We’re delighted to be able to share news of our forthcoming Open Days for sixth-form students who may be interested in studying Modern Languages at Oxford. These would normally take place in Oxford but this year we’re running a series of online events sharing information about some of the many different languages we offer – potential applicants can join us from the comfort of their own home! There will be opportunities to chat to tutors and current undergraduates, as well as some events with live workshops and taster sessions.
The open day schedule for February and March 2021 is as follows:
Friday 26 February – Spanish and Portuguese
Saturday 27 February – German
Saturday 27 February – Russian and other Slavonic Languages
Saturday 13 March – Italian
In many of the courses we offer you can study a language from scratch, so please don’t be put off from attending if you aren’t studying any of these languages at A level!
Later in the year we’ll also be holding an online version of our Faculty open day, where you’ll also be able to learn about some of the other languages we offer. Keep an eye on this blog and on the ‘Open Days’ page on our website for updates.
Readers familiar with the blog may be aware that the Oxford German Network normally runs a German Classic Prize for sixth formers. While the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the prize can’t run this year, they have come up with a great alternative way to engage with another Classic piece of German literature. If you study German and are currently in Year 12/ Lower Sixth, this is an awesome opportunity to immerse yourself in a German text and get some feedback from an Oxford academic. Read on to find out more…
A German Classic: Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig
Participation Guidelines for Sixth-Formers
We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2020 edition of ‘A German Classic’. Although we are unfortunately unable to run it as a competition this year, we would still like to invite you to read with us Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig (1912) – one of the most famous novellas in German literature and a masterpiece of European modernism. In his inimitably elegant and sumptuous style, Mann tells a transgressive story of Gustav von Aschenbach, an aging German writer, who falls in love with Tadzio, a teenage boy from Poland, during a holiday in Venice in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Often hailed as a break-through work for the queer community, Der Tod in Venedig might resonate differently now, in the era of the #metoo movement and the coronavirus pandemic.
You can sign up for free to receive a physical copy of the German original and an English translation of Mann’s novella, watch a specially recorded lecture that will guide you through the text, and have the opportunity to get feedback on your written commentary on a passage from Der Tod in Venedig from an Oxford academic. While logistic challenges this year mean that we are unable to compile extensive study materials and conduct our usual essay competition, we hope that you will want to join us for an exploration of ‘A German Classic’ in this adapted format.
‘A German Classic’ was launched in 2017 thanks to a generous donation by Jonathan Gaisman, QC. It is designed to celebrate a different literary classic each year and encourage in-depth study by creating a wide range of resources that open up different perspectives on the concerns at the heart of the work. The links to interviews and discussions, articles and performances remain available on our website to inspire ongoing interest in these works beyond the year of the competition. So far, we have featured Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (in 2017), Freidrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart (in 2018), and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (in 2019).
Participants must fulfil the following requirements as of September 2020:
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;
be resident in the United Kingdom.
Participants are not, however, expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.
All interested students should email the German Classic Coordinator, Dr Karolina Watroba (firstname.lastname@example.org), as soon as possible. We will be accepting new participants until the end of July. Students will receive free of charge:
Physical copies of the German text of Der Tod in Venedig and an English translation. Shipping will be administered by the Blackwell’s online bookshop. Students will need to provide an address in the UK to which they would like the books shipped, by which they consent to having their address passed on to Blackwell’s. Shipping may take up to a few weeks. Editions received may vary as they will depend on the availability of stock. Since we depend on the availability of stock, which is currently subject to potential disruption, we cannot unfortunately guarantee shipping: orders will be placed on a first come, first served basis.
Access to a specially recorded, hour-long, university-style online lecture. The lecture will introduce Thomas Mann’s life and work, guide students through Der Tod in Venedig, and discuss additional resources on the text that are freely available online.
A choice of three short commentary passages from Der Tod in Venedig alongside a guide on how to write a good commentary. Students will be encouraged to write and submit their commentaries (c. 1500 words) by email by 1 September 2020. All students who submit a commentary by this date will receive individual written feedback on their work by 1 October 2020. The feedback will not include any ranking or mark. It will be designed purely as informal academic comment on the piece of work submitted.
