Category Archives: Resources for language study

Spotlight on Spanish: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)

This week’s blog post is written by one of our wonderful student ambassadors, a finalist in French and Spanish. Enjoy!

Before coming to Oxford, if you asked me about feminism, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a lot other than about the suffragette movement and movements in the 1970s and 80s. However, one of the most rewarding and unexpected things that I have discovered since studying at Oxford is that feminism goes a lot further back than I had ever thought.

As part of my degree in Spanish, I had the opportunity to choose an ‘author paper’ that I would study over my second and final year. This is where you pick two authors and get to know a variety of their works in depth. Having enjoyed studying El médico de su honra by Calderón (a celebrated Spanish playwright) in my first year, I decided to pick a paper which focuses on the golden age (siglo de oro). I continued my studies on Calderón however, I was delighted to find that there was a female author on the syllabus (which is largely male-dominated as a result of contemporary attitudes of the time): Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Although her works are known to provide some challenges with sentence structure and philosophy, I can firmly say that I am glad I took these challenges on.

Sor Juana was born in Mexico and had a desire to learn from a young age. As a result of the misogynistic attitudes of the time, she was unable to attend school. Despite this, she begged her mother to attend but disguised as a male student yet it wasn’t enough. Sor Juana was educated at home and during that time, she learnt how to read and write in Latin by the age of three and in Nahuatl (an Aztec language), she became well-versed in philosophy and wrote an array of poems.

Sor Juana later entered the monastery of the Hieronymite nuns which allowed her to pursue her studies with few limitations. During that time, she amassed a huge collection of books and was supported by the Viceroy and Vicereine of New Spain. The Vicereine Maria Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzága, Countess of Paredes was a recurring subject of her love poetry.

One of Sor Juana’s most famous poems ‘Hombres Necios’ (You foolish men) was written in the 1680s. This poem is one of my firm favourites! Published in a society that was extremely patriarchal, this poem criticises the double standards that men imposed on women and advocates the need for women to have more agency in their day-to-day lives. These double standards affected her reputation, her (sexual) freedom as well as her prospects as she would be left in situations that she could not control.

To illustrate her case, Sor Juana makes a strong argument for how double standards imposed on women aren’t just a problem of her time. Through comparing Thaïs (an independent, educated and sexually free woman who often accompanied Alexander the Great) to Lucretia (a woman who was so committed to fidelity to her husband that she killed herself after being abused by another man), Sor Juana demonstrates how there is a double expectation placed on women: they are expected to be sexually free like Thaïs before and then should completely change and be like Lucretia after entering a relationship with a man.

Whilst I have only mentioned one of Sor Juana’s poems, there are so many others that I could have delved into! For anyone who wants to further their interest in women’s writing or feminist works, I would definitely recommend Sor Juana (even if you are not studying Spanish!). There are many accessible English translations of her poetry and works available which also explore other themes such as education, love and philosophy. If you want to learn more about a subject area in general, there are so many beautiful opportunities to do so through literature. Whether it is medieval literature, seventeenth century plays or modern day poetry, there is bound to be a topic or genre that will fascinate you. Whatever the language, there is something for everyone!

Stephen Spender Prize 2024

Calling MFL, EAL and English teachers! Bring creative translation into the classroom this summer with the Stephen Spender Prize 2024

The Stephen Spender Prize is an annual competition for poetry in translation, with strands for pupils, teachers and individual young people, as well as a special rotating Spotlight highlighting a language widely spoken in the UK. The competition is open for entries from 1 May to 31 July and is free to enter for all schools and teachers in the UK and Ireland.

Whether you’re an MLF, EAL or English teacher, and whatever the languages taught and spoken in your school community, the prize is a perfect way to engage students of all ages this summer term.

Teachers are invited to register here to receive classroom inspiration and activity ideas throughout the prize window, and you can follow all the latest news on our website and social media channels. (X: @StephenSpender| Facebook: @StephenSpenderTrust | Instagram: @stephenspendertrust)

Here’s a list of the categories for 2024:

Ready to start planning and working on your entries? Head to our Guide for Teachers for all the key information about the prize at a glance, explore our Bank of Suggested Poems for poem inspiration, and find poetry workshops, worksheets, lesson plans and more in our Prize Resources hub.

To help you spread the word ahead of the launch, you can also download a free Stephen Spender Prize 2024 poster to display around your school, sixth form or university buildings.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at prize@stephen-spender.org. We hope that many of you and your students will get involved!

