyvnytskyi, which was called Elizabethgrad before 1924 and was the site of severe anti-Jewish violence during pogroms incited by the Russian Tsar in the early twentieth century. Kropyvnytskyi is a city rather than a village, however, and north of Odessa, so there may have been some confusions as the family tale was passed down the generations.

Last Chance to Enter our Flash Fiction Competitions!

With just over one week to go until the deadline, there’s still a chance to enter our Flash Fiction Competitions in French and/or Spanish – don’t miss out on your chance to win £100! A reminder of the competition details and how you can enter can be found below…

What is Flash Fiction?

We’re looking for a complete story, written in French or Spanish, using NO MORE THAN 100 WORDS.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

What are the judges looking for?

We’ll be looking for imagination and narrative flair, as well as your ability to write in French or Spanish. Your use of French or Spanish will be considered in the context of your age and year group: in other words, we will not expect younger pupils to compete against older pupils linguistically. For inspiration, you can read last year’s winning entries for French here, and for Spanish here.

What do I win?

There are two categories: Years 7-11 and Years 12-13. A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning entry in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. The winning entries will be published on this blog, if you give us permission to do so.

How do I enter?

The deadline for submissions is noon on Thursday 31st March 2022. If you would like to submit a story in French, please do so via our online submission portal here. If you would like to submit a story in Spanish, please do so here.

You may only submit one story per language but you are welcome to submit one story in French AND one story in Spanish if you would like to. Your submission should be uploaded as a Word document or PDF.

Please note that, because of GDPR, teachers cannot enter on their students’ behalf: students must submit their entries themselves.

If you have any questions, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.

Bonne chance à tous! ¡Buena suerte a todos!

Modern Languages Open Day – Book Now!

It has been wonderful to meet so many students (both virtually and in person) at our language-specific open days over the past few weeks. However, we are delighted to be able to welcome prospective students to Oxford for our Modern Languages Open Day on Saturday 7th May. The event will be held at the Examination Schools, located on the High Street.

This event is a fantastic opportunity for students who were unable to attend our more recent open days, or for those who are interested in learning about our other language courses, as this Open Day will cover ALL of our languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Modern Greek, Czech, and Polish. Most of our Joint School degrees will also be represented at the event.

Students working in the Taylor Institution, the University’s centre for the study of Modern European languages and literatures

The Modern Languages Open Day is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to consider their options are equally welcome to attend. The Open Day will offer an overview of our Modern Languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning, with individual language sessions and a parents’/guardians’/teachers’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. You can view the full event programme here.

Booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

We look forward to seeing lots of you in May and welcoming you to the Modern Languages Faculty here in Oxford!

MFL Teachers – we need you!

Here at Oxford, the Modern Languages Schools Liaison Team are looking to expand our teachers’ mailing list so that we can connect with and reach out to more schools across the UK.

We use our mailing list to send round semi-regular newsletters about upcoming events, outreach activities and opportunities for schools, such as Open Days, Study Days and one-off workshops. These are all related to Modern Languages and designed to promote the study of languages in schools so don’t worry, you will never be spammed with irrelevant content.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

If you’re an MFL teacher, we would love for you to join our mailing list so we can keep you up-to-date with all the wonderful languages-related events and activities occurring at Oxford! If you’re already part of our mailing list, please do let you teacher friends and colleagues know about the list and how to sign up.

Signing up is really easy – all you need to do is email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk. We’ve even drafted an email template for you to use to speed up the process:

Dear Schools Liaison Team,

My name is [insert name here] and I am an MFL Teacher at [insert school name here]. I would like to join your teachers’ mailing list and formally give my consent for you to hold my data for the purposes outlined below.

GDPR compliance statement: We are working to comply with the terms of the General Data Protection Regulations, and as such we want to ensure that you are aware of the ways in which we will be using/holding your data. We will hold the details you have provided to us (name, e-mail address, school name) in a secure environment, and will use them to send information by e-mail related to Modern Languages Schools Liaison at the University of Oxford. We will not pass these details on to external companies or individuals. We will hold the data until such time as you may ask to be removed from the lists – you may unsubscribe at any time and if/when you do so all the data you have provided will be deleted from our system.

Many thanks and best wishes,
[Insert name here]

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We look forward to welcoming you and your colleagues to our ever-growing network of MFL teachers!

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!