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. SST’s Multilingual Creativity 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 15 languages.
Ramani Chandramohan is studying for an MSt in Modern Languages at St Anne’s College, and is a long-standing cinephile. In this post she shares some of her favourite French films from her language-learning journey so far.
It’s a Sunday evening. You’re chilling in bed watching Netflix. And yet you’re also improving your French at the same time. How is this possible?!
Watching films via any streaming platform or with good old fashioned DVDs is a great way of immersing yourself in the language you are studying beyond grammar textbooks. Films showcase vocabulary, regional accents, culture, history and politics in ways that books alone cannot. Whilst it may be frustrating to not be able to understand what is happening initially or to rely on subtitles, you can eventually work your way up to changing the subtitles to your target language or maybe even turning them off altogether!
Here are some French films to get you started, although I have avoided some of the most well-known titles such as Les Intouchables, La Haine and Amélie.
These films are part of what is known as the Nouvelle Vague of the 1950s and 60s, a movement characterised by an emphasis on the artistic and the personal and elements such as improvised dialogue, jump cuts, location shooting and handheld cameras.
Orphée (1950) – this film, along with Le Sang du Poète (1930) and Le testament d’Orphée (1960), forms part of a trilogy that reimagines the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in modern-day Paris.
La Belle et la Bête (1946) – a sumptuous retelling of the eighteenth-century fairytale originally written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.
Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) – this is the first in a series of five coming-of-age films about a rebellious young boy called Antoine Doinel which were based in part on Truffaut’s own childhood.
À bout du souffle (1960) follows the adventures of a petty thief and his American girlfriend in Paris.
Bande à part (1964) – in this gangster film, two crooks who are fans of Hollywood B-movies commit a robbery with the help of an English student in Paris.
Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) – Varda was instrumental in the development of the Nouvelle Vague and she received the most votes in a poll conducted by the BBC of the greatest films made by female directors. This film focuses on Cléo’s wait for the results of a biopsy which could turn out to be a cancer diagnosis.
La Fille du puisatier (2011) – set in Provence in the south of France, this film (based on Pagnol’s 1940 original) follows a father’s struggles as his daughter gets caught up with the son of a rich shopkeeper during the First World War. Other films based on Pagnol’s works include Jean de Florette (1986), Manon des Sources (1986), Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013). Pagnol championed authentic depictions of the south of France, overcoming prejudice against Southern accents in the French film industry.
Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008) – this cult classic reveals the hilarious fallout of a post office manager’s move from south to north and the clash of regional stereotypes. It made waves when it first came out, with TGV trains in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region being decorated with film posters, and remains one of the highest-grossing films ever made in France.
La noire de…Sembène Ousmane was a famous Senegalese film director and writer; he is sometimes credited as the father of African film. La noire de… focuses on Diouana, who moves from Senegal to the south of France to work as a nanny for a rich French couple but is soon subject to racial discrimination.
Un divan à Tunis (2019) – this film deals with a young psychotherapist called Selma who returns to Tunis after many years in Paris to set up her own practice, though it turns out to be far more challenging than she initially envisaged.
Deux jours, une nuit (2014) – set in Belgium, this film stars Marion Cotillard and follows her character Sandra as she tries to convince her work colleagues to give up their bonuses to protect her job.
Juste la fin du monde (2016) – Xavier Dolan is a young and prodigious film director from Montréal in Canada. This film tells the story of a terminally-ill writer who returns home after twelve years away to tell his family of his impending death.
Au Revoir Les Enfants (2015) – a simple but affecting movie about two boys living in a boarding school in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.
Le Bossu (1997) – this adventure film is an adaptation of Paul Féval’s 1858 historical novel Le Bossu and stars Daniel Auteuil as Lagardère, a swordsman who becomes friends with the Duke of Nevers. Auteuil is a famous French actor who has been in just about every French movie!
Romuald & Juliette (1989) tells the story of a charming and somewhat unlikely romance between a cleaner working for a yoghurt company and the CEO.
Populaire (2012) throws us into the world of typewriting contests in the 1950s in which love blossoms between a contestant, Rose, and her coach, Louis.
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019) tells the story of the relationship between an aristocratic lady and the female painter commissioned to paint her portrait.
120 BPM (2017) – winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, this film is set in 1980s France and focuses on the work of Act Up, an advocacy group that campaigns for legislation and research to alleviate the AIDS crisis.
