My experiences of the SEREN Network Year 9 Modern Language Oxford Residential

By Abheesh Essoo

Being brought up in a bilingual environment in Mauritius and having been immersed in language learning all throughout my learning career whist also being an economics student are all elements which form an essential part of my identity. I have always tried, and sometimes struggled, to combine all these elements of my identity.

It is every student’s dream to one day be able to visit the university that has shaped so many important minds of our world – from the father of modern economics, Adam Smith to one of the brightest minds of the 21st Century, Stephen Hawking. As part of our Oxford residential, we were also staying at either Jesus College or St Peters College, which was one of the highlights of my trip! Never would I have thought that I would one day be staying in the actual residences of Oxford students! Who knows which renowned world personality has also stayed in 20.2 Jesus College?

One of the first formal sessions was a language journey presentation, where I had the opportunity, along with my fellow Routes Cymru Language Ambassador and Ambassadors from Oxford University, to share my language learning experience with everyone. I love sharing my journey with the students and also enjoy learning about different people’s language journeys and seeing how different theirs is from mine. I personally feel that learning about different language journeys is very important for the students for them to see just how vital and flexible languages are in today’s world.

This was followed by a subtitling workshop, run in French where the task was to subtitle stills from a short animation called ‘Chase in the Ghost Train’. Being a native French speaker, I thought that this would be a rather smooth ride, but I was wrong! It certainly did not help that the stills were in black and white! This did, however, give me the opportunity to get to know the students who had travelled from all over Wales and interact with them as we worked in groups subtitling the animated movie. This got us thinking about how hard subtitling movies may be since translation does not necessarily have to be done through words, but one can also translate different idea across, as we learnt in this workshop!

Our translation journey did not end there! We visited the ‘Babel’ exhibition at Weston Library, Oxford, that gave an exposé on translation throughout the ages- from Latin being established as the lingua franca to translating Homer’s Illiad and the Odyssey and the ways in which translation might change in the future. This was a very interesting exhibit that really painted translation in another light and made all of us think about the presence of translated messages in our everyday life and also how languages might change someday – will we have new languages emerge as societies change? Will English also suffer the same course as Latin?

Day 2 started off with a very energetic Italian taster session where Dr. Matt Reza dove straight into the magical world of Harry Potter. We explored the differences between the original English world of Harry Potter and the Italian version of world created by J.K. Rowling. This session remains one of my favourite parts of the programme partly because I am a die-hard Potterhead but mostly because of how passionate Dr. Reza was! It was very refreshing seeing the HP World through the beautiful Italian language and how certain elements of the text were changed in order to capture the essence and the mystical air created by Rowling. It sounds quite ironic having to ‘change’ parts of the text to keep it as true to the original as possible, but Dr. Reza really helped us understand the intricacies and nuances of languages. In my opinion, this is what renders each language unique and it is within this complex web of variations that lies the beauty of different languages.

The final session of this residential was led by Dr. Natasha Ryan and she focused on French Poetry and Painting. This was one of the more technical workshops, but it gave us an opportunity to look at the creative and artistic aspect of languages. The students especially loved seeing the visual poetry and how many poets inspired themselves from everyday sights to create their poetry. I am quite sure that the teachers were also inspired by Dr. Ryan on how to see language learning from another perspective!

Personally, not only has the Oxford residential helped me grasp a better understanding of the beautiful world of languages but I have also learnt how to better merge my language world and my the more numerical and theoretical world of economics. It remains one of the highlights of my university life in my role as a Routes Cymru Language Ambassador. Undoubtedly, I am sure that the students from all four parts of Wales really benefited from this residential. Not only was it an amazing experience for them but it also helped show them languages from a different angle and hence, help them become passionate about languages. It is through these trips that I realise how privileged I am to be multilingual!