We would like to ask all students who
request access to these materials to let us know the name and type of
their school (non-selective state-maintained; selective
state-maintained; non-selective independent; selective independent;
other) so we can monitor whether we are reaching a diverse range of
schools around the country.
Readers of the blog may remember that Round 1 of the ever-popular Oxford German Network’s Olympiad opened in September, this year on the theme of ‘Natur und Technik‘. We are now pleased to announce that Round 2 has now launched, with a further set of competitions for students in Year 10 upwards. The deadline is 24 April 2020. Read on to find out more about Round 2, and remember – Round 1 remains open until 13 March 2020.
Task 1 – for students in Years 10-13
Ludwig van Beethoven. Prize: £100
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) is reckoned to be the most widely
performed composer in the world. Contribute to his 250th anniversary!
Write a blog post (max. 350 words) or create a video (max. 4 minutes) on one of the following topics, or invent your own:
Der taube Komponist
Beethoven und die Französische Revolution
Rock mit Beethoven
Alternatively write a review of a real or fictional Beethoven concert (max. 350 words).
1943 five students and a professor at the University of Munich were
arrested, interrogated, tried, and executed. They were members of The
White Rose (Die Weiße Rose), a group that secretly wrote and distributed
leaflets calling on the Germans to resist Hitler. The White Rose Project
is a research and outreach initiative at the University of Oxford
telling the story of the White Rose (Weiße Rose) resistance group in the
UK. It currently works in collaboration with the Munich-based Weiße Rose Stiftung,
whose mission is to uphold the resistance group’s memory and ‘to
contribute to civic courage and individual responsibility and to promote
The White Rose Project Writing Competition. Prize:£100. The winning essay will also be featured on the White Rose Project website.
Find out about the White Rose resistance group (die Weiße Rose) and write an essay in German (max. 350 words): „Was können wir heute noch von der Weißen Rose lernen?“
For undergraduates (second year and above) and postgraduates of German studying at a British or Irish university. Prize: £100. The winning translation will also be featured on the White Rose Project website.
Writing Resistance – ‘Flugblattentwurf von Christoph Probst’ (1943)
(Please download the draft of the leaflet here.)
Each submission should consist of two parts:
a translation into English of the draft leaflet written by Christoph
Probst in January 1943. Had it been completed and printed, it would have
been the seventh leaflet produced by the White Rose group.
Write a commentary on the text (max. 400 words), in English or German,
referring both to the leaflet itself (its style and historical references) and your approach to translating it.
competition will be judged by members of The White Rose Project. The
judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
If you have any questions about the Olympiad, please contact the coordinator at email@example.com. We hope to see lots of entries to both rounds of the German Olympiad. And to all the Germanists out there – viel Glück!
If you’re considering your university choices, one of the best ways to get a feel for different universities is to visit them. To that end, we offer a number of open days for propspective students – a chance for you to meet current students and tutors, look around the facilities, find out about the course and the lifestyle, and get a taster of what it’s like to study a particular subject at that university.
In the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty at Oxford, we organise several different kinds of open day: some are small open days for individual languages, where you can attend sample lectures and immerse yourself in a specific language; we also run a big open day in May which covers all of our languages in one day, offering an overview of Modern Languages at Oxford and Q&A sessions for the different languages and joint degrees; and finally, there are University-wide open days in the summer when most of the departments and colleges are open so that you can get a sense of the University as a whole.
Below you will find the dates of our 2020 open days. You need to book a place on the language-specific open days and on the main Modern Languages open day, but you do not need to book for the university-wide summer open days. You can book here.
German, Saturday 29 February
Spanish and Portuguese, Friday 6 March
Russian and other Slavonic Languages, Saturday 7
Italian, Saturday 14 March
General Modern Languages (all languages we offer
and joint schools), Saturday 2 May
University-wide open days, Weds 1 and Thurs 2
July, Friday 20 September
Programmes for each of these open days are available here. Please note that there is no specific open day for French: students interested in French should attend the open day in May or one of the open days in July or September.
Stay tuned for more posts about open days – what to expect and how to prepare – but, in the meantime, if you’d like to meet us in person do book a place on one of these events. If you have any questions please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we look forward to meeting you later in the year!
