Q&A with Jack Mellor

Jack has just finished his first year at the University of Newcastle and is studying French and Spanish. Jack always wanted to study Spanish but it wasn’t available as a GCSE or A-level subject at his school so he started it as an ab-intio language at university. In his Q&A he talks about his favourite module on literature and discovering the definition of culture.

Why did you choose to go to Newcastle?

I spoke with my friend’s sister who had gone there to study Languages and Law so we had a really good conversation and she advised me about the different universities I was looking at and gave me some hints and tips as to why Newcastle was really good. I was really impressed with the Uni when I went to the open day and in particular the School of Modern Languages. The Head of School gave a really good talk about the opportunities available, like Routes into Languages and after that I was 100% sold and focussed on getting into Newcastle.

Is it far from your home town?

I’m originally from Blackburn in Lancashire about 3 hours away from Newcastle. It’s far away enough to feel on your own but not too far away from home so you feel out of touch.

There are employers out there looking for people with languages and hopefully I can find them or they’ll find me!

Why did you choose Spanish?

I didn’t have the chance to do it at GCSE or A-level as my school didn’t offer it so my curiosity about Spanish was always there inside me so I thought that studying it at university would be a good opportunity to get stuck into it.

How have you found learning Spanish from scratch?

It’s been a one year intensive course so it’s been quite hard work and a lot of hours but I really enjoy it so I don’t mind! I’ve found I can relate it to French as some of the grammar structures and vocabulary is quite similar, so that’s helped a lot.

Did you know what sort of content units were available at university before you applied?

Yes I did. Before I came to university the extra modules were heavily emphasised because they were the ones you choose for yourself, which is really appealing. I was aware there would be modules on literature, history, politics and cultural studies so I’d already thought about what ones I was going to take before university started.

What was your favourite content module?

French literature. It was a two semester module so I studied it for the whole of my first year. It was specific to my language so the literature was all French. We had copies of the literature in French but the teachers also gave us a translation.

What did you cover in the module?

The module was spilt into quarters. Firstly we studied short stories like ‘Le coq de bruyère’ by Tournier and this was used as an introduction to writing about literature and we had a practice essay to do. Secondly, we moved onto a play which was ‘Huis clos’ by J. P. Sartre and we had an essay to hand in about it at Christmas which was worth 50% of the overall mark for the module.

So you contextualised the (poems) literature too?

Yes. We looked at the era they were written in and the political and economical situation in France at that time so we were able to analyse whether the poems were a commentary of events at that time. All the poems came from the same sort of era, around the 1900s when the Revolution was going on.

How was the unit taught?

The first lecture when we moved onto a new type of literature, e. g. poem, play etc. was a big group lecture on how to study the literature and how to write about it. The rest of the module was in language groups as the literature unit was available in French, German or Spanish, there were about 100 people in the big lecture and then we split off into our language and seminar groups of about 15 to study the literature in more specificity.

What were the seminars like?

We were given the structure of the seminar beforehand so we knew which literature to read in preparation and the type of questions we would be answering. In the seminar, answering the questions became conversations and discussions which worked their way into arguments you’d use in an essay or exam when writing about the literature.

What aspect of the unit did you enjoy the most?

I personally really liked the poetry part. I had looked at French poets a bit during my A-level French and had written a practice essay on one of Baudelaire’s poems so I already knew about him and enjoyed his work. Being able to study them at university gave me more opportunities to learn about less well known poets and look at their work in more detail.

What advice would you pass onto someone considering taking this module?

I would highly recommend it. I really enjoyed the way it was assessed as 50% was done at Christmas the workload wasn’t too heavy. I didn’t get stressed with it as it was spread out, and if literature interests you I would recommend you take a module in it!

Has your enjoyment of this module influenced what you’ve chosen to study in second year?

Yes it has. I’m going to study a module on French Caribbean Literature which is the only literature module available to me but I’m really looking forward to it and what it will bring.

What one lecture or seminar sticks out in your mind?

Any on the French Revolution! I’ve always found it a fascinating area of French history and when we learnt about it in more detail at university I found I was always really engaged and interested.

What aspects of culture did you study in you Cultural Studies modules?

We covered subjects like gender, race, sexuality but also musical culture. It wasn’t so much about learning the culture specific to countries, more about the examples of representation; how one group of people were represented by another or how they represent themselves. It was these specific terms and concepts that we had to convey in our exam.

How was the module assessed?

It was a very liberal module as you were able to write whatever you feel as long as you were able to support your arguments with deeper proof. For the section on musical culture we chose a song by an artist and then had to write a little piece about it and post it on a blog. We had to understand the meaning of the song and the cultural aspect it portrayed, for example, what cultures would listen to it, what cultures would reject it, what cultures wouldn’t like it and why.

Did the module make you more culturally aware?

Only in part. It seems a bit contradictory that a cultural studies module does not make you more culturally aware. I think the only way to become more culturally aware is to travel and experience it for yourself, I don’t think it’s something that can be learnt by sitting in a seminar, you can only fully understand it by experiencing it.

Have you used your language outside of university?

Yes actually, I’ve just got back from au-pairing in France for two months. I used my French everyday and my French has improved so much! I really noticed it, and I find that I sort of think in French now and don’t have any difficulties speaking it.

Did you get on well with the family?

They were really great and were very welcoming, they’ve said I can go back and stay whenever I want and I think to have that sort of friendship with someone in France is really handy.

What do you plan on doing once you graduate?

I’m not 100% sure but at the moment I’ve got an image of becoming an agent of some sort, possibly for a sports person, actor or author or something along those lines. It’s something that I can mix with other subjects so I may do a conversion first in Law. I just think there are employers out there looking to find people with languages and hopefully I can find them, or they’ll find me!

Can you sum up language study in one word?