Lincoln College Study Days

Lincoln College is delighted to announce another year of in-person Study Days for Year 12 students from UK state schools . These Study Days are designed to support students from non-traditional Oxbridge backgrounds who are on track to achieve high grades and potentially make an application to a selective university.

Lincoln’s Study Day programme is designed and delivered by academics and staff at the College in Oxford, with great opportunities to engage with tutors and current students. It will give prospective students a real flavour of life at Lincoln and what to expect from studying at Oxford University. It will also help them to develop relevant academic skills such as essay planning and critical thinking, and the admissions workshop and mock interview will help participants to make a competitive application to Oxford when the time comes.

Lincoln’s Modern Languages Study Days will take place on August 8th to 10th.

Accommodation will be provided free of charge, onsite, in Lincoln College rooms, alongside breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Dining Hall. The College can also offer support with travel via a reimbursement scheme.

To apply and see an outline of the programme, follow this link. The application deadline is Friday 24 May at 12 noon.

Modern Languages Study Days

On the blog this week, we take a look at the exciting Study Day opportunities for budding linguists coming up this summer!

Study Days are a great opportunity for prospective applicants to experience life as an Oxford student for the day. Study Days will always include taster sessions for the subjects which you are interested in studying at university, but often involve information sessions on admissions, a chance to talk to current undergraduates, and a tour of the College.

Study Days are free of charge with some colleges offering additional financial support to attendees. They are open to students at UK state schools, but places are sometimes prioritised by measures of socio-economic disadvantage.

We would very much recommend applying to any of the opportunities below!

Exeter College – Thursday 25th April

Each year, Exeter College hosts a series of subject days for Year 11 and Year 12 students attending UK state schools. These aim to provide tailored support for students interested in exploring a range of subjects at University level.

The Radcliffe Camera from Exeter College

The College’s Modern Languages Study Day will be taking place on Thursday 25th April.

You can register your interest here. The deadline to sign up is 5pm on Monday 18th March.

Balliol College – Monday 3rd June

Applications are now open for an in-person Modern Languages Taster Day at Balliol College in Oxford!

This event is designed for Year 12 students from UK state funded schools who are currently studying a language at A-Level or equivalent, and who intend to apply to study French, Italian or Spanish, or Modern Languages and Linguistics as a single or a joint-honours degree at Oxford University.

The Taster Day will include academic sessions, admissions information and a demonstration interview. You will have the opportunity to speak to tutors and current undergraduates. 

Balliol College chapel

To apply for a place at this event, please complete this form.

Please note, we will prioritise applications from disadvantaged students and from groups which are underrepresented at the university. Before submitting an application, please ensure you can attend the day in its entirety. This will be in-person at Balliol College in Oxford. 

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 17 May 2024.

St John’s College – Wednesday 12th June

St John’s College is pleased to welcome applications for our Year 12 Modern Languages Study Day. The Study Day is open to all Year 12 students currently attending a non-selective state-school in the UK.

Inside St John’s College chapel

What does the day involve?

  • Academic taster sessions led by Oxford Modern Languages tutors
  • Information on applying to, and studying at, Oxford University
  • A Q&A session with current Modern Languages students and tutors
  • A tour of St John’s College and lunch in Hall

To sign up, please complete the application form on our website. All events and resources are free to qualifying pupils. Travel grants are also available for eligible participants.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please do get in touch with us at access@sjc.ox.ac.uk.

Make sure you apply to these exciting opportunities before the deadlines!

OXFORD GERMAN OLYMPIAD 2024

The Oxford German Network have launched the 12th edition of its annual Olympiad Competition! The competition will run between now and March 2024 with winners being announced in June.

2024 theme: Kafkaesque Kreatures

This year’s competition is all about animals – but from perspectives with a difference. The tasks take inspiration from the animal stories by Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who gave the German and English languages the word kafkaesk / Kafkaesque to describe a weird, disturbing experience. Imagine waking up one morning and finding you’ve turned into a beetle. Or that you’re an animal living in a burrow, worrying about your animal enemies up above. But the animal perspectives aren’t all about weirdness – Kafka was a vegetarian. And his story about the ape Rotpeter shows deep concerns about how humans treat animals.

The Competition Tasks

There are a variety of different challenges aimed at pupils in Years 5 and 6 all the way to Years 12 and 13. Some are for individuals to enter, others are aimed at groups. There is even a taster competition for pupils who have never studied German before! From drawing and painting to writing stories and planning conferences, there’s something for everyone! Take a look at the Olympiad website for more details.

You should:

Please note:

  • All entries must be submitted via the online entry form
  • Each participant may only enter for one task within their age group as an individual entrant. We will only accept group entries (2-4 participants) for the “Open Competition for Groups” category. 
  • We require a consent form for under-13 participants. Click here to download the form.

