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 second–year 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).
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.