Category Archives: Why study languages?

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!

5 Reasons Why I Love My Joint Schools Degree…

…and Why You Might Too!

2nd year Spanish & History student at Balliol College, Georgie, explains why she loves her choice of degree course and why others might want to follow in her footsteps. Take it away Georgie!

At the age of 15 or 16, I’d always feel a mild degree of panic when asked the question “What do you want to study at uni?” It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the various subjects available to study at university, especially if you enjoy a wide variety of the subjects you take at school.

I studied the International Baccalaureate in Sixth Form, in which you take six subjects, so the thought of narrowing down to a single specialism felt very alien to me. But I soon came across the option to study a Joint Schools degree (also called a “Combined Honours” degree at some unis), and this seemed like a very attractive deal.

At Oxford, it is possible to take a Modern Language alongside a Humanities subject – Classics, English, History, Philosophy or Linguistics. This is a four-year course, with one year spent abroad, in which prelims (the first year) doesn’t count towards your degree, and your final exams take place at the end of your fourth year.

Balliol Hall from Fellows’ Garden – taken from Balliol’s website

I’m midway through my second year at Balliol studying History and Spanish, and I absolutely love my degree, but I still believe that Joint Schools studies are notoriously mysterious. Read on as I try to bring some clarity to the subject…here are 5 reasons why I love my Joint Schools degree:

1. Breadth of Study

Taking a Modern Language and a Humanities subject means you take roughly half of the courses that a single-honours language student takes, and half the courses that a single-honours humanities student takes. Your modules are taken from the two distinct schools. A first-year taking History and Modern Languages, for example, would study two history papers, two foreign literature papers, and two language papers.

Studying two subjects automatically doubles the number and variety of modules available to you.  The courses for both languages and humanities are extremely rich and there is a huge degree of freedom to explore your interests and choose your specialisms.

As a joint-schooler, I can access all the History modules offered to single-school students, and, since I take half of what they do, I do not have bend my studies around period or geographical requirements.

Photo by Benigno Hoyuela on Unsplash

While straight History pupils must, at some point in their degree, study both “British Isles” and “European and World” papers from a range of different historical eras (early modern, 20th century, early medieval, etc.), joint schoolers have more freedom to choose not to study certain periods or geographical areas. As a joint-schooler, it is possible, for example, not to study a British History course during your entire time at Oxford.

2. Studying One Enriches the Study of the Other

While modules are taken from the two distinct schools, and do not explicitly blend the subjects, studying one subject really enriches the study of the other. The skills learnt in taking a modern language, such as rigorous literary analysis and attention to detail, can be applied to great benefit in the study of your other subject. Equally, studying humanities modules can bring perspective to your reading of foreign literature, as well as greater awareness of socio-political concerns.

It is possible to choose modules from different subjects which complement each other. To give two concrete examples:

A Classics paper, “The Latin Works of Petrarch”, could be taken alongside “Medieval Italian Literature: 1220-1430″.

Or a History paper, “Enlightenment and Revolutions: 1650-1850″, could be taken alongside the French “Modern Prescribed Authors I”, specialising in Voltaire and Diderot.

The lateral links to be made in blending the two schools are extremely exciting.

3. It’s Impossible to be Bored

As you might have guessed by now, it is virtually impossible to be bored! If you are the type of person who likes to have multiple subjects to focus on at one time, Joint Schools are perfect due to the breadth of study and the freedom to tailor your course to your interests. It should also be said that the Joint Schools courses are carefully designed so that you have a normal workload! You won’t be bored but you also won’t have unmanageable amounts to do!

In the same day, I might translate a passage from a modern Latin American novel, read up on early medieval representations of gender, or complete an essay analysing a Spanish Golden Age ballad. There is always more to learn and read about; Joint Schools degrees can make you think in new ways and broaden your world outlook.

Photo by Redd on Unsplash

4. You Meet a Wider Variety of People

As a second year, my regular weekly timetable consists of: a history tutorial and/or a literature tutorial, a language tutorial, two language classes, two lectures, and (for this term only) a history seminar. This is the biggest workload I have had so far, and schedules vary greatly over the three years spent in Oxford. 