You may remember that in the past this blog has featured clips from our sixth form literary masterclass: our tools and tips for sixth formers approaching literature in a foreign language for the first time. Past episodes have included a French introduction to ‘Time and Tense’ and an introduction to ‘Theatricality’, also with a French focus. Today, we shift the focus to German and consider the theme of ‘Perspective’ in a text that is commonly studied as part of the German A Level: Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der alten Dame. Dr Karolina Watroba explores this topic in the video below, showing how a few key quotations can reveal the shifting points of view represented in the play.
In past weeks we have heard from two of the inaugural Lidl prize winners for German, Anna and Cecilia. Today we hear from a third winner. Rachel studies German and History at Merton College. Here she tells us what it’s like to study German at Oxford and how the linguistic and literary sides of the degree intertwine...
A common misconception about studying languages both at school and
university is that its sole function is to learn the language in
question. Although this may be the case at GCSE, A level students will
soon discover that culture, identity, politics and history come hand in
hand with any linguistic studies. These themes become far more prominent
at degree level, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that
languages at university is an incredibly exciting and varied area which
encapsulates all humanities subjects.
Although the importance of multilingualism in business and diplomacy is often (and rightly) emphasised in the promotion of language learning, studying German at Oxford has so far taught me that a language degree offers even more than these highly employable skills. As a joint schools student studying History alongside German I have always seen the main focus of my degree as culture; the combination of linguistic and historical awareness is what gives us the greatest understanding of societal and national identities. Oxford’s emphasis on literature as a way of accessing foreign culture is incredibly powerful, as it not only explores the use and intricacies of the language, but also addresses the country’s history and art. This became particularly evident to me during our term of studying German poetry, which explores history and philosophy through methods whose effects would be completely lost in translation. The depth of literary study at Oxford can be daunting given the limited experience A level offers in this area, but the support given through lectures and tutorials means that even the most impenetrable novels can be discussed and appreciated as gateways to foreign language and culture.
The most important thing my first year has taught me is
that languages at Oxford does not demand heavy pre-reading and prior
knowledge; I had only read two German books before and had never even
considered being able to read any pre-twentieth century literature!
Understanding of the language and methods comes with time, but is made
easier by enthusiasm and an open mind to the history and ideas which it
is trying to share.
A few weeks ago we published a blog post written by one of the winners of the Lidl prizes for German, Cecilia. Today’s post was written by another winner: Anna won the Lidl prize for the best performance in the examination after the first year of all students studying German from scratch. Here she tells us what it’s like to study German as a beginners’ language at Oxford, and how she sued her prize money to further her study of German.
By the end of year 12 I knew that I wanted to study French at university, but felt an additional beginners’ language would be quite exciting and a bit of a change from what I was used to. I considered Russian or Italian for a while but ultimately settled on German; it seemed to complement French well while still being a new challenge (the Cyrillic alphabet seemed just a little too scary) and I liked the idea of the complicated yet logical grammar system.
My first year studying German has been such a great experience; I arrived knowing only a few basic words and now feel I have a very strong foundation in German grammar to take into my second year. The course is fast-paced yet comprehensive, with a lot of contact hours and long (but manageable) lists of vocabulary to learn, but it was all absolutely worth it; it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in a relatively short space of time. Additionally, the teaching style at Oxford means that you spend a lot of time with your coursemates, which is especially true for beginners’ German (and indeed any other beginners’ language); there were seven of us on the course and we would see each other for class every day, so we all ended up really close which was a lovely support system during exams or if we had a particularly difficult translation task.
I came to Oxford from a very average state school; the feeling of ‘impostor syndrome’ was very real before I arrived and I was worried I’d be miles behind everyone else. However, I’ve really enjoyed being pushed academically and crucially have never felt that my educational background has hindered me in any way. Winning the Lidl prize for best performance in beginners’ German was quite a surprise but I’m so grateful for it and overall feel that I’ve done myself proud.
The prize money has helped to fund my summer travels – I went to Heidelberg for two weeks with one of my classmates to do a language course. It was really beneficial to have a familiar face in class and someone at the same level to speak German with; we even went out for cocktails one night and didn’t speak a word of English! There were also plenty of opportunities to practise our German with others – we met lots of fellow students from all over the world, and Germans are generally quite accepting of learners and let you muddle through (and then correct your mistakes, which is a bit embarrassing but very helpful).
