Tag Archives: Languages at Oxford

A Very Merry Oxmas!

1st year English and French student Holly Milton-Jefferies reflects on a festive end to her first term at Oxford.

Celebrating Christmas Day… on the 2nd of December? Yes, that’s right – here at Oxford, we do Christmas properly! Because our terms are only eight weeks long compared to the usual twelve, we end up spending the month of December largely at home, so Oxford festivities start as early as November. I never thought I’d be going out to buy an advent calendar on the 1st of November, but as this term has shown me, taking part in Oxford traditions, however strange, is usually a lot of fun.

Christmas dinner at Queen’s College – Holly Milton-Jefferies

I go to Queen’s College, who put on a lovely Christmas dinner for us. Not only did the hall look beautiful, decked out in full with a huge Christmas tree squeezed in the corner, and festive candles burning, but our college choir (the best in Oxford of course!) also came to sing us a few carols while we ate. I know everyone always says it, but my college has really made my experience at Oxford so far. Queen’s has such a friendly atmosphere; big enough that there are all kinds of different people to chat to, but small enough that whenever you walk around you’ll always get a smile from someone you know. It really does feel like home, and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of the college system.

Snow in New College cloisters – Holly Milton-Jefferies

At the start of eighth week, we were lucky enough to get some snow in Oxford, which felt like a celebration of work winding down for the term. I was in the middle of writing my last essay in the library when I saw it through the window. There was something a bit magical watching the tired eyes of burned-out students be lit up with excitement. My friend and I took the opportunity to visit the cloisters at New College, which are famously featured in the Harry Potter films, and we certainly felt like we were at Hogwarts!

This term has definitely been a steep learning curve for me. It took me a while to get back into the swing of studying, with our A Levels so disrupted by the pandemic, but by the time the last week of term came around, I was feeling a lot more confident. I was particularly proud of the last translation I did, having spent the weeks prior to it grappling with the ever-tricky question: how much of this do I keep very literally translated, and how much can I take some creative liberties? I decided to be less strict with myself, choosing what sounded right to me over diligently sticking to the original, and the risk paid off! Walking out of my last tutorial on the way to do some Christmas shopping, with the sun setting over the beautiful buildings, I was very much getting into the festive spirit, and feeling proud of myself for navigating a difficult but fulfilling first term here.

Sunset over the dreaming spires – Holly Milton-Jefferies

Joyeux Noël et bonne année à tout le monde !

Something New: An Introduction to Linguistics

Linguistics is an increasingly popular area of study amongst our undergraduates, with some opting to study the subject as one half of a ‘joint schools’ degree (a degree where you combine two subjects e.g. ‘Modern Languages and Linguistics’), while others study it within their Modern Languages degree as an optional paper. But, for most people, linguistics is not something they will have had a chance to study at school and the subject will be brand new to them when they start at university.

So what exactly is linguistics? Fortunately, our colleague from the Faculty of Linguistics, Dr Jamie Findlay, has recorded an introduction to the subject. Check it out below and, if you like what you hear, perhaps consider incorporating linguistics into your degree…

German at Oxford: Learning more than the language

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.