Speed-date a language student: Raising aspiration and boosting graduate skills

Speednetworking event in 50 George Square, October 2018, with pupils from St. David’s, Dalkeith, and Castlebrae, Edinburgh.

In this post, Annette Götzkes, a Senior Teaching Fellow in German Studies, shares the Widening Participation outreach work being undertaken by Literatures, Languages, and Cultures students in local secondary schools…

Languages are boring, posh, difficult and irrelevant.

These perceptions are the main driving force for the continuous decline of modern languages in secondary schools. What better way to challenge this attitude than by asking our highly motivated Literatures, Languages & Cultures (LLC) students to work in a variety of different outreach initiatives as Language Ambassadors with local schools?

We mainly target S2 and Higher classes in local secondary schools in deprived areas in and near Edinburgh. Our aim is to boost uptake into senior phase, and raise aspiration to encourage pupils to see university as a real option for them.

Apart from this credit-bearing “Languages Beyond University” course, we have developed a number of mostly student-led outreach initiatives for local schools. As well as sending students out into schools as language ambassadors, it is also important to invite school classes into the university so that pupils can gain some first-hand experience of student life on campus.

One event we regularly run in October and November is our “speed-date a language student” project. We invite Higher classes from schools in deprived areas, such as Castlebrae, Liberton, Craigroyston, and St. Davids, to spend a morning with our language students. The classes are split into small teams and move around the room to interview pairs of students selected to represent different year groups, languages and degree combinations. In five minute intervals, a foreign language pop song prompts them to move and interview another set of students. As part of the round of interviews, pupils also quiz a Careers Service Advisor to find out about career options open to linguists. The morning finishes with guided campus tour by the students.

Talking to university students seems to have considerably challenged school pupils’ perceptions about studying languages, as these school students explain:

  • “I am not sure what I want to do after school but after the event I found out that there are lots of opportunities through studying a language and I am now considering it.”
  • “… after speaking to other people at the university, they said that they enjoy studying languages and it has given them lots more chances to do things.”
  • “You go to the country and immerse yourself in the language not just textbooks.”
  • “(Learning a language) can lead to so many jobs in the UK and other countries.”
  • “You get to travel a lot to meet other people and use their language.”
  • “It did change my impression as the students said they have fun and got to go away on a year abroad.”
  • “It is a lot more fun and active than I thought.”
  • “I enjoyed looking around the university buildings.”

Students as near peers and inspiring role models are crucial for the success of our outreach events, as evidenced in this feedback from school students:

  • “We got to talk to students and not just teachers.”
  • “I found it useful speaking to people closer to my age.”
  • “By showing us their fantastic times in their year abroad, it was clear how much the culture of a foreign country is important. They were able to attend exciting festivals and traditional occasions through their foreign friends they now have. (…) . This informative talk by students we aspire to be like (…) showed the capabilities we have to succeed in both university and employment, if one or more languages is a skill you can offer.”

Student Awards

Engaging in community outreach work enormously boosts students’ graduate skills in areas of communication, problem-solving, personal autonomy and personal effectiveness. It also provides them with first-hand job experience, which will enhance their employability, as one student noted:

I really enjoyed the experience and think it is a brilliant scheme! I managed to organise a teaching observation of German lessons through it (at JGHS who were incredibly accommodating), which really helped me out for my PGCE application. I think the students got a lot out of it as well – I certainly got a lot of great questions from them!

Because students are often unaware of the variety of skills they gain, we give them the option to record their outreach work in a “Community Engagement Workbook”, which we devised in consultation with the Careers Service. This workbook provides students with some reflective tools to analyse their experiences. In semester 2, all participating students are invited to a workshop led by Kirsti Ferrier from our Careers Service team to help them further unpack and discuss the skills they developed so that they can articulate them for CVs and job interviews.

Students’ community engagement is also recorded on EUCLID so it can be included in Personal Tutor’s references for job applications. In order to award more sustained engagement, we are in the process of applying for students’ work to be included on their HEAR record.

Finally, a small ceremony at the end of the academic year honours students and presents them with a LLC certificate. We plan to make this ceremony a much bigger celebration next year and will invite students, staff and our community partners to showcase and celebrate their outstanding work.

Annette Götzkes

Annette Götzkes is a Senior Teaching Fellow in German Studies, and Director for Outreach and Widening Participation in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

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