Category Archives: Why study languages?

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!

Careers Profile: Working in Advertising

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path you can take if you have a background in Modern Languages. Sarah Greaney, from Wrexham in North Wales, studied French at St Anne’s College and graduated in 2011. She now works as a media manager in marketing and advertising. Here, Sarah tells us how the skills she acquired during her degree are put to use in her job.

Communication skills are a must in advertising (Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash)

I decided to study French at university because of the versatility of the degree. The language course I chose offered much more than just grammar and language tuition, covering French literature, philosophy and art from medieval to modern times.

It’s easy to see why employers value a language degree: studying grammar develops close attention to detail and structured thinking, while learning about another culture through the development of its art, history and thinking down the ages nurtures a wider and deeper appreciation of the values that shape societies other than your own. Not to mention the year abroad, which throws you into the very uncomfortable situation of having to set up an existence from scratch in an unfamiliar place!

Although I don’t directly use French in my career, the transferable skills developed in my degree have stood me in good stead in the advertising and communications industry where developing strong, lasting relationships and communicating ideas in a succinct and compelling way are both fundamental parts of my job.

Languages help you to build lasting relationships (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Careers Profile: Working at the UN

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path one of our graduates has followed. Emily Duggan, from Taunton in Somerset, now works as a Translator and précis-writer at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland. Emily graduated with a degree in French in 2010. Here, she tells us about how she went from Oxford to the UN.

I studied French at the Queen’s College from 2006 to 2010. During my year abroad in Paris, I worked first as a language assistant in two primary schools, then as an intern in the dictionary department of Éditions Larousse. After graduating, I decided to take a break from studying and moved to London, where I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. My language skills were put to good use: I ran an after-school French club with the French language assistant and helped to organize a school trip to Paris.

In 2011, I moved to Paris to pursue a two-year Master’s course in economic, technical and editorial translation at the École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (ESIT), with financial support from the Leverhulme Trust. As part of the course, I completed a three-month internship at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I was inspired by that experience – the nature of the work, the focus on quality, the multicultural environment – to aim for a career in an international organization.

When I graduated from ESIT, I was offered an internship, then a full-time job, at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The work was fast-paced and varied; I translated a wide range of documents, including speeches, reports, press releases and blog posts. In 2015, I passed the United Nations language competitive examination and was recruited by the United Nations Office at Geneva shortly afterwards. Although the work is intense and challenging, with short deadlines and strict editorial rules, it is also very rewarding. I am proud to work for an organization that is devoted to maintaining international peace and security and to protecting human rights worldwide.

Careers Profile: Working for a Charity

Adventures on the Bookshelf always tries to engage with languages beyond the curriculum and, if you’re here, you’re probably already a keen linguist. But if you’re thinking of applying for a Modern Languages degree you might be wondering what career options are available to you afterwards. In the coming months, we will be showcasing some of our recent graduates who have written profiles about their careers since leaving Oxford with a Modern Languages degree. First up is Evie Snow, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in French and English. Evie now works as a Schools Programme Coordinator for the Charity  Wings of Hope, which works to provide free education to children in the developing world. Read Evie’s account below…

Evie (right) with her colleagues at Wings of Hope

I graduated from Oxford just two years ago this summer (2016), and went straight into a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS in London. This really cemented my thinking that I wanted to be in International Development or charity work at some level, and my interest in postcolonial and world history/politics/languages/cultures had already been sparked in several of my finals papers* and dissertation. I then came out of my Masters looking for a job in which I could feel that I was making a direct difference, and that’s how I came across my current job. I manage the day to day running of a social enterprise programme for students aged 13-18, who compete to fundraise for the education of children in Malawi and India. This began as an internship, but quickly developed into a permanent position, with the increase in responsibility (and title!) that this entailed. I have learnt an awful lot very fast, and am hoping there is more to come!

Even though I am not directly using my French in my current job, I thoroughly intend to in my next or following role. One of my ambitions is to work in West Africa, where French is essential for most countries in the region. Aside from the technical use of the language, I feel that studying French helped me to spark several strands of learning which have been integral to my professional life so far. One of these was an awareness of other places, other cultures, other ways of thinking; in studying a language you are confronted by a different way of constructing a sentence, and even more so, a different way of constructing the world. Even though you may not realise it at the time, I think that this is vital to broadening horizons in the way people think, not to mention the enormous benefits of being able to have a year abroad! Another of these strands is the ability, and indeed for me now the desire, to compare and contrast situations at each possible stage. When you study a language that is not your native tongue, you are constantly faced with comparison between those, and students who study more than one language are clearly comparing between multiple languages and cultures. Learning languages gives you a mental flexibility which I think is pretty unique amongst the disciplines. This is vital when entering any kind of job, as it allows you to weigh up pros and cons and to balance outcomes efficiently.

Many languages graduates come out of their degrees and feel a sense of failure if they don’t instantly use that language in their everyday lives. I think the skills we have learnt during our degrees are the epitome of transferable skills, so even though each of us may be passionate about our language/languages this doesn’t have to be within the workplace.

I still try to keep with French news, and read French literature. Without having studied French, I couldn’t have spent a month in Italy learning Italian from scratch and pick it up so easily – I may not be fluent, but I can have a decent conversation! Plus, I now have a French housemate, so even though I may not be using my French at the office, I can still come home to chats over du vin et du fromage!

*Finals papers are the exams that undergraduates sit at the end of their degree.

Would it be better if we all spoke the same language?

School’s out for summer and you may be wondering what to do with yourself over the holiday. If you’re looking for ways to broaden your intellectual horizons one great resource is Oxplore, a digital learning experience created by Oxford University for students aged 11-18. Oxplore encourages you to consider ‘Big Questions’, for example, ‘Should you believe the history books?’ or ‘Would you want to live forever?’ The questions explored draw on several subjects and aim to engage with ideas in a way that goes beyond what you’ll cover in the classroom.