Note to teachers: Teachers will be able to submit their students´ entries in bulk. Please contact olympiad@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk for instructions.

Further resources & information

Click here for some thoughts and ideas about this year’s tasks. You can also find the Kafka texts and creatures mentioned in the tasks here.

The closing date for all entries is Thursday, 7 March 2024 at 12 noon.

Results will be announced on the Oxford German Network website in June 2024. Winners will be contacted by e-mail.

Any questions? Please email the OGN Coordinator.

SUPER-curricular resources

The Oxford application process can look very complicated at first. Unlike other universities, we collect a lot of different information about applicants so that our admissions tutors can make informed decisions about who will be best suited to our courses. We recommend that prospective applicants familiarise themselves with the Oxford admissions timeline and what each step entails – the earlier the better!

As our degrees are so competitive, one of the things that we get asked most often is how can I stand out against other applicants? The simple and honest answer is that in your personal statement and during your interview, our modern languages admissions tutors are most interested in reading/hearing about:

  • why prospective students love the subject(s) for which they are applying;
  • what it is that they find particularly engaging and exciting about the subject(s); and,
  • how they have furthered these interests through super-curricular activities.
What does ‘super-curricular’ mean?

‘Super-curricular’ activities are educational activities which go above and beyond the school curriculum to expand your knowledge and understanding of the subjects you are studying. This can be anything from podcasts, documentaries, trips to a museum, books, magazines, online programmes and more. 

If you’re not sure where to start, don’t panic! We recommend talking to your teachers or your school librarian about finding additional reading, but we’ve also included some resources below that might also be useful for furthering your interest in language and cultural studies.

Podcasts

  • Linguamania podcast
    Produced by researchers from Oxford University-led Creative Multilingualism, the series explores some fascinating perspectives on languages and language learning, asking: Do we really need human translators? Why do we use metaphors and what do they teach us about other languages and cultures? Can languages help protect the natural environment? And so much more… So stop what you’re doing and start exploring the wonderful world of multilingualism!
  • Les Liaisons dangereuses podcast
    Choderlos de Laclos’s eighteenth-century epistolary novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses, has been intriguing audiences since 1782, and has been adapted into different media many times. It is also one of the core texts studied by students of French in their first year of an Oxford degree. In this podcast series, Prof. Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at All Souls College, and Catriona Oliphant, founder of Chrome Radio, delve into the text, covering a variety of topics.
  • Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast
    Listen in on our conversations with Spanish tutors at Oxford to find out what’s so fascinating about the literature they teach, why they love teaching it, and why they think you might love it too.

In Our Time
Radio 4’s flagship series, In Our Time, hosted since the beginning by author, TV presenter and critic Melvyn Bragg, has become the BBC’s most downloaded weekly podcast globally, as well as one of the most popular for people under the age of 35.

The winning formula is a recorded conversation, over 45 minutes, in which Bragg quizzes academic specialists about almost any subject of interest in human life, including history, science, philosophy, religion and the arts. 

In terms of modern languages and cultures, here are some episodes (featuring our very own academics) that we would recommend (not that we’re biased!):

  • This episode on Olympe de Gouges, advocate for women’s rights during the French Revolution, featuring Professor Catriona Seth;
  • This episode on the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, featuring Professor Cláudia Pazos-Alonso;
  • This episode on eclectic German philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin, featuring Professor Carolin Duttlinger.

Videos

Each year, the Faculty runs a Literary Masterclass for local state sixth formers studying French, Spanish and German, designed to support them with reading and critically analysing literature in the target language. During the pandemic, this event was delivered online, and the pre-recorded videos are still available to view on our YouTube channel here.

The Oxford German Network runs an annual essay prize for sixth formers on a classic work of German literature. In the past, they have often created and collected a series of videos connected to the work in question. Click here for a playlist about Goethe’s Fausthere for a playlist about Schiller’s Maria Stuart, and here for a playlist about Hoffmann’s ‘Der Sandmann’.

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We hope these resources are helpful and provide a good starting point for you to develop your academic interests – don’t forget the importance of super-curricular activities for your UCAS application!

Please note: If you’re in Year 13 or equivalent, there’s still time to apply for Oxford! You need to make sure you have registered for your admissions test by 29th September (this Friday!) and have submitted your UCAS application (which includes your personal statement) by 6pm on 16th October.

If you’re in Year 12 or equivalent, the resources above will hopefully complement and develop your A-level/IB/Advanced Highers MFL studies and provide some excellent for your future personal statement.