Classes and lectures are run through the Modern Languages Faculty, and, through these, it is possible to meet students from all over the university. Tutorials may be held either through the college or at another college, where your tutorial partner/s come from a different college. Taking more classes, from different schools, widens the variety of people with whom you interact and makes for a very interesting set of daily conversations!

5. The Year Abroad

A huge attraction for taking Modern Languages is, of course, the Year Abroad. Usually taken in your third year – apart from students of Beginners’ Arabic or Beginners’ Russian who go in their second year – the Year Abroad offers the opportunity to spend some time working in industry, teaching, or studying in a foreign country.

Edificio Metropoli, Gran vía – Madrid, Spain. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

When studying Modern Languages at Oxford, the norm (but not the rule) is to take two languages. As a joint-schooler taking one language alongside a humanities subject, you can devote your entire year to immersing yourself in your single target language; the opportunity to improve your language skills and culturally enrich your life is unparalleled. When you get back to Oxford, by fourth year, you will have a wealth of experience and cultural knowledge from which to draw upon in your studies!

I can honestly say I love my degree. Studying two subjects – in my case History and Spanish – has meant I’m never bored of work, especially because I can productively spend time searching for places to go on my Year Abroad! If I were to go back in time about 3 or 4 years, I’d tell my past self to stop worrying about trying to choose a single specialism. Each subject offers such a broad variety of choice and an incredible degree of freedom to tailor your studies around your interests.

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Thank you Georgie for that wonderful insight into the joys of a Joint Schools degree course!

A reminder that we are still taking bookings for our Italian and Russian & Slavonic Languages Open Days, both taking place on Saturday 5th March. You can book your place here – don’t miss out on the chance to learn more about these exciting courses!

Come and Explore Languages at Oxford!

Here at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, we organise and run a range of open days for prospective students and their parents and guardians. Open days are one of the best ways to get a real feel for a University, helping students to make informed decisions about their futures.

Over the course of February and March, we will be holding our language-specific open days, designed to provide greater insight into our undergraduate degree programmes. In comparison to our wider open day in May, language-specific open days are smaller and more focused in their scope, allowing more time to explore a subject in depth.

For example, the German open day offers an introduction to German film, linguistics, and different types of literature. On the Spanish and Portuguese open day, you can explore medieval Iberian literature and learn Portuguese in 15 minutes. The Italian open day will introduce you to Italian literature’s biggest names from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods.

So, if you’re thinking about applying to study languages at Oxford, or want to find out more about a particular course, these open days offer a wonderful opportunity to meet some of our tutors and current students, come along to academic taster sessions which will give you a flavour of what it’s like to study languages, and ask lots of questions.

Below are the details of our 2022 language specific open days. You will need to book a place at these events, which you can do via our open day website, where you will also find the event programmes.

  • German: Saturday 19th February, 11am – 3pm, Microsoft Teams
  • Spanish & Portuguese: Friday 25th February, 10am-3pm, St Anne’s College
  • Italian: Saturday 5th March, 11am-1.30pm, Microsoft Teams
  • Russian and Slavonic Languages: Saturday 5th March, further details to be published soon.

You may have noticed that there is no specific open day for French: students interested in French should attend the Faculty’s main open day in May or one of the University open days in July or September. Keep your eyes peeled for more information about those events in future blog posts.

We look forward to having you along to our language-specific open days – don’t forget to book your place!

While you’re here: a reminder that applications to our 2022 UNIQ programme are still open! You can read more about this fantastic opportunity for UK state school students in last week’s blog post, or head to the website for further information.

Apply now!

Skills and employability in the arts and humanities

The British Academy has commissioned a major piece of research into the employment prospects for graduates with degrees in the arts, humanities and social sciences. One of the things they wanted to look into was what seems to be a pervasive idea, sometimes repeated to students seeking advice on A-level choices and university courses, that studying STEM subjects will give you significantly better career prospects than studying a humanities subject like English, history or modern languages.

So is that true? Are you really better off studying engineering rather than German? Maths rather than geography?

