Student Life: The German Society

Students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading find many ways to explore language and culture inside the classroom and beyond. One of the best ways is through the University’s language societies. We’ve asked the presidents of the French, German, and Italian Societies to fill us in on the kinds of opportunities they offer. First up is Melis Parmak, a joint-honours student of German and Business Management as well as President of The German Society here at the University of Reading. Here’s what she has to say:

German 3If you’re studying German, like I do, or are German, then the German Society is the club for you. If you speak German or would like to, this is the club for you. If you like beer, schnapps, Lederhosen, Schlager Musik or all manner of things Germanic; THIS IS THE CLUB FOR YOU!

We’re a fun bunch of people who are having an amazing time imitating the culture on our socials, whether they are Stammtische, Kaffee und Kuchen evenings or a night out in Reading in our lederhosen. This is a great place to meet like-minded people who speak German, have an interest in German culture, or just like coming on our socials at the University of Reading.

Recently, we hosted a very successful joined social event called ‘around the world in 90 shots’ with the Erasmus, French and Italian Society. Moreover for this year we have planned to attend the Sauerkraut Football Cup for all German societies around the UK, an amazing boat trip on the Thames, the Winchester Christmas Market and finally a trip to Berlin.

The thing I enjoy about studying German is that the support provided by the lecturers of the Department of Modern Languages is focused primarily on my needs and are not generalised for the whole class. But whenever things get a bit rough with University work, the German society contributes to my student experience as a little reminder of why I love studying German German 1and chose to study it in the first place. I would therefore advise you to make the most of your University life. Time will go by so quickly and before you know it you will be graduating. Join societies, meet lots of people, join the gym and actively participate in volunteering.

Membership costs just £5 for students and £10 for non-students, which includes discounts at all socials. To find out more, check out the German Society’s Facebook group; follow their Twitter feed, or contact them by email: To learn more about studying languages at Reading, you should also visit the website of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. To keep up with all of the Department’s students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

Student Life: The best five months of my life

Today, second-year students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies have their introductory meeting about the year abroad. As they begin to consider the opportunities available to them next year, when they’ll head off to work, study, and teach overseas, we thought we’d ask the students who have recently returned from their time abroad to share with us some reflections on the experience. Here’s a reflection from Emily Skew, a joint-honours student of French and Italian, who spent 2013/14 in Grenoble, France and Venice, Italy.

Emily 2For the Italian half of the year, my top choices were Florence, Rome and Pisa. This was mainly because these were the only Italian cities I’d ever been to and I knew I had liked them. When the time came for allocating cities, I found out I was going to Venice. In all honesty, when I found out, I wasn’t very excited! I had a fear of boats and the only mode of transport there is by boat! But I came to terms with having to go there and after completing my first 5 months of third year in France, it was time to move to Venice.

It was the end of January and I was extremely nervous; I was a ball of nerves on the plane journey and was constantly worrying. That was until we came into land at Venice Marco Polo airport. The airport is very close to the island, just on the edge of the mainland in fact, so on the final descent if you look to the right hand side of the plane you get the most amazing view of the whole island. It was such a clear day and it was the first time I’d seen the island; it looked so pretty and intriguing, and it was the first time I had gotten excited Emily 3about what was to come. Once on the island I was completely blown away: the architecture was incredible and it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. For the first week I wasn’t too busy so I walked around each day, first seeing the main attractions and being a tourist with my camera and then getting lost, finding hidden corners around the island. I was not scared of wandering around on my own in the day, it felt completely safe and, in fact, I later found out that Venice has one of the lowest crime rates in Italy! I also wasn’t scared of getting lost, because the island is so small that even if you do get lost, eventually you will end up somewhere you recognise. There are also lots of signs on the tops of calles (streets) with directions to the most iconic places, such as Piazza San Marco or the Rialto bridge.

Once it was time to begin our studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, we had a welcome day which included tours of the university buildings, which are scattered around the island, and a welcome party with the chance to meet other Erasmus students. The International Erasmus office at the University were so helpful throughout my stay, and the lectures and exams were also very well organised. It was a nice surprise and a worry off my mind!

