Category Archives: Why study languages?

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.

Understanding our Natural World

Before our usual blog kicks off today, please note this special announcement: as a result of the developing Covid-19 situation, we regret that we have had to cancel the Modern Languages Open Day which had been scheduled for Saturday 2 May. Please keep an eye on our ‘meet us‘ pages for details of open days later in the year.

Now, where were we?… We’re on a roll with the podcasting as this week we check back in with the Linguamania podcast, produced by Creative Multilingualism. In the second episode of this fascinating series, the speakers focus on the topic ‘Understanding our Natural World: why languages matter’. Here’s the podcast…

This podcast draws on the research of Felice Wyndham, Karen Park, and Andrew Gosler, who are academics in Strand 2 (‘Naming’) of the programme. This strand is themed around ‘Creating a Meaningful World: Nature in Name, Metaphor and Myth ‘. They examine the creativity at work as people across diverse language backgrounds respond to the natural world through naming, metaphor, and myth. This includes questions like:

  • Are words influenced by local environments?
  • How do we explain similarities and differences between linguistic diversity and biodiversity?
  • What do different approaches to naming reveal about the role and mechanisms of creativity in language?

Birds provide the natural lens through which this research is pursued: the migrations of barn swallows link a multitude of different languages; owls bear an otherworldly salience acknowledged across cultures; and each community boasts those birds unique to place that hold special significance.

Artificial Intelligence in the World of Languages

This post originally appeared on the Creative Multilingualism blog, an AHRC-funded research project that explores the role of creativity in language learning.

What role will Artificial Intelligence play in the world of languages – will it be an opportunity or a threat for language learners? What impact might AI have on endangered languages? Will machine translation ever replace the need for language learning?

In September 2019, Creative Multilingualism worked in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and JNCL (Joint National Committee for Languages) to hold a workshop on the topic of Artificial Intelligence in the World of Languages.

The event brought together academics, teachers and leaders in tech and AI to discuss the impact of improvements in machine translation and language learning technology on future language learners, teachers and speakers of endangered languages.

Watch the below film to hear from the workshop’s participants on three key questions:

  1. Is AI a threat or an opportunity for language learning?
  2. Could Google Translate replace the need for language learning?
  3. Why should we learn languages?

What do you think? Are the machines going to replace us?

A Year Abroad on the Côte d’Azur

This post was written by Charlotte, who studies French at Worcester College. Here, Charlotte tells us about her year abroad in France.

2018 was an exciting time to be in France for a year abroad. Over the summer temperatures rose in France with the thrill of the World Cup. Bars were brimming with enthused fans, roars matched every goal and with each win the streets became crowded with waving flags, trumpets and cheers of “Allez les bleus!”. In Montpellier, French football fans climbed on historic monuments and beeped car horns throughout the night. When I was caught watching a football match on my computer at work my boss sat down and joined!

In Montpellier there was a heatwave, or canicule, that summer so I spent my time between the beach and a natural lake, both of which were easy to get to by the tram system running through the city. It was warm enough to swim in the ocean up until the end of September! Every Friday in August there was a wine festival Les Estivales with live music and a range of food stands, every Wednesday there was a firework display at the beach, and every evening in the park Peyrou students relaxed in the cool evening, sometimes playing sport or dancing to music.

Autumn was an important time for me as I was working in a yacht brokerage, and autumn is the season of boat shows so I got to work on the marketing of several yachts across various regions in the South of France. September is also the season of Les Voiles de St-Tropez, a sailboat race in St.Tropez which attracts yachting teams from across the world to compete in.

Winter in Montpellier is very special. The Christmas markets opened at the beginning of December, and their opening was celebrated by a huge light show which saw historic buildings lit up with dazzling light projections.

Winter season also coincided with the beginning of the gilets jaunes movement in France, an important event which saw the President, Emmanuel Macron, cave to the demands of the protestors. A year later they are still to be seen on the streets of Paris. At a practical level, it meant that there was less food in the supermarket and it was more difficult to drive to places. Some students I met there got involved with the protests, it was a chance to engage in French social and political issues beyond reading about them in Le Monde.

Years abroad are not a holiday – I was working a full-time job! – but they are an opportunity to make the most of local events and culture which is not always possible in Oxford with the workload and tight deadlines. Towns and regions have different personalities throughout the year, and living abroad allows you to see and experience them all, getting to engage with language and culture beyond the textbook.