La Planète Sauvage (1973) explores the tensions between two communities on the planet of Ygam: the Oms (small creatures who resemble humans) and the Draags, larger alien-like creatures who treat the Oms like animals and rule Ygam). This film is inspired by Stefan Wul’s 1973 novel Oms en série.
Les Choristes (2004) – this was the first French film I ever saw and its charm, warmth and humour made me fall in love with the language. It follows music teacher Clément Mathieu’s attempts at setting up a choir out of a group of unruly school boys in a strict boarding school and, unsurprisingly, features a great soundtrack!
Le chat du rabbin (2011) – this animated film is based on a series of comics by Joann Sfar; its protagonist is a rabbi’s cat in 1920s Algeria who swallows a parrot and learns how to speak whereupon he is taught the tenets of Judaism by his owner.
Thomas Lilti is a French film director and practising doctor. He is known for his trilogy of medical films: Hippocrate (2014) focuses on junior doctors; Médecin de campagne (2016) country doctors and Première Année (2018) medical school students.
Entre Les Murs (2008) – set in an inner-city school in Paris, this film is an adaptation of François Bégaudeau’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Bégaudeau stars as a French teacher struggling to deal with his students’ difficult behaviour.
Avoir et Être (2002) – this documentary looks at the lives of the pupils and teacher at a village school in the French countryside; the school is so small that it only has a single class of children aged four to twelve.
We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2021 edition of ‘A German Classic’ – Oxford’s essay competition for sixth-form students. This year we would like to invite you to read with us one of the most influential German novellas of all time, Heinrich von Kleist’s Die Verlobung in St. Domingo (1811). The story is set in the Caribbean, in what is today the Republic of Haiti, at the time of the insurrection of self-liberated slaves against French colonial rule that led to the country’s independence in 1804. Against this dramatic historical background develops an ill-fated love story between Toni, a mixed-race teenage girl, and Gustav, a white traveller from Europe. Kleist’s take on race relations, civil unrest, and the power imbalance inherent in both colonial structures and gender dynamics has clear resonances in the twenty-first century. Told in Kleist’s signature narrative style, which has influenced countless writers since the nineteenth century, Die Verlobung in St. Domingo is an excellent introduction to German literature. We hope you will want to study it with us!
Entrants must fulfil the following requirements as of 15 September 2021:
be beginning their final year of full-time study at a secondary school in the UK (upper-sixth form, Year 13 or S6 in Scotland);
be between the ages of 16 and 18;
hold a GCSE, IGCSE or equivalent qualification in German offered in the UK, or have at least an equivalent knowledge of German, as confirmed by their teacher;
be resident in the United Kingdom.
Entrants are not, however, expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.
Up to three prizes will be awarded: a first prize of £500, a second prize of £300, and a third prize of £100. Prizes will only be awarded if work is of sufficient merit. All entrants will receive a Prize Certificate or a Certificate of Participation. Results will be announced in early October 2021.
Students can enter the competition by writing an essay of c. 1500 words answering one of the following questions:
Why did Gustav not trust Toni? Discuss the breakdown of communication in Die Verlobung in St. Domingo.
To what extent does Die Verlobung in St. Domingo offer a critique of European colonialism?
How is the portrayal of race connected to the portrayal of gender in Die Verlobung in St. Domingo?
Discuss Die Verlobung in St. Domingo as an ‘existential test case, designed to make the reader share in the protagonists’ anguish and question the explicability of human experience’ (Martin Swales).
Entries must fulfil the following requirements:
be submitted by 12 noon, Wednesday, 15 September 2021, via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2021 – entries received by post, by email or after the deadline will not be considered;
answer one of the four essay questions listed above in c. 1500 words – the word count includes the footnotes, but excludes the bibliography;
be written in English, with quotations from Die Verlobung in St. Domingo in German;
have footnotes and a bibliography including all relevant works consulted;
use Times New Roman or Calibri 12 pt, margins of 1 inch, and numbered pages;
be submitted in one of the following formats: Microsoft Word document, Open Office document, or PDF;
be named in the following way: EntrantSurnameEntrantInitialGCP2021, e.g. BloggsJGCP2021;
be the work of the entrant without any additional help from staff, which needs to be confirmed by the entrant’s teacher via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2021 by the submission deadline (12 noon, Wednesday, 15 September 2021); teachers will also be asked to state how long the entrant has been learning or speaking German.