When I wasn’t studying, I spent my time finding out about the city and the culture! The first was the Acqua Alta, which is when the whole island floods due to the high tides. It’s amazing to see how the whole island continues to function even when the water levels can reach up to a metre. You will see the locals wading through in their wellies (luckily my Italian flatmates had a spare pair for me to use) and each night when acqua alta is forecast, the locals will help each other to erect wooden walkways around the busiest Emily 1parts of the city.  There were some great days and nights spent in Piazza San Marco splashing around in the water and taking photos.

One thing I loved about Italy was the food! It was especially good in Venice due to the fresh fish and there were incredible restaurants on nearly every street. It wasn’t just the restaurants that caught my attention; all over Venice you will find small bars tucked away in the small back streets, which the locals liked to frequent and here you will find a Venetian tradition of cicchetti (small finger food) and a few umbra (tiny glasses of house wine for roughly a euro). These places are great for a quick lunch or making a long evening of drinking and picking through some of the cicchetti.

Another favourite of the Venetian students is to hang out with friends in one of the many bars in Campo Santa Margherita, a small square near to the University, which is great for people watching and sipping espresso during the day and having a few spritz in the evenings. A spritz is another Venetian speciality: a mix of soda, Prosecco and a bitter, either Aperol, Campari or other less well known varieties. The square is buzzing with activity in the summer evenings and it is great for socialising with the Italians and practicing your language – especially with the help of a drink to give a confidence boost! In this square you will also find a small pizza shop called ‘Pizza al volo’ where you can buy a slice of a very large pizza for just 2€! It’s always busy and is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. You will also find a popular ice cream shop called ‘Il Doge’ which some argue sells the best ice cream in all of Venice, but in my opinion, the best ice cream is to be found in Sottoportego de la Bissa, just off of Campo San Bartolomeo, in a small shop called ‘Suso’. They do some amazing flavours such as speculoos biscuit, pistachio with a chocolate ganache and my favourite, Opéra, which is vanilla with a hazelnut chocolate ganache on top.

Venice has a great transport system; the trains are so easy to get to and the vaporetti (water buses) run all night and as often as every 5-10 minutes Emily 4during the busy parts of the day. There are even lots of vaporetti lines going to the different islands around Venice, one of my favourites being Burano, a tiny fishing island where every house is painted a different bright colour! It looks like something from a postcard. Another island which is great to visit is the Lido. Here you’ll find the beach with its soft sands and blue waters. I spent many a day there in the summer relaxing and having picnics with friends.

One of the main things I loved about Venice was how everything was in close proximity. Coming from a small village where the closest town is 20 minutes’ drive away, being so close to University and friends was great. The island of Venice is so small but in fact, because everything is so squashed together, it still feels like a normal sized city, with tonnes to do and a beautiful scene around every corner.

I would really recommend anyone with the option of Venice for a year abroad to go there because it ended up being the best five months of my life where I met so many amazing people and saw so many beautiful places!

Department Life: In Memory of Walter Redfern

We are saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Redfern, Emeritus Professor of French Studies at the University of Reading. We publish below an obituary of Professor Redfern written by his friend Jim Knowlson, OBE, Emeritus Professor of French, The University of Reading.

WALTER REDFERN (1936-2014)

Walter RedfernWalter Redfern, Emeritus Professor of French Studies at the University of Reading, died on 10 October 2014. His wife Angela (whom he married in 1963), their daughter Kate and son Sam were with him in the Royal Berkshire Hospital at the time of his death. In October 2000, while he and Angela were on holiday in the USA, Walter underwent quadruple heart surgery in Saint Thomas’s Hospital in Nashville in Tennessee’s leading cardiac unit and, although fitted with a defibrillator at the time, he had suffered more recent heart problems.

Walter was born in Bootle, Liverpool on February 22 1936 and attended Bootle Grammar School. In 1954, he went as a Scholar to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read French and Spanish and obtained a double first in 1957. He then went on to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris for a year. In 1960, he submitted his Ph. D. thesis on the work of Jean Giono, on whom he wrote extensively and sensitively. In the same year, he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in French Studies in the University of Reading by George Lehmann, and later became Lecturer, then Reader; he was promoted to a Personal Chair in 1980. He became Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1981-82. Having retired from teaching in 2001, he continued to write prolifically until his death.

