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.
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.