I couldn’t recommend studying German at university more to anyone who enjoys modern languages, whether it’s following an A-Level qualification or starting from scratch. For those considering the latter, don’t be put off by the daunting prospect of reaching A-Level standard within a year – it’s definitely achievable and more rewarding than you could ever imagine.
The Oxford German Olympiad 2020 launched on 26 September 2019, the European Day of Languages! The topic is NATUR UND TECHNIK (Nature and Technology). There are tasks for learners of German in Year 5 to Year 13, tasks for group entries, and even some tasks for complete beginners. The deadline for entries is noon on Friday 13 March 2020. You can find the full competition and submission guidelines here. Read on to see an outline of this year’s tasks…
Years 5 and 6 (age 9-11):
Design a robot and label its parts, and write what it can do.
Draw a picture of your home city, town or village from a Vogelperspektive – bird’s eye view. Label the things the bird is most interested in.
You’re going to set up a community on Mars – draw your spaceship and the fifteen most important things to take, and label them.
Years 7 to 9 (age 11-14):
Create a poster explaining Klimawandel.
Find out about Ötzi, the Tyrolean Iceman. What technical invention would he choose to take back to his community if he could time-travel? Draw Ötzi with a speech bubble explaining his choice, and illustrate and describe the invention.
Create a blogpost on a topic of your choice, with 3-5 photos taken by yourself, for a German-language online conservation magazine.
Years 10 and 11 (age 14-16):
“Ein Tag ohne Technik” – Write a story or create a video or website on this theme.
Paint or draw a landscape in the style of Caspar David Friedrich and write about the work of art that inspired it.
“Machen wir unsere Erde unbewohnbar?” Write a dialogue between two people who disagree about the answer.
Years 12 and 13 (age 16-18):
“Klimawandel – was können Jugendliche tun?” Plan a conference for 16-18 year olds including the advertisement and programme with keynote lectures and topics for roundtable discussion.
“Vorsprung durch Technik – Rückschritt für die Natur?” Write a blogpost or create a video with this title.
Record yourself giving a presentation on “Fahrerloser Verkehr – Utopie oder künftige Wirklichkeit?” or “Techno-Pop – Typisch deutsch?” .
Open Competition for Groups or Classes (4+ participants)
Create a film or PowerPoint presentation with the title “Amazonas in Gefahr”.
Write and illustrate a short book for children about a migrating bird.
“Ein Roboter in der Schule!” – Create a video or song about a robot designed for helping with practical tasks in your school.
Discover German – Taster Competition (1-3 participants with no prior experience of studying German)
Years 7 to 9: Find 10 inventions from German-speaking countries and the German word for each invention. Film yourself saying the German and the English word for each of your 10 examples.
Years 10 and 11: Rewrite (in English) the Grimm Brothers’ story of “The Frog Prince” (Der Froschkönig) with the title “The Robot Prince”, setting it in a real modern German-speaking city and including 15 German compound nouns (like Frosch+König).
Years 12 and 13: Write a blogpost on the topic “Will machine translation make human translators obsolete?” and support your argument with examples from German.
This post was written by Cecilia, who is studying German sole at Wadham College. Earlier this summer Cecilia was named one of the first recipients of our new Lidl Prizes: awards that have been generously donated by Lidl to promote and celebrate the study of German language and culture. In this post, Cecilia tells us how she used her prize to fund a trip to Gemany.
I was really grateful to win the Lidl prize for academic achievement in German sole this summer; it enabled me to experience Germany in a whole new way. With my prize money, I visited friends in Detmold, in the north of Germany, and Eisenach, a town in the former GDR. I then took a train to Munich, where I stayed with a friend I’d met at Oxford, and even visited Austria for the first time, venturing to Salzburg. I was fascinated by the way in which the language and culture differs across German speaking countries.
My first stop was Detmold, where I spent a few days staying with a teacher who had visited my school while I was doing my A-levels. I was really interested in the way in which my Gastfamilie did their bit for the environment. Just by accompanying them on their weekly shop, I got to see Detmold’s Bio-Supermarkt and a shop that used no plastic whatsoever! Whilst I am yet to come across such shops where I live in Hull, I am determined to follow Germany’s good influence and reduce my own plastic use.