He was a keen sportsman. A devoted fan of Liverpool Football Club, he continued to support the team all his life. Indeed, the mourners at his funeral were invited by his family to wear something red in honour of the Kop. The request by the British Heart Foundation for supporters also to wear red for their cause, combined with Walter’s own experience of cardiac problems over the past 15 years, lent this a wider resonance that he would have relished. Donations from mourners were to benefit the British Heart Foundation.

As an active participant in sport for many years, he played cricket with Reading University’s Academic Staff club, making 240 appearances between 1964 and 1981. Originally a fast bowler − although he scarcely bowled at all in his last few years of playing − he took over 100 wickets and scored many useful runs, often in swashbuckling style; he was captain in 1966. He was also a jazz fan and retained a keen interest in film, good food and fine wine.

Walter had a highly developed sense of humour and possessed an exciting, witty, even scintillating literary style. Looking back over his scholarly career, most of our colleagues will be amazed at how extensive his writing was on a wide variety of French authors. Reading and  research were for him a continual voyage of discovery and writing about literature was a great joy, witness his many books: on Giono, The Private World of Jean Giono (1967);Nizan,Paul Nizan : Committed Literature in a Conspiratorial World  (1972);Raymond Queneau, Queneau : ‘Zazie dans le Métro’ (1980); Darien, Georges Darien : Robbery and Private Enterprise (1985); Vallès, Feet First: Jules Vallès (1992);  Tournier, Michel Tournier: ‘Le Coq de bruyère’ (1996);a Jean-Paul Sartre edition,Sartre : ‘Huis clos’ and ‘Les Séquestrés d’Altona’ (1996);Guilloux,Louis Guilloux : Ear-Witness (1998); and Brisset, All Puns Intended : The Verbal Creation of Jean-Pierre Brisset (2001).  30 chapters in other books, 50 articles in a wide variety of French, English and American journals, and almost 200 reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and The Times Higher Educational Supplement, French Studies, The Modern Language Review, The Journal of European Studies (to mention only his main outlets) add up to a superb record of loving, dedicated scholarship. But, alongside his remarkable studies of French literature, it is with his books on laughter, clichés and puns that he built up a fine international reputation. His Puns book (Blackwells, 1984 with an enlarged edition published by Penguin in 2000) established his initial reputation in this area, which was then reinforced by his book on Clichés and Coinages (Blackwells, 1989) and later, since his retirement, by a brilliant collection of essays on humour, French Laughter: Literary Humour from Diderot to Tournier (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008).  His astute study of Diderot seemed to me, as a former lecturer on eighteenth century literature and thought, to capture the essence of this great innovative thinker’s wit and sparkle and, more recently as a Beckett scholar, I shall never forget a stunning analysis of ‘Beckett and Bad Jokes’ in the same book.  He never separated his creative writing from his academic work and wrote dozens of poems, some published in Granta and Poetry Voice, as well as a number of short stories all his life. His novel, A Calm Estate appeared in 1987.

One can only envy the natural ease with which ‘Woll’ (as he was widely known among his friends) managed to express himself in his writing. In fact, he was far more at ease with his pen than he was in social groups, where he often appeared shy and retiring, preferring the company of a few close friends. He was never one to seize the limelight either and was never guilty of self–promotion or self-aggrandisement. He simply got on quietly, unobtrusively, devotedly with his own work, dealing promptly and efficiently with matters to hand.

With over twenty books to his credit, Walter’s quantity of writing was substantial by any standards. Yet it is, above all, the quality of his thinking and his writing, his great wit and his gift for fluent self-expression that strike the reader. His wit is sometimes (indeed often) subtle; yet, at times, it is applied with deliberately broad brush strokes. And although this is, I recognise, highly unusual in an obituary, I should like to end with a short, racy but scintillating paragraph taken from the preface to his book entitled ‘Promises, Promises’ on French Laughter from Diderot to Tournier where he writes so brilliantly about what humour is and is not. It is totally characteristic of Walter’s keen intelligence and verbal brio:

‘When I first disembarked in the USA, I saw a van bearing the legend ‘Snap-On Tools’. I reflected: for those of us males with hang-ups, or let-downs, about sexual dysfunction, the get-up-and-go Yankees have thought of everything, including stand-in peckers (more firmly attached than dildos). Humour, however, is not a snap-on tool. It is the organ itself, with all its faults and failures (I could not tastefully call it ‘warts and all’). The laws of levity are made to be broken, or at least elasticized. Humour sometimes uses the barge pole, to distance the target, sometimes the shepherd’s crook, to corral all of us in the same flock, to dunk all of us in the communal sheep-dip.’

