Careers profile: becoming a lawyer

This week we hear from another Modern Languages graduate from Oxford, Elen Roberts. Originally from Cardiff, Elen studied French and German at St Anne’s College and is now a Trainee Solicitor at Marriott Harrison LLP, London. 

I studied French and German at St Anne’s College from 2008 until 2012. I spent my year abroad in Munich, Nantes and Grenoble (15 months in total, as I did not spend either summer at home) where I worked as a marketing intern, au pair and translator respectively. The year abroad was without doubt one of the most enriching periods of my life, as I got to travel all around France and Germany and meet so many new and interesting people.

After graduating I undertook a TEFL course in Cardiff (my home city) and then taught English for two years at various private schools and universities in Hamburg and Berlin. My first teaching job was actually at Hamburg’s French Lycée! It goes without saying that my language skills came in useful there, as I was switching between English, French and German on a daily basis to teach different groups of children of various ages.

I then came back to the UK and did the law conversion course, which took a further two years. I am now in my final few months of training to be a solicitor at a small City firm, Marriott Harrison LLP. Although we are mainly instructed on UK matters, some of our deals and disputes have a foreign element where my French and German skills have come in very handy. So far, I have been asked to translate email correspondence, and analyse the corporate documents of various French, German and Swiss companies and then explaining them to senior colleagues. This has saved the firm the time and expense of having to hire professional translators and getting them to sign non-disclosure agreements. (A lot of our work is confidential).

In a nutshell, if you are considering a career in the law, or any field where you would have to engage with foreign businesses, a working knowledge of European languages is most definitely an asset!

Galician: another way to understand Spain

This post was written by Guo-Sheng Liu, a third-year student of Spanish and Portuguese at Lincoln College. Guosh is currently on their year abroad.

I had assumed a knowledge of Spanish would suffice when I embarked on a three-month long journey backpacking around Spain. I was wrong; I soon realised the importance of regional identities, languages and histories, all indispensable for understanding Spain’s complexities.

Though a minority language, Galician has been worth learning to me. For example, reading medieval Spanish and Portuguese was easier since modern Galician preserves some words now in disuse in its modern siblings. I also feel a connection to the language whenever I read lyric poetry beautifully composed in Galician-Portuguese (also known as Old Portuguese or Old Galician). On the contemporary end, the diversity of Galician dialects and the richness of vocabulary unique to Galician continue to surprise and sustain my interest.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Photo by Miguel Saavedra on freeimages

While helping develop my thoughts on multilingualism in other places, the sociolinguistic situation in Galicia is, on its own, extremely fascinating. This includes the long, difficult struggle to preserve Galician as well as the great debates on orthography and normalisation (e.g. whether to embrace the hegemonic influence of Spanish) and on the nature of the language (is it the same language as Portuguese?). Galician is at a crucial junction as regards its survival; now is the perfect time to learn it.

Above all, perhaps, Galician is useful for understanding regional identity and history. Although Francoism (and its attendant repression of regional languages) ended decades ago, Spaniards today still grapple with comprehending the full extent of its socio-political legacy. A knowledge of Galician opens new ways to approach themes of collective memory and identity, struggles for freedoms, and current controversies over regional constitutions and politics.

Independence movements and some leftist groups exclusively use Galician for political reasons. And in my time spent in Santiago de Compostela, I have found locals most open to talking about their society when spoken to in Galician. Locals do not expect outsiders to speak their tongue; the pleasant surprise of your ability to do so translates into greater friendliness on their part and a deeper understanding of their society on yours. Galician culture and mindsets are certainly quite different from those of, say, Andalucia or Catalonia.

Compared to Catalan (let alone Basque!), Galician is even easier to learn if you already speak Spanish. This means you can start using the language sooner. The Xunta (regional government) also offers generous grants for its summer courses; I attended them twice for free, even receiving a stipend that covered accommodation.

Lastly, if themes of migration, feminism, independence, cultural identity / history, multiculturalism / multilingualism or ruralism sound appealing, Galician literature and film will be worth the effort of picking up the language.

Oxford has rich intellectual traditions, and Galician is no exception. Our university was the first one outside of Spain to offer Galician studies; language studies are open to all members of the university, while papers in its literature and linguistics are available to MML students.

More information on Galician at Oxford can be obtained at this webpage  or by contacting the the current lectora, Alba Cid at alba.cid@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

So what happens in an Oxford interview?

Last week we took you through the practicalities of coming to an interview at Oxford. This week we’ll delve into the interview itself, breaking down what you might typically expect from a Modern Languages interview.  What we cover here is an outline of the general format of Modern Languages interviews but you should be aware that practice can vary a little between colleges. It is worth bearing in mind that the interview is not designed to trick you or make you stumble: it aims to stretch you intellectually and give the tutors an insight into the way you think and your motivation for applying for the degree.

