Q&A with Lee Purcell

Lee studied at Coventry University. He graduated in 2010 with a 2:1 in BA (Hons) French and TEFL. He decided to learn French at university as it was a subject he loved, but it didn’t come naturally to him; it required a lot of work and perseverance.

Lee is due to start his PGCE course at Warwick University in September and train to teach Spanish at Primary level and French at Secondary. Here, Lee talks about the content units he studied as part of his degree, in particular French translation and what led him to doing a PGCE.

What content modules did you study as part of your degree?

I did lots. The ones that really stick out were: introduction to modern French culture and society, French translation and French language and society.

What did you cover in French language and society?

It was all about the derivation of the language, how it was formed and how it had evolved. I found it really interesting as we looked at the differences between the French spoken in France and the French spoken in Canada. We also studied where else French is spoken world-wide. It was quite complex but interesting at the same time as it looked at all the really intrinsic parts of the language.

What was your favourite module?

French translation. I found it so interesting to see the different ways there are to translate people’s opinions. We did both French into English and English into French. Obviously, English into French was trickier but it was really good practice to do it both ways as realistically, you will do it both ways at some point or another.

What type of texts did you translate?

A whole array of articles! We did everything really, from newspaper articles on contemporary issues to instruction manuals for hairdryers and lawnmowers!

What were the lectures like?

We had a native English speaker for French into English and a native French speaker for English into French, so they taught their speciality area. We’d prepare a translation at home and go through it in class and offer our own translations, suggest the best one and discuss difficult points and how to improve.

How did this unit help your language learning?

It was really useful because I learnt a lot about grammar. As I’m going into teaching it’s important I know English grammar as well as French grammar and this unit really helped.

Do you like giving presentations?

I’ve never been bothered about giving presentations. I was an English teaching assistant on my year abroad so I was used to standing up in front of a group of people and speaking in French. The presentation was difficult because the grammar was a complex issue to talk about, but I didn’t mind doing it.

How big was the class?

Only about 20, it was actually the largest class I had for French in my whole time at uni because we had Erasmus students in there, too. They came to practise their translation as well and it was useful as we paired up with them to work on the translation so they could help us understand the French meaning and we could help them understand the English meaning.

What was the exam like?

We had a translation to do from French to English and one from English to French. There was also a booklet with questions to answer like ‘give an example where a noun has turned into a verb phrase’. They were good though because we were allowed mono and bilingual dictionaries.

Were there any problem sentences or texts in particular?

There was one which used really idiomatic phrases and the only way to translate it properly was to explain them. It was really difficult as it formed part of a list in the French text, whereas when translated into English it just didn’t flow as well and lost its emphasis. Also, there was one sentence that was about three lines long and when put into English it just droned on and on and on, but worked really well in French! So they were difficult but I enjoyed the challenge of working out the best ways to translate them.

What myths did you hear about university which you found out to be untrue?

Lecture size! In high school we were told that at uni we’d just be one student among thousands in a lecture hall and the lecturers wouldn’t care, but my lectures and seminars never had more than 20 people! I thought it was going to be really bad, but the lecturers were really supportive and helpful so I never found it to be an issue.

What made you study languages at university?

I really enjoyed them. I was the only one from my high school wanting to do a language A-level so I had to go to a local college to do French and a night class to do Spanish. I also found languages fun. I knew I wanted to study languages at university so my A-levels were a means to an end so I carried on and put in the extra effort to get them. If you enjoy it, then you have to pursue and persist with it.

What have you enjoyed the most about learning languages at uni?

Speaking! I go to every conversation class because I really enjoy it; I find it a bit harder to motivate myself for the grammar classes!

What made you decide to do a PGCE?

As part of the Routes into Languages project I went into schools. In one school I volunteered to go into the class notorious for playing-up and not working because I was the only final year student so I thought it only fair. The pupils had no faith in themselves and had a real defeatist attitude, so I sat down with one boy in particular and helped him for only around 10 minutes. After that, he had pretty much memorised a 1-2 minute role-play and all of a sudden was reading off an A4 sheet perfectly and had almost memorised it. I really enjoyed seeing the effect my encouragement, help and positivity had given by telling him he could actually do it and then watch him prove it – I’ve always enjoyed teaching a lot more than learning!

How would you sum it all up in one word?

Life-changing.

So many people see it as hard and difficult things to go on a year abroad, but no, just do it and it’ll be the most amazing thing