As a scholar, Walter Redfern, like his beloved Liverpool F. C., merited the elevated position that he occupied in the Premier League. But, as a man and a friend, he will be sorely missed.

Student Life: European Studies with Two Languages

Students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies often pursue joint-honours degrees. Whether combining two languages, such as German and Spanish, or a language with another subject, for instance Italian and Classics, joint-honours students are able to pursue a variety of interests during their time at the University of Reading.

LondonFor students with a particular love of languages, there are even opportunities to expand their studies still further, through a degree in European Studies with two languages. We’ve asked Despina Georgiou, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in European Studies with French and Italian, to let us know what it’s like to pursue that course of studies.

Despina, who interned with the Cypriot Government while studying at the University of Reading, assisting on the preparations for the presidency of the European Council in 2012 while at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before going on to work at the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Rome, has chosen to live in Limassol, Cyprus, after graduation. As she explains, her decision to study two languages with European Studies has opened up a world of possibilities:

My interest in exploring the history, culture and politics of different countries as well as my passion for languages had found the best guidance at the University of Reading with European Studies and Modern Languages. The study of the socio-political aspects of the formation of the EU and its member states complimented my passion for learning new languages.

montpellier 2European Studies and Modern Languages is the ideal course for those who wish to acquire a more detailed view of how the EU works; for those who wish to learn as much as possible about different countries; for those who wish to travel because here with this degree course we are given the opportunity to travel and live in other European countries with the purpose of perfecting the language, meet new people and most importantly to create experiences and memories that will stay with us forever.

With this degree course our career path is limitless: it can lead to job fields you would never even imagine. Studying European Studies with French and Italian has given me new dreams to pursue and new horizons to explore; I’ve made the right decision!

For more information about European Studies, as well as the other degree programmes in languages at Reading, please visit the website of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. To keep up with all of the Department’s students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

Student Life: A Year Abroad in Venice

In their third year at university, students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading go abroad to live, study, and work. They head to France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Canada; soon they’ll also be going to Spain and Latin America as well. We’ve asked some of the students who have just come back from their year abroad to let us know how they found the experience. Here’s a reflection from Gabriella Burns, a Finalist in Italian Studies, who spent her year abroad in Venice:

4If you are going to Venice on your Third Year Abroad then congratulations!! You will be going to what I personally think is the most breathtaking place you will ever go to. There may be other cities that perhaps come close to the magic of the canals and history, but Venice really is unique – as well as a trap which will have you returning for years to come. After all, if it’s good enough for George Clooney to get married there, then it’s good enough for us!

I spent, six months in Venice as part of my French and Italian degree after first spending six months in the south of France. Although I’ve now come to love Venice, I must be honest: at first it was not my choice to go to Venice for my Year Abroad. Now, however, I can’t imagine it any other way.

As an ab inito student of Italian in my first year, I had minimal prior knowledge of the language, and this made my year abroad experience particularly significant. Not only do I feel more confident using my language, I feel more confident in other life skills that have enriched my experience in so many ways.

The first advice I would give to anyone who is planning to study or travel to Venice is: Get lost. That’s right – Get lost. It’s not a difficult task in Venice, because to the untrained eye, every “calle” (small street) can look the same. You will get lost, and that’s alright, because it’s the only way to get a picture of the real Venice. When lost, you’ll uncover all the little back calle which none of the tourists go to. What’s more, Venice has a very low crime rate, meaning if you do get lost then you are safe. This idea was indeed drilled into me a lot during my time there and I came to realise it was true: my house mate would never lock the door… much to my surprise.

1The second piece of advice which links into this is: Always look up. If you do end up getting lost, there is no need to panic as in every corner of the island there are yellow signs which point to obvious attractions which make it easy to get your bearings, since they point you towards the Rialto, Accademia and Piazza San Marco. I would also like to emphasise the word “island,” which means that you can never stray off too far – wherever your find yourself, you will still always be in Venice.

As Venice is such a small place, every one knows every one so it is very friendly and easy to meet people and make new friends for life.