A German Classic 2023 – Kafka’s Der Heizer

The Oxford German Network are delighted to announce the launch of the 2023 edition of ‘A German Classic’ – Oxford’s essay competition for sixth-form students. This year we invite you to read Franz Kafka’s Der Heizer (1912/13).

It is the first chapter of the unfinished novel Der Verschollene (‘The Man Who Disappeared’), narrating the beginning of the story about 17-year-old Karl Rossmann. The story addresses themes including family and friendship, migration, identity and encounters with the foreign, be it a person of a different nationality, social status or gender. It is a story about growing up, finding one’s way in a foreign land, and personal (in)stability. The experiences Kafka evokes for the reader with his narratives are so distinctive that they have given rise to the word ‘Kafkaesque’. Get a sense of what it means by studying Der Heizer in the original – one of the iconic works of world literature!

ELIGIBILITY

Entrants must fulfil the following requirements as of 8 September 2023:

  • 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 expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.

PRIZES

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 2023.

STUDY PACKS

Sign up here by 5pm on Friday 30 June 2023 to receive free physical copies of the German original and an English translation of Kafka’s novel Der Verschollene, the first chapter of which is the set text of the competition. The website will also give you access to a set of free multimedia resources and essay writing guidelines created and curated by us especially for this competition. All physical study materials will be dispatched in early July.

For further information, please have a look on our website.

If you have any questions, please email the Prize Coordinator at germanclassic@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Stephen Spender Prize 2023

This week, we pass over to our friends at the Stephen Spender Trust to tell us about their 2023 prize for poetry in translation.

Translate ANY poem from ANY language into English, and win publication and cash prizes! Language lovers and budding poets of all ages are warmly invited to take part in the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, open to adults aged 19+ from all over the world, as well as to individual young people and school pupils in the UK and Ireland and students at British Schools Overseas.

For 2023 there will also be a special language focus with the Ukrainian Spotlight strand, open to all young people in the UK and Ireland aged 18 and under.

The deadline to submit entries is 14th July.

Details:

Entrants are invited to submit an English translation of a published poem from any language, ancient or modern, together with a commentary of no more than 300 words. The translation should be max. 60 lines (extracts are accepted). All forms and genres are welcome, including texts from rap, spoken word and slam poetry. We also welcome translations from sign language.

Prize strands:

  • International Open Entry (NEW FOR 2023) – For adults aged 19+ from all over the world.
  • Individual Youth Entry – For individual young people in the UK and Ireland or attending British schools overseas. Two age categories: 14-and-under; 18-and-under.
  • Schools Laureate Prize (NEW FOR 2023) – For teachers submitting on behalf of their students, open to schools in the UK and Ireland and British schools overseas. Four categories for pupils from KS1 to KS5.
  • Ukrainian Spotlight (NEW FOR 2023) – For young people in the UK and Ireland or at British schools overseas. Entries can be submitted individually or by teachers on behalf of students. Three age categories: KS1-2, KS3-4 and KS5.
  • Teacher Laureate Prize (NEW FOR 2023) – Free to enter for all teachers at schools that have entered pupils for the Schools Laureate or Ukrainian Spotlight strands.

Judges:

Open category: Taher Adel, Jennifer Wong, Samantha Schnee
Youth categories (Individual Youth Entry and Schools Laureate Prize): Keith Jarrett
Ukrainian Spotlight: Nina Murray

Prizes:

  • Open Entry: £1000 (1st), £500 (2nd), £250 (3rd)
  • Individual Youth Entry, Schools Laureate Prize and Ukrainian Spotlight: Cash prizes of up to £100 for the winners in each age category.
  • Teacher Laureate Prize: Annual print subscription to Modern Poetry in Translation for the winning teacher, plus a Stephen Spender Prize workshop for their school during the next academic year.

All winners will have their translations published in our 2023 prize booklet and will be invited to participate in our livestreamed awards ceremony in the autumn. The winner of the Open category will also be published in Modern Poetry in Translation.

In each age category we will additionally reward three Highly Commended entrants and up to 30 Commendees, as well as three special First-Time Entrant Commendations in the Open category.  

Entry Fee: 

Open category: £10 per translated poem, or £5 per additional poem in the same submission.
Youth and teacher categories: Free

Further details: 

Full information on how to enter can be found on the Stephen Spender Prize homepage and the different category subpages.

For a wealth of poetry translation inspiration, including advice for those trying poetry translation for the first-time, explore our Guide to Poetry Translation for Newcomers, the archive of tutorials and testimonials on the Stephen Spender Trust YouTube channel, and the multilingual bank of suggested poems for translation in our Prize Resources hub.

