I recently read that the future of the British Council’s Language Assistantship scheme was uncertain, after having been rescued once already last year. What a shame that would be! Austerity measures are being implemented everywhere across Europe and I wouldn’t be surprised if similar cuts were, or have already been, introduced throughout the European Union.
I have very fond memories of the nine months I spent in Cambridgeshire, all those years ago, as a French Assistante. After my Translation Diploma in France, I worked for six months in Gloucester as a trainee translator and decided to apply for an Assistantship to extend my stay in the UK and further my knowledge of all things British, whilst at the same time earning a little money. I taught 12 hours a week, in two different comprehensive schools, got a modest salary to get me by and plenty of free time to explore the area, go sight-seeing, get to know the locals and the culture and do some research for my MA dissertation within the solemn walls of a Cambridge college and of the University library.
Getting to understand the British education system was an invaluable experience. I taught small groups from Year 7 to Year 11, so from the discovery of a new language (primary school language clubs hardly existed then) to GCSE level. I also organised and led two after-school clubs: one “Fun French” for the younger pupils, and a revision workshop for the French GCSE students. They were both very successful and well attended.
For any language student, the year abroad is undoubtedly the highlight of the degree, when one really gets to grip with the language. With the right attitude, commitment and hard work, it really is an opportunity to develop an excellent command of the language, but also to understand the psyche of the nation and become familiar with the culture and customs. Yes, it can be hard to suddenly be immersed in a place where you don’t know anybody, where you might be tempted to recreate a national microcosm, and when you perhaps don’t excel in the spoken language initially. However, I honestly don’t think that just studying from lectures, books and DVDs will ever be able to match this and you will learn so much about yourself too, and develop resourcefulness. So my advice to any language student, if you can no longer get funding from the British Council, would be to try and find other ways of spending a good few months abroad – either by finding work experience placements, volunteering work (where quite often lodging and food are provided), au-pair placements or Erasmus-funded university stays. Alternatively, get in touch with your local twinning association. There is always a way!