During the Year Abroad you go through things which at the time seem relatively unimportant but in hindsight you realise that in fact they are quite a big deal and have played a large part in your self transformation. Little things like: catching 3 trains from one side of Italy to another and finding out which platform you need to go to and who you need to speak to. You do these things easily and then when you have 5 minutes to reflect you are filled with a sense of pride.

Places not to miss:

2Remer. Remer is the name of a bar/restaurant which does 5 euro “cicchetti” (buffet food) and spritz every night from 7 til half 8. It over looks the Grand Canal and Rialto and you can sit down with a group of your friends and watch the sun go down.

Alfredo’s. A fresh pasta shop by Piazza San Marco. If you speak to them in Italian and let them know you study there, they may even give you a discount on their delicious pasta, which is like no other.

Paradiso Perduto. A bar come restaurant where every Monday night there is a live band who play a different style of music every week! A great evening out right on the canal front!

Reading Researchers: Dr Melani Schröter on Language and Silence

In a regular feature, we’ll bring you updates from “Reading Researchers,” highlighting the innovative and compelling research that members of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies are pursuing. For the latest installment, we’ve asked Dr Melani Schröter, Assoociate Professor in German Studies, to update us on her work on silence and absence in discourse and communication. We wanted to know why, when a lot of silence passes by unnoticed, some doesn’t. Here’s what Dr Schröter has to say:

M.ShroeterThere are so many things that people never say – beneath what people do talk about, there is a deep ocean of the unsaid, because we cannot spell out everything we ever perceive or think; we do not want to talk about everything we experience; we seem to even be unable to put some feelings or experiences into words; and some topics (e.g. excretion or death) are no-go areas in many situations. However, these things are hardly ever perceived as silence.

I am fascinated by the question of what makes some absences in communication go by unnoticed and what makes others come to be perceived as silence, and what makes some silences more communicative, more notable than others. There are conventional silences, like a minute of silence at remembrance rituals or at funerals. They have some sort of agreed meaning, to signify mourning or respect. Here, we expect people to remain silent, we know roughly what silence means in these situations and it would be unexpected and unacceptable to disrupt these silences with speech.

These are in my view not the most communicative silences. More interesting and more puzzling to me are those silences that people only perceive as silence because they have expected that something would have been said – e.g. a missing answer to a question. It is the disappointed expectation of presence that makes an absence noticeable. If we did not expect anyone to say anything (about a certain matter), then we would not perceive this as an absence. This is the place where secrets are safe – when we do not even have a clue that something might be hidden. Only once we know that there is a secret will we perceive the silence around it.

We also have to have reason to assume that a person is silent about something deliberately. There are ‘symptomatic’ silences, like speechlessness after a shock, but we would not assume that people in such a situation are trying to ‘tell’ us something (like ‘bugger off’) or to conceal something with their silence – we would understand that it is symptomatic rather than symbolic behaviour.

The most notable silences are those where we think that a person is intentionally silent, when we have to interpret this silence as an act of communication; indicating, for example “I don’t want to talk about this”, “I don’t want to/I am not allowed to talk to you (about this)”, “I cannot be bothered by you (at the moment)”, etc. There may be ‘accidents’, though; sometimes people’s headphones are quite concealed; you might ask them a question and get no reply, which might trigger one of the above interpretations.

In many situations, it also matters whether or not a silence is about something relevant. We find it amusing when children hide objects and make a secret out of things that seem completely irrelevant for anyone outside that child’s mental universe. We might have ‘accidents,’ such as this one: “Why did you not tell me about X?” “Oh, I did not think X was important.” When people don’t talk about something that we find irrelevant, we will hardly ever perceive this as a silence.

Therefore, silence becomes most meaningful and communicative, and often also urgent and disturbing when we expected that something would have been said (about a certain matter), when we have reason to assume that something has been deliberately left out and when what we miss is relevant to us.

dapsac_48_hbIn my book Silence and concealment in political discourse (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2013), I investigated these constellations in the contexts of politicians’ silences and political scandals. At present, I continue work in this area by looking at public debates in present day Germany in which some groups or their exponents try to conquer discursive ground by claiming that their views are the views of a silent majority which is silenced by taboos set up by a vocal minority. They claim that they are bravely breaking these taboos and thereby fight for their own and everyone’s right to freedom of speech, but in essence it is a debate that we know since the advent of political correctness, involving the difficult question of whether there should be freedom of hate speech as well…watch this space, part of UKIP’s discourse moves along these lines, too.