The judges will consider the quality of intellectual and imaginative engagement with the work evident in the essay while taking account of the quality of understanding, analysis and argument, and – where appropriate – linguistic accuracy of the submission. They will also take account of prior opportunity to study German language and literature. The decision of the judges will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
If you have any questions, please email the Prize Coordinator, Dr Karolina Watroba, at email@example.com.
Katerina Levinson, who is currently studying for an M.St. in Spanish and English at The Queen’s College, shares an insight into the year she spent living in Spain.
The blank page of my journal stared up at me, as it sat on the plane’s tiny folding desk. I looked out my window, filled with butterflies and nervousness. I was leaving my hometown of Austin, Texas and moving to Oviedo, Asturias, a rainy, mountainous region in northern Spain.
‘I am moving to a place where I know absolutely no one and where no one knows me. I have never been in front of a classroom before. Castellano is extremely different from the Venezuelan Spanish I learned to speak at home’, I began to write in my journal, as I thought of all of the obstacles that awaited me.
It was September 2017, and I had just graduated with my B.A. from Baylor University in Texas. I had received a U.S. student Fulbright grant to work as an English teaching assistant for 12-18 year-olds for one year. I had turned down a permanent teaching job offer in Texas, which would have allowed me to stay close to my family and live with my friends. Instead, I chose to move to a place where it would rain more in one week than it would in three months in my hometown; where it was impossible to find any of the Mexican cooking spices from home that I loved; and where I had to change the Venezuelan vocabulary I grew up with so that I could be understood.
‘Have I made the wrong decision?’ I went on to write.
When I arrived in Oviedo, I had found a place to live with a few girls who were around my age. The same night I moved in, they invited me to dinner with their friends. As I began to feel pangs of hunger, we finally left for dinner around 10:30 pm, the normal time when young people would eat in Spain. The group we met up with immediately adopted me as a friend, and I found that it was easier to make friends in Spain that it was at home because of how friendly the culture is. We finished dinner around 1 am, and we walked home through streets filled with people who were eating tapas and drinking cañas as if it was 1 pm.
I came to love Spain because there was always an occasion for a fiesta and for socialising. My friends and I would often have long dinners at my house: even after the food was gone, we would continue sharing stories at the table for several hours (the after-dinner conversation is called the sobremesa). There were also many local Asturian holidays and frequent religious holidays that would call for celebration with wine, typical foods, and street parades. I would even walk into the teachers’ lounge at school to be regularly greeted by one of my colleagues pouring me a glass of wine before class because it was a local holiday.
While in Spain, I discovered how distinct each region’s culture is. Asturias is heavily influenced by the Celts, so its cuisine is filled with hearty stews and its cultural music features the bagpipes. The most typical alcoholic beverage of the region is Asturian sidra, cider made from locally grown apples. This drink is poured—escanciado—from as high as your arm can possibly reach. The season for tasting cider is celebrated at special festivals called espichas. Guests drink the cider poured directly from the barrel and stand at long tables filled with typical Asturian platters—cured meats, Asturian cheeses, Spanish omelettes, and more—socialising, while listening to Asturian folk music.
When I was in the classroom, I found teaching to be a meaningful time of cultural exchange with my students. My students were very interested in the culture of English-speaking countries. I tried to introduce them to American popular culture by holding debates in English on controversial topics, introducing them to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ for Halloween, and giving them sorting hat quizzes from Harry Potter. I also started an English poetry club for my students outside of class. At our first poetry meeting, my students said they found poetry ‘boring’. But as we discussed how Maya Angelou or Wendell Berry related to Spanish culture and ate American baked goods cross-legged outside, I found that the numbers only multiplied with every meeting.
Nonetheless, our outdoor gatherings were not always frequent; I was not prepared how wet the Asturian climate would be. In fact, Asturias resembles typical gloomy English weather. But because of the frequent rain, it boasts beautiful green mountains and hills, giving it the nickname, El paraíso natural (the natural paradise). It is home to beautiful seaside villages on the Bay of Biscay, where green coastal walking paths undulate along its hilly coastline. When the sun is out, the glory of Asturian nature is iridescent.
After many late-night dinner outings, meaningful cultural conversations with my students, and adventures in the mountains and on the coast of Asturias, I realised I certainly had not made the wrong decision about moving to Spain. As I am now studying Spanish visual art and literature from the Golden Age at Oxford, my Spanish adventure had only just begun.
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!
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