Well, short answer: no you aren’t. Humanities subjects were found to be level-pegging with STEM subjects in terms of their general employment prospects, and to have distinct advantages over STEM in certain aspects of your career.

I’d encourage you to have a look at the report itself, which you can find here. (You can also see it discussed by the UK press here.)

Some of the most important findings of the research are these:

  1. Graduates from arts, humanities and social science subjects appear to have more flexibility and choice in their career than STEM graduates. They’re more likely than STEM graduates to voluntarily move to different sectors of employment, or to change role in their job, and to do so without wage penalty.
  2. In the most recent statistics, 88% of UK humanities graduates were in employment, and 89% of STEM graduates. This suggests there isn’t a significant difference in employment prospects between the two fields.
  3. Of the ten fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, eight of them employ more graduates from the arts, humanities and social sciences than from other disciplines.
  4. There’s a strong link between the skills developed in university by humanities students and the top skills needed to thrive in 21st century work. The top five skills developed by humanities students are: becoming an independent learner, thinking critically and analytically, being innovative and creative, working effectively with others, and writing clearly and effectively. These match up closely to the seven skills found to be most important for 21st century work, which are: initiative and entrepreneuralism (independent learner), accessing and analysing information, and critical thinking and problem solving (thinking critically and analytically), agility and adaptability, and curiosity and imagination (being innovative and creative), collaboration and leadership (working effectively with others), and effective oral and written communication (writing clearly and effectively).

The British Academy sum up the findings of their report as follows:

Graduates who study arts, humanities and social science disciplines are highly employable across a range of sectors and roles. They have skills employers value – communication, collaboration, research and analysis, independence, creativity and adaptability – and are able to build flexible careers which may move across a number of areas of employment while remaining resilient to economic downturns. They are employed in sectors which underpin the UK economy and are among the fastest growing – financial, legal and professional services, information and communication, and the creative industries – as well as in socially valuable roles in public administration and education.

Young people chose to enter higher education for many reasons of which salary is only one, but it is a legitimate question to consider what the economic return is on the substantial investment which is a degree course, both in time and money. Overall, salary levels for arts, humanities and social science graduates are a little lower on average than for graduates in science, engineering, technology and medicine, but this top-level picture conceals complexity underneath. Consistently high salaries in medicine and dentistry drive much of the difference, while the other discipline areas which make up the two broad groups show far more variance in earnings within subjects. As individuals progress through the first ten years of their career, arts, humanities and social science graduates are able make strong progress up the career ladder into roles attracting higher salaries.

Whatever the future holds for the UK, it is our people, their skills, knowledge and attributes, that will ensure prosperity and wellbeing. We need to build an evidence-led, broad and balanced education and skills system to create the society we want to live in. The challenges the world is facing – climate change, global pandemics, the growth of populism – need the insights of the arts, humanities and social sciences as much as those from science, technology and engineering. The importance of a highly qualified and versatile labour force for productivity and economic growth cannot be underestimated. Our evidence shows that arts, humanities and social science graduates are central to this ongoing and long-term requirement. They are well equipped to profit from, and more importantly shape, the new opportunities of the future.

Three More Reasons to Come and Study Modern Languages with us at Oxford

It’s the time of year when the annual rankings of universities and higher education courses are published. Here at the Oxford Modern Languages Faculty we are a modest and unassuming bunch, reluctant to blow our own trumpet. We do, though, work extremely hard to make sure that our undergraduate courses are inspiring and exciting, a world-class education in language and culture, and a qualification that will be one of the most valuable passports you can have to success the career of your choice.

So we’re pleased to see that our hard work has been noticed. The Times Higher Education world university rankings for 2021 place Oxford University at Number One, ranked against over a thousand higher education institutions worldwide.

QS World University Rankings place Oxford University as the highest ranked of all UK universities, although it ranks four US institutions above us in the global list. Their most recent ranking of world universities by subject area, from last year, ranks Oxford University as Number One in the world for arts and humanities subjects, including modern languages.

Lastly, the Guardian has released its 2021 rankings of UK universities by subject, and their Number One university to study modern languages this coming year is… Oxford University. They also rank Oxford University as the top UK university overall, up two places from last year. The newspaper accompanies its listings and university guide with an article explaining why Oxford made the top spot, and in particular what it has to do with the employment prospects of our graduates.