For more information about Dr Schröter‘s ongoing research projects, as well as for information about how you can pursue similar interests as an undergraduate or post-graduate student, please visit the website of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. To keep up with all of the Department’s students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

MLES Cine-Club: La Grande Bellezza

Please join us on Tuesday 7th October at 5 pm in HumSS 125 for the first film in the 2014-15 MLES Cine-Club
La Grande Bellezza (“The Great Beauty”)
Italy, 2013

By Paolo Sorrentino

Starring Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone and Sabrina Ferilli

Original Version with English Subtitles
Presented by Dr Federico Faloppa

LA-GRANDE-BELLEZZA_ServilloJournalist Jep Gambardella (the dazzling Toni Servillo, Il divo and Gomorrah) has charmed and seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. Since the legendary success of his one and only novel, he has been a permanent fixture in the city’s literary and social circles, but when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty. 
Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film a the Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe and the BAFTA award, The Great Beauty is a “swooning love letter to Roman decadence…, Paolo Sorrentino’s greatest film yet” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)

MLES Cine-club: La Règle du Jeu

For the second film in the 2014/15 MLES Cine-club series, we’re featuring La Règle du Jeu, presented by Professor Catherine Leglu.

21 October 2014 from 5-7pm in HumSS 125

La Règle du JeuLa Règle du Jeu (1939) by Jean Renoir (who also stars in the film). This film is regularly cited among the ‘top ten films ever made’. It was banned almost as soon as it was released. A reconstructed version of the film was shown in 1959. The film is both a moving, intricate exploration of love, and a vivid, deeply critical picture of France on the eve of World War 2, what Renoir called “a society dancing on a volcano”.

Please join us on the evening of Tuesday 21 Oct. at 5pm in HumSS 125 for a screening and discussion of Renoir’s groundbreaking film.

Student Life: Put any fears aside and embrace the challenge

In response to the article on ab initio language study that appeared in the Sunday Times of 27 July 2014, ‘GCSE enough to take degree in languages,’ we’ve heard from Professor Catherine Leglu, who explained many of the great benefits of learning a language from scratch while at university, as well as from Sabrina Beevor, a Reading Finalist, who told us that “choosing to study a language ab initio has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding decisions I have made.”

Here is another reflection on the benefits of beginning a new language while at university, sent to us by Jess Kravetz, a Reading undergraduate who is currently on her year abroad in Venice, where she’s studying at Ca’ Foscari University:

Jess KravetzBefore I came to university, I was interested in studying business. Because I believe that having a language alongside a business or management course is beneficial, I decided to do a joint honours degree in business and languages. This proved to be difficult, however, as I did not have a language A-Level, which meant that I would have to start a beginner course. I had studied Applied French GCSE, which had a business-focused approach, and at my sixth-form college I also had the opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese for one hour a week as enrichment during my first year. But without an A-Level my options appeared limited. I began to look at languages available at beginners’ level and discovered that there were very few languages offered in this category (Italian, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese), languages which generally speaking most schools do not offer.

I chose to study Italian because during my A-Levels I had become extremely fascinated with the Italian Renaissance. Before I started studying Italian I wasn’t sure what to expect and how difficult it would be, but if you have the motivation to work hard it is a really rewarding experience. The most important thing is to work consistently. I found Italian grammar particularly challenging but for the first and second year we had a lesson devoted entirely to Language Skills and this supported my Italian learning and enabled me to be able to ask questions about anything that was unclear.

I have had a lot of sCa'_Foscari-Aula_Barattoupport at the University of Reading and the lecturers are extremely friendly and approachable. I am so pleased with the progress that my ab initio class mates and I have made and it is one of the most rewarding things I have done.

If you are unsure whether to pursue an ab initio language degree I would say you have to be dedicated and motivated to learn the language you are studying. You also have to be patient with yourself, as sometimes it feels like you are not improving but all of a sudden it just clicks and you understand something you were previously really struggling with. But most of all I would say put any fears aside and embrace the challenge, because although it is scary it is one of the best decisions I have ever made!

If you would like to learn more about studying languages at the University of Reading, including studying a language you may not have studied in school, we invite you to visit our website. For up-to-date information about the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, we also encourage you to follow our blog. And watch this space for reflections from more of our students, past and present, who have pursued ab initio degrees.