Good luck to all entrants!

Think Like a Linguist

We’re delighted to share details of our involvement in a pioneering new languages outreach programme, Think Like a Linguist!

Think Like a Linguist is run by the Translation Exchange at the University of Oxford in partnership with the languages departments at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, literary charity the Stephen Spender Trust, and secondary school Hollingworth Academy in Rochdale.  

Think Like a Linguist helps students aged 12-13 to make informed choices about languages at GCSE, through a course of five interactive sessions with their peers, language professionals, university students, and recent languages graduates. Each session focuses on a different aspect of language learning, and enables students to consider the question, What does it mean to think like a linguist? from a unique perspective. 

A slide from the first session, Kick-Start Multilingualism

Throughout the programme, the young participants are treated as active linguists. Each session focuses on what the students can already do, and where this could take them. “Thinking like a linguist” is presented as a mindset, rather than a skillset. 

Chris Dobbs, Head of Academic Enrichment at Hollingworth Academy and Director of OxNet Youth Scholars at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, commented:

We are delighted to host the project Think Like a Linguist. Engaging pupils in language learning from a variety of perspectives will we believe promote greater cultural awareness, develop a love for language study and help to develop resilience and self-confidence. The contributions made by visiting academics and their former students help to demystify the experience and enhance the value of studying languages at university level.

The pilot programme is running in six schools in the North West of England, hosted by Hollingworth Academy, Rochdale. Careful evaluation of the pilot will produce recommendations on how universities can best support language learners and teachers at schools, and best practice for increasing the uptake of modern foreign languages at GCSE. The partners will build on the evaluation to roll the programme out in areas of the UK where the uptake of languages is very low.  

A slide from the first session, Kick-Start Multilingualism

The pilot began with a launch event at Hollingworth Academy, Rochdale in January 2023 and will close with a graduation event at either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge in autumn 2023. 30 students from six schools in the North West are involved, all currently in year 8 and studying French or Spanish. Participating students report back to their peers via school assemblies, and parents/guardians are invited to join the launch event and final graduation event.  

Six participating schools:

  • Hollingworth Academy (Rochdale)
  • Newhouse Academy (Rochdale)
  • Unsworth High School (Bury)
  • Holy Family (Rochdale)
  • Royds Hall (Huddersfield)
  • St Anne’s (Middleton).

International Book Club for Schools

In this week’s blog post, our colleagues from The Queen’s College Translation Exchange share details of their next International Book Club meeting – a really wonderful opportunity for school students to engage with literature from around the world!

The International Book Club for Schools is a chance for pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13/S4-6 to explore foreign language books which have been translated into English with other like-minded, literature-loving students. We meet once a term over Zoom to discuss a foreign language book in English translation. No knowledge of the original language is required to take part and newcomers are always welcome!

For students thinking they may like to study languages at university, there will also be a chance to hear more about what this would entail and to ask current undergraduates and admissions staff your questions. These meetings are also a perfect opportunity to explore beyond the school syllabus and to engage with some exciting literature in translation.  

Our next session will be held on Tuesday 28th March at 7pm, in partnership with specialists in translated Arabic-language fiction, ArabLit, and the Oxford Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. We will be reading Out of Time, by Palestinian writer Samira Azzam, translated from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman. These 31 short stories weave a rich and intricate tapestry of life in Palestine and Lebanon in the 1930s and 1940s, exploring how people from all walks of react to volatile circumstances and rapid historical change. Discussion in the session will focus on ‘Tears from a Glass Eye’, whilst also touching on ‘A Roc Flew Over Shahraban’ and ‘On the Road’. We also recommend that you read the introduction (along with as many of the other stories as you’d like to or have time for!).

To take part in the International Book Club, attendees will need to purchase and read a copy of the set book in advance of the session. Arablit have been kind enough to offer a discount for book club attendees: 20% off a paperback or an e-book for $1.79 (this is slightly under £1.50). The exclusive discount code will be shared with the students over email once they have registered for a place. If the financial situation of some students makes it impossible for them to purchase a copy of the book as discounted, please do drop us an email and we will do our best to work something out.

They may also like to make some notes as they go, although all discussion within the meeting will be informal. We will also share some materials in advance of the session, including some prompt questions to get them thinking and an interview with the book’s translator.

Students are able to register to attend our next book club meeting by completing this Google Form.

If you have any further questions about the Book Club, please let us know! You can drop us an email (translation.exchange@ox.ac.uk), or find us on Twitter (@TranslationExch).