Top tips: Things to consider if you’re thinking about studying for a degree in Languages
Welcome everyone! We’re kicking things off in the thread by thinking about things you can consider if you’re researching your degree choices and think you’d like to have an element of language learning involved.
1) How flexible is the degree?
It is worth looking at the flexibility of the degree programme: does it allow you to study the language you want, and at the right level? Can you study it from beginner’s or intermediate (i.e. post-GCSE), or do you need an A-level? Can you pick up new languages? For example, at the University of Reading on our Modern Languages degree you can study between one and three languages (up to two core languages: French, Italian, Spanish and German up to degree level and an additional language which focuses on developing your oral skills). Not all language degrees require you to take a language at A level or equivalent to study Languages at University. Some will allow study from no experience right the way through to degree level. It may just mean that you have extra language lessons.
Can you combine languages with other subjects? And if so, what is the split between the two subjects? Languages can add expertise and vital skills to a wide range of subjects. You can take languages with lots of other subjects as joint honours, which involves studying two subjects at the same time. Popular combinations with Modern Languages include International Business, or Economics, where understanding foreign markets and having international work experience can add value to your degree, but also subjects where expertise in other countries can enrich your studies, such as International Relations or History. If you enjoy studying other cultures, adding Modern Languages to an English Literature or Film Studies degree can be a great idea. These combinations can boost your CV and increase your attractiveness to employers.
Last, look at the classes (modules) that you will be able to take, as this will show you where the strengths of the department are. Many courses will offer both language learning and culture as part of the degree: students on our degrees at Reading, for example, develop all-important language skills, but can also build up expertise in different regions and countries. Some of these culture modules can be very varied and explore contemporary issues of the day through linguistics, history, literature, culture, film and the visual arts. In terms of contact hours, Universities will be quite upfront as to how many hours a week of contact time you will get and the amount of independent study that you will be expected to do in your own time.
2) Can you do a year abroad?
Make sure you research not only where in the world you can go, but also what options are available to you when you get there. Just because you are learning Spanish, for example, it does not mean that spending your year abroad in Spain is the only option - there may also be exciting opportunities in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.
I often get asked by applicants about what they can do during their year abroad. While it can vary according to your degree course, there are three main options: either doing a work placement, studying at a university abroad or being a language assistant at a school.
It’s also important to make sure that you find out what kind of support from your university will you get whilst you’re abroad. At Reading, we have a team of colleagues who look after the year abroad, including a dedicated administrator who ensures students receive support throughout the whole process of preparing for their year abroad and then when they are out on their year abroad. I regularly keep in touch will all my tutees when are on their year abroad. Just the same as if they were on campus, as an Academic Tutor I am there to help with any problems that they may encounter. We also have a bank of work placements that students have done in the past, which can be great places for students to apply to, and we run a variety of workshops on CV writing and interview strategies to help students secure their placements.
3) What support will you get on the course?
First, you will get support from your academic or personal tutor. They might be given slightly different names at different Universities but essentially, academic tutors are a point of support for all things related to your course. We chat with students about their courses, about their module choices, careers, and year abroad, and help to ensure they get the most out of their degrees. We are also there to guide our students if they need extra help, by signposting them to the wider support facilities in the University.
You will also get help from any of the academics who teach you the specifics of the class that they are teaching you, just like in Sixth Form.
There should also be some support for the Year Abroad, usually within the department and from the Study Abroad office. At Reading, in addition to having a dedicated team working with students to prepare them throughout second year and supporting them whilst they are abroad, our language classes are also designed to prepare students by teaching them practical vocabulary and all-important local knowledge, as well as running CV and covering letter writing workshops.
I hope this has given you some insight into what to consider when choosing your languages degree. Our next post will cover writing your personal statement, so stay tuned for that!
Dr Sophie Heywood
University of Reading