Many thanks to all who attended the 2017 conference. We are now beginning to think about SRTS 2018, which will be held at Somerville College on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 September. Watch this space for more details…
Report on the 2017 Conference
2017 saw 75 teachers from across the state and independent sectors convened with retired members and representatives from the Modern Languages Faculty at St Anne’s College. The Friday evening included a roundtable on the short story in German, Spanish, and Italian, with contributions from Prof. Ritchie Richardson (Kafka), Prof. Ben Bollig (Borges), and Prof. Guido Bonsaver (Calvino). Thomas Cuthbertson then presented a discussion of a clip from the film Cléo de 5 à 7, by French director Agnès Varda. After dinner prepared by award-winning chef Raymond Killick and served in the stunning glass-fronted dining hall, we were treated to a fascinating address by Bridget Kendall MBE. Ms Kendall is an alumna of Lady Margaret Hall and St Antony’s College, Oxford, former Moscow and Washington correspondent for the BBC, and current Master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. She has over thirty years of experience as an international correspondent for the BBC, and has interviewed a number of senior politicians, including live broadcasts of interviews with President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin in 2001 and 2006.
On Saturday morning we were up bright and early to hear a talk on Dostoevsky given by Dr Oliver Ready, whose new translation of Crime and Punishment, with Notes and Introduction, was published by Penguin Classics in 2014. This was followed by our annual Building Bridges panel. This year, we were lucky enough to have Dr. Jim Anderson from Goldsmith’s University of London presenting his Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project; this was followed by presentations from Dr Laura Lonsdale and Prof. Julie Curtis on the work they have been carrying out to support language teaching and learning in schools. After a break for a fortifying coffee, Dr Jenny Oliver taught us all how to write the perfect essay, through the medium of Early Modern French drama. Finally, Dr Simon Kemp conducted a mock interview with a current student, before leading a Q&A discussion about applications for and the study of Modern Languages at Oxford and Cambridge. We were also excited to be able to offer for the first time a research showcase, featuring posters from PhD students as well as two large-scale multi-institution projects: Creative Multilingualism and Writing Brecht.
We hope that all those who attended found the programme both useful and inspirational, and we look forward to seeing you next year.
Report on the 2016 Conference
The Sir Robert Taylor Society is a network of teachers, academics and others interested in Modern Languages. We aim to foster links between secondary schools and the University of Oxford, provide a forum for discussion about issues pertinent to the teaching of MFL, and offer guidance about university admissions.
Our 58th annual conference took place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September 2016. One hundred and twenty teachers were in attendance: sixty-two from the independent sector, fifty-six from the maintained sector, and two retired members. In addition to this, around twenty-five members of the Medieval and Modern Languages faculty at the University of Oxford attended, as well as affiliated guests, including representatives from the University of Cambridge and our guest speaker Prof. Michael Worton, former Vice-Provost of University College London.
The programme offered a mix of academic taster lectures and admissions sessions. We opened with a presentation by Prof. Catriona Seth, who introduced her new project ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 5×5’, which explores multimedia adaptations of Laclos’ novel. Following this, there was a panel on twentieth-century theatre: academics from five sub-faculties gave short introductions to Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Lorca, and Beckett.
Friday’s programme closed with a performance of ‘Never say Never’, a translation and adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s Il ne faut jurer de rien, performed by students of the university. After the play, delegates moved to a drinks reception and formal dinner, at which Prof. Worton gave a speech outlining some of the challenges facing MFL and emphasising the need to continue to promote the subject, particularly in the wake of ‘Brexit’. Prof. Worton’s wealth of experience in teaching modern languages, and his evident passion for the subject and the variety of cultures to which languages give us access empowered us all to become ‘agents of change’. This was followed by an equally enjoyable trip to the college bar!
Saturday morning opened with two academic presentations: a talk on Cervantes to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death; and an ‘explication de texte’ – a close reading of a passage from Racine’s Iphigénie. We then moved to the newly introduced ‘Building Bridges’ panel, a session designed to raise any issues MFL faces at the current time and discuss how we might present a united front in tackling these. We heard from faculty members from Oxford and Cambridge, representatives from the independent sector (Nick Mair, Dulwich College) and maintained sector (Irena Hubble-Brezowski, Bridgwater College, and Alex Hobson, Darrick Wood Senior School), as well as voices from the audience. Some of the major points raised included: A Level grading, the new A Level syllabus, the availability of teaching resources for this syllabus, and the varying levels of support MFL receives in schools.
After a break, we had an introduction to studying ab initio languages at Oxford, and modern languages alongside Oriental Studies. This was followed by a mock interview with a current Spanish student at Oxford, and finally by a Q&A about the Oxford admissions process. We finished with lunch and an optional visit to the nearby Pitt Rivers Museum.
Overall, it is clear that Modern Languages faces a challenging time ahead, with alterations to the syllabus and political events throwing the future of the discipline into some doubt. However, what emerged from the conference is that the community of modern linguists is united in its drive to champion MFL, and passion for the subject remains strong within both schools and universities. It was a pleasure to hear so many voices joined in celebration of languages learning.
The SRTS would like to thank the Ferreras-Willetts family for their unfailing support of the society, as well as the National Network for Collaborative Outreach for an additional grant in 2016. Many thanks to Aidan Huxford for providing the photographs.