I then took the train to Eisenach, where I stayed with a girl whom I know through a mutual friend. Far from the green smoothies and kale I had been eating in Detmold, I was able to try much more traditional food, with the Grandad even teaching me how to make Rinderroulade and Thüringer Klöße. I also enjoyed going to school with my Gastschwester, who is studying for her Abitur. I even learnt about Effi Briest, a text which I loved studying in first year, sharing ideas with students in German about this iconic read! But most interesting of all in my time in Eisenach was having the opportunity to hear about life in the GDR. Practically knowing Das Leben der Anderen off by heart from my A-level studies, I was keen to hear my Gastfamilie’s first-hand accounts of the system. I was particularly surprised by my Gastschwester’s remark that she sometimes wished the wall still stood today.
Different again was my time in Munich. I spent the week staying with my friend from university, who is doing a tech internship there. I really enjoyed being part of a flat share; it made me look forward to my year abroad where I’ll be living with German speakers who are my age! It was really interesting to chat with these students and young professionals about everything from relationships and their volunteering to European politics. The Bavarian countryside was really beautiful and completely different to anything I had seen before in Germany. Reading Schiller by Lake Starnberg was definitely a highlight of my trip. I even got the chance to make a fleeting visit to Salzburg, which made me realise I’d love to get to know Austria better.
This post was written by Kate Osment, a first-year student in German at St Anne’s College. Kate tells us a little more about studying German at Oxford and why Marx is still relevant today.
One of my favourite things about studying German at Oxford is the philosophy module in Hilary and Trinity (Easter and summer) terms. Over the course of eight weeks, we dissect the writings of famous German-speaking philosophers like Kant, Nietzsche, Freud (yes, he came up with more than the Oedipus complex), and of course Marx and Engels, looking at their arguments and the rhetorical devices they make them with. It’s challenging and fascinating generally, but out of these thinkers, the one who’s intrigued me most is Marx. Revered and reviled in similar measure, he’s worth reading because of the massive impact his ideas had on international 20th-century politics as well as the fact (which I think gets overlooked too often) that he’s just such a good writer!
Much of modern distaste for Marxism comes from a misunderstanding of what it actually is, so I’ll take the time here to say that Soviet Russia was Marxist in name only. Although a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is widely seen as a Marxist goal, Marx believed this was only a step on the way to the perfect society, in which there’d be no social class distinctions – hence no class conflict – and no state. He thought there’d be no need for one, as he saw governance and law as an expression of the morality of the ruling bourgeoisie, forcibly imposed on the majority. The proletariat would – could – not rule in this way, because they’re the vast majority, so their interests are those of humanity collectively.
Marx argued that communism wasn’t just desirable, it was bound to happen. This stems from his theory of historical materialism, which Engels called his friend’s greatest ‘scientific discovery’. The argument is that all developments in human culture are driven by development of the forces of production. ‘The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord, the steam mill society with the industrial capitalist.’ Capitalism only replaced feudalism because technological development made feudal society, with its guilds and protectionism, untenable. Communism would likewise replace capitalism because ever-more frequent crises of over-production would eventually drive profit down to nothing. Human history’s a story of class conflict caused by this evolution of productive forces, Marx believed, and because capitalism needs this evolution, the bourgeoisie will bring about their own destruction.
Of course, over-production doesn’t seem to lead to capitalist profits falling, and an accurate description of historical materialism is as a philosophical, not scientific, theory. But an end to bourgeois rule must’ve seemed possible in the 1840s when Marx and Engels wrote Das kommunistische Manifest, the same decade as Vormärz (the German workers’ revolution of 1848). And a world in which ‘the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all’ would certainly be preferable to one where six-year-olds work with dangerous machinery for 11 hours a day. Plus, the only thing that’s changed about that state of affairs is that it doesn’t happen in Western Europe any more. Anti-capitalist critiques remain necessary.
(If you’re interested in reading more about Marxism, I’d recommend Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer, Why Read Marx Today? By Jonathan Wolff, and All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Marshall Berman. And Naomi Klein’s No Logo is an invaluable critique of capitalism at the turn of the millennium.)
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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