That’s enough bragging from me. There’s only one way to really find out if our course and our university are really as good as they say. And that’s to come and try us out for yourself.

Branching Out: Picking up a language from scratch

One of the wonderful things about studying languages at university is that you quite often have the opportunity to pick up a new language from scratch. This can be a wonderful chance to immerse yourself linguistically and culturally in something brand new. At Oxford, within the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty, you can study Italian, Russian, Portuguese, German, Modern Greek, Czech or Polish as a beginners’ language.

In this video, Julie Curtis, Professor of Russian at Oxford, tells us a bit more about why that could be an exciting option…

Student Q&A

Today would have been an Oxford open day, a date we look forward to every year as a chance to meet lots of prospective students and tell them why we think studying languages at Oxford is special. This year, that open day sadly can’t go ahead but some of our current students have come to the rescue!

We know that meeting the undergraduates is one of the best ways to really get a feel for what it’s like to study at Oxford, to feel part of the community and to hear from someone who has been in your shoes not so long ago. We asked eight of our current students some questions that we are frequently asked at open days. They are studying different languages, are at different stages in their degrees, and are at different colleges – we hope this will help you to get a sense of the variety of student experiences here at Oxford. And, of course, we do hope to meet you one day!

Why do we need people to translate when we have machine translation?

In recent months we’ve been enjoying one of our favourite podcasts, LinguaMania, produced by the Creative Multilingualism programme. We were particularly intrigued by this episode on translation, as it’s a question we get asked lots by students who are thinking about what role languages can play in their future. On the surface of it, translation may seem like just the kind of skill a robot could pick up, but it’s actually a very nuanced process which requires a great deal of empathy and creativity. Let’s let the experts tell us more…

Some people ask why they should bother learning a language when there are online apps and websites which can translate quickly and accurately.

In this episode of LinguaMania, Matthew Reynolds and Eleni Philippou argue that translation is so much more than just changing words from one language into another. Translation is creative, it’s personal, and it can help build communities. We also hear from Adriana X. Jacobs, Professor of Jewish and Hebrew Studies, and Yousif M Qasmiyeh, doctoral student researching the translation of Jane Eyre into Arabic.

Listen below or read the transcript here.

How do metaphors shape our world?

We’ve touched on metaphor in this blog before, when we featured Marianna Bolognesi’s post ‘Do you have butterflies in your stomach or little deer jumping in your heart?‘, and Sally Zacharias’s post ‘Multilingual Moon Metaphors‘. So we couldn’t be more delighted that our friends at the Creative Multilingualism Research programme have dedicated a whole episode of their podcast series to the subject.

We tend to think of metaphors as poetic language, but we actually use them all the time in our everyday speech. But how do metaphors in different languages work? And can the metaphors we use affect our thinking? In this episode of LinguaMania, we explore how we use metaphors across the world, looking at the different ways of representing abstract concepts, such as emotion and time, through idioms and metaphors.

The episode features researchers Jeanette Littlemore, Lera Boroditsky, Zoltán Kövecses, Sally Zacharias, and one of our brilliant tutors in German, Katrin Kohl. Thanks for the insight!

Listen to the episode below or on the Oxford University podcasts website.

Why should we read translated texts?

This week, we’re back to the Linguamania podcast, produced by the Creative Multilingualism research programme. The third episode in the podcast series explores the question ‘Why should we read translated texts?’ and features two of our brilliant Modern Languages tutors: Prof. Jane Hiddleston, Tutor in French at Exeter College, and Dr Laura Lonsdale, Tutor in Spanish at Queen’s College.

In this episode of LinguaMania, we’re exploring what we lose or gain when we read a translated book. Are we missing something by reading the English translation and not the original language version? Or can the translation process enhance the text in some way? Jane Hiddleston and Laura Lonsdale from the University of Oxford discuss these questions and also look at what fiction and translation can tell us about how languages blend with one another and interact.

Listen to the podcast below or peruse the full transcript here.