The Format

  • You will have at least two interviews, possibly more, each lasting around twenty minutes. This is so that you have ‘two bites of the apple’, as it were. We know that candidates commonly get nervous during interviews and may not always feel they have performed at their best. Having two interviews gives you two chances to demonstrate what you can do and optimises your chance of showing us your best side.
  • Your initial interviews will be in the college that is hosting you or, occasionally, they might be conducted centrally in the Modern Languages department itself.
  • However, you might also find that other colleges want to interview you in a system we call ‘pooling’. This means that all the languages tutors across all the colleges can view your application and can request to see you. You shouldn’t read anything into this. It does not mean that your first college has rejected you. It simply means that colleges are keeping lots of options open to them. Again, it is another chance for you to show us your best.
  • There will be at least two interviewers in the room. They may split the questioning 50/50 or one may take the lead while another takes notes. Don’t let this faze you – it’s just policy. They will start by introducing themselves and explaining the format of the interview. Some might shake your hand. Others might not. Again, don’t overthink this: whether or not you shake a tutor’s hand will not affect your chance of getting in.
  • The interview is likely to be split into two or three parts, depending on whether you are applying for the language from scratch or post-A Level (or equivalent).
  • If you are studying the language at A Level or equivalent, there will be some conversation in the target language. This is likely to be just three or four minutes and is another chance for us to assess your linguistic skills. We’re not looking for perfection or fluency. We are simply expecting an ability to speak in the target language at the standard expected of a candidate who is predicted a grade A at A Level. We will be assessing your language skills alongside your written work submission and your performance in the MLAT, so this is not the be all and end all.
  • If you are applying for a language ab initio (from scratch) don’t worry, we will not ask you to hold a conversation in that language!
  • Regardless of whether you are applying for a language ab initio or post-A Level, you will probably be asked to do an exercise in close reading. You will be given a text about 20-30 minutes before the interview and asked to read and think about it. This may be a poem or an extract of prose. It is unlikely to be longer than a side of A4. Practice does vary a little between colleges as to whether this text will be in the target language: some may give you a text in English; some may give you a text in the target language with an English translation; some may give you a text in the target language and also provide a dictionary or vocab. list, or invite you to ask about any words you don’t understand at the start of the interview. If you are applying for a language from scratch you will  be given a version of the text in English.
  • Use your preparation time to read the text fully, make notes if you like, and draw some initial conclusions from the text. Ask yourself not only ‘what are my first impressions?’ but, more importantly, ‘why and how are those impressions created?’
  • The tutors will ask you about the text for around ten minutes.
  • There will also be some general conversation as part of the interview. During this portion of the interview you might be asked to talk about: academic work you have completed in the last year or two; any relevant wider reading or work experience you might have done; subject-related issues that are very readily visible in the wider world (you will NOT be expected to have an intricate knowledge of current affairs); things you have mentioned in your personal statement.

Top Tips

  • The first thing to remember is that the interview simulates a tutorial. Tutorial-style teaching is really the USP of Oxford and Cambridge: it is a method of teaching that focuses on discussion in very small groups (usually a tutor and two or three students) on a more-or-less weekly basis. The interview is a way for us to see how you would fare in this type of teaching environment.
  • As such, we are interested in seeing your ability to contribute to an academically challenging discussion: this will partly be a matter of forming, expressing and, at times, defending your opinions on a particular topic, but we will also want to see your ability to think analytically, to read perceptively, and to be flexible in your thinking.
  • Try not to be too rigid in your approach. Be open to receiving new information and to changing your opinion based on that information if appropriate.
  • Go back and re-read your personal statement – there is a good chance you will be asked about it. Make sure you can talk about any books or films you have mentioned, or explain your interests further.
  • Decisions are not based on your manners, appearance, or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond what you have learnt in school.
  • The questions will be focused and challenging but this is not a trap and it is not a vocabulary test. If there is anything you are unsure about, whether that’s the questions you are being asked or a particular word you might not understand, it is absolutely fine to ask the tutors to repeat or clarify their question.

So that’s a rundown of Modern Languages interviews at Oxford. It’s a lot to think about and we understand you may justifiably be feeling a little nervous. Of course, not everyone who is interviewed can be offered a place, and we know that this can be disheartening. But remember, you have already done incredibly well to reach interview stage. Whatever the outcome of your application, you should be proud of what you have achieved simply by getting into the room. Above all, try to enjoy the process – it’s not every day you will have the undivided attention of world-leading experts in your subject who are interested in what YOU have to say.

Check out our other interview related posts on this blog by clicking the ‘interviews’ tag. All that remains to be said is good luck!

Oxford Interviews: the Practicalities

A few weeks ago we published an admissions checklist for everyone applying to Oxford in this admissions round. By now you should have submitted your UCAS application, sat the admissions test(s) or ‘MLAT’, and be about to submit your written work, the deadline for which is this Saturday, 10 November.

You’re probably now beginning to turn your attention to the interview. For many candidates, interviews are the scariest part of the process. Today we’ll walk you though the practical elements of the interview period. Stay tuned for a break down of the academic aspects of Modern Languages interviews, which we’ll cover next week.  

The Practical Stuff

  • Interviews for Modern Languages courses take place between Tuesday 4 and Saturday 7 December 2018. Precise dates will depend on which course you have applied for, but take a look at the interview timetable here.
  • Shortlisting for interviews happens in mid- to late- November. The college considering your application will write to you indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview, and the practical details. You may not receive this until a week before the interviews are due to take place. Usually the college contacting you will be the college to which you have applied. If you made an open application, it will be the college to which you have been allocated. Sometimes you might be invited to interview by a different college than that to which you applied: this is because we reallocate some candidates during the process to ensure an even spread of applicants across the colleges and give you the best chance of getting an offer.
  • You will be asked to come to Oxford for several days. Dates will be confirmed in your invitation letter or email. Once you arrive you will find out when your interview(s) will take place.
  • Your accommodation and meals during this period will be provided free of charge by the college which has invited you.
  • During your time in the college, undergraduate helpers will be around to meet you and advise you. They will take you to your interviews so you don’t get lost, and they are always happy to have a friendly chat and facilitate social activities in the times between interviews. You can see a helper’s account of the interview period here.
  • Most colleges will have a hub where candidates are encouraged to spend time when they are not in interviews. This hub is a social environment, often with TV, games, and other activities. Feel free to take this time to meet new people, ask the student helpers any questions, and essentially try to have fun!
  • If you have any additional needs, the college will support you. Mentioning your disability or specific learning difficulty will not affect your application: admissions decisions are made on academic grounds alone.

Join us next week when we’ll discuss the academic aspects of the Modern Languages interview at Oxford.