One particular question explored, which throws a spotlight on Modern Languages, is ‘Would it be better if we all spoke the same language?’ You can check out this question on the Being Human strand of the website. The exploration of this question included a discussion with Prof. Katrin Kohl and Dr Marianna Bolognesi, researchers on the Creative Multilingualism Project. This discussion, where Katrin and Marianna answer some questions submitted by viewers, is available to view below.

With such a rich topic, it was inevitable that there would be more questions than it was possible to answer during the livestreamed discussion. Therefore, Katrin and Marianna also took the time to answer some of the questions they didn’t cover on the Creative Miultilingualism blog. Click here to see some of their answers.

 

Why I chose German ab initio

Last week, we heard an overview of German at Oxford from Prof. Henrike Lähnemann. This week, Hannah Hodges, a current second-year undergraduate of French and German at St Peter’s College, tells us what motivated her to study German from scratch or ‘ab initio’.

The popular YouTube videos “German compared to other languages” didn’t really help me when justifying my decision to choose German as my ab initio language. Who would rather commit to four years studying the language whose word for butterfly is Schmetterling and not papillon or farfalla ?

Now in my second year of the ab initio German course, I stand by my decision to take up German as part of my degree. Why? Well, despite its reputation for being complicated, German is actually quite a logical language (at least compared to the endless list of French grammar exceptions anyway!). I may still stressfully pause before I say anything in order to figure out which translation of the I am going to use, but I can (kind of) see the logic behind the dreaded cases. Moreover, after spending seven years trying to decide when to use the passé composé, imparfait, passé simple or passé antérieur (what even is this?) in French, you can imagine my relief that in German there are only two commonly used past tenses and it’s not (too) important which you use in speech. And future? No need to worry about verb stems: with German you can use the present tense and just add a word like morgen (tomorrow) or nächstes Jahr (next year) which makes it pretty obvious you’re talking about a point in the future – logical, right?

Joking aside, the thought of reading Thomas Mann’s paragraph-long sentences does at times make me question my own choice, but the usefulness of German in understanding the development of modern European thought and being able to read seminal texts in their original language such as Immanuel Kant’s Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (Answering the Question: what is Enlightenment) is rather rewarding. But perhaps the best thing is that German has the reputation of being a difficult language. Therefore, when you casually drop into conversation that you only started learning it a year and a half ago and someone asks you what the longest German word you know is,  you can confidently roll off the compound noun  Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung. Moreover, you can explain why the word is logically constructed. Trust me, people will think you’re amazing. So, don’t be put off just because the word for daisy is Gänseblümchen.

Why language skills are a priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

This post, written by George Hodgson, originally appeared on the Creative Multilingualism blog on 11 January 2018. George Hodgson has been British Ambassador to Senegal and non-resident Ambassador to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau since July 2015.

The first foreign language I really engaged with was Bengali. Most of the kids at my primary school in Tower Hamlets in East London were of Bangladeshi heritage. In the classroom, we sang Bengali songs. In the playground, we delighted in Bengali swear words. I’d be too embarrassed to own up to recalling the lyrics of a song about a frog, let alone the insults, but I will admit to still remembering how to count from one to ten.

At secondary school, I studied French, German and Latin up to GCSE. There was neither singing nor swearing. But we had great teachers, with a passion for languages and for sharing them – even with under-appreciative teenagers. I became more appreciative when, some years later, my rusty French was enough to strike up a conversation with an attractive French girl, now my wife.

As British Ambassador in Dakar, I speak more French on any given day than I do English. Without it, I just wouldn’t be as effective in my job. That, quite simply, is why language skills are a priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This blog, by my colleague Danny Pruce in Manila, offers a nice insight into studying Tagalog full-time at the FCO’s in-house language centre.

Here in Senegal, I’ve been impressed by the language skills of the young British volunteers that I’ve met, working with great organisations like the International Citizenship Service or Project Trust in local communities, and living with host families. Many of them learn Wolof: it’s far more widely spoken than French, and Senegal’s real lingua franca.

Equally impressive are the language skills of ordinary Senegalese people. For a majority in Senegal, multilingualism is a way of life. The same is not quite true in the United Kingdom.

That said, there are of course millions of people in the UK who are multilingual speakers of recognised minority languages like Welsh or Gaelic, or of languages that have come to the UK more recently, like Polish or Punjabi … or indeed Bengali. There are over a million bilingual pupils at school in Britain.

The British Council’s recent Languages for the future paper is well worth a read. It argues that ‘in a new era of cooperation with Europe and with the rest of the world, investment in upgrading the UK’s ability to understand and engage with people internationally is critical’. I couldn’t agree more.

Part of that investment is, of course, about supporting language learning in schools, universities and beyond. But it’s also about encouraging and enabling people to make the most of the linguistic talents that we already enjoy as a country. And looking at how schemes which aren’t ostensibly about languages – like the International Citizenship Service – can contribute.

A glimpse of our Year 9 Languages afternoon

Last week, the Medieval and Modern Languages team at Oxford had the pleasure of meeting a group of Year 9 students from several schools across Oxfordshire. We spent an afternoon with them doing workshops on film subtitling in French, German, and Spanish, picking up some Russian, Portuguese, Italian, and Hebrew ab initio (from scratch), as well as being treated to an introduction to linguistics. At the end of the afternoon, Dr Simon Kemp, who teaches French at Somerville College, gave us an overview of Modern Languages at university. If you are considering languages as an option at degree level, take a look below at Simon’s presentation…