Runner up in the student award 2007: What advice would you give to students starting your course?

Author: Heather Brunt


Heather Brunt, a final year French student, is a runner up in the Subject Centre's undergraduate student essay competition 2007.

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Before coming to University I thought the course would be intense and require a lot of work and preparation; I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up. I remember somebody mentioning the 'past historic' on an open day and being frightened - I didn't know what it was! Although the workload is more intense than previous levels require, the course tutors are very facilitating and only an e-mail away! The work set is challenging, but if I ever have any problems, I simply e-mail the tutor concerned and arrange a time to meet up. Mostly though, there are no problems, as topics are covered as a class, before tasks are set for individual study. The Language Centre at my University provides an excellent service - you have access to all the course material here, any tapes, videos, transcripts that you may require and it's open every day for students to use. Take advantage of these facilities and try to do your work in this kind of environment rather than at home.

The best way of improving your fluency and grasp of a language is to talk it with someone else, preferably a native who will be able to tell when you slip up, or teach you any slang or colloquial language used, which would be useful for your year abroad.


The most invaluable piece of advice for students starting a Language course is ensure that you are prepared each week for seminars and classes. Do any work a couple of days in advance so if you do have any problems with it you can go through it more thoroughly or ask the tutor for help - they are always willing to do this. Follow-up reading or exercises which are set, but not checked or absolutely required, are well worth doing; they are relevant and help to clarify the main points covered in seminars and lectures. Make it easier for yourself by doing any reading or learning weekly, as advised in the module booklet; going through it little by little means that it's easier to digest and more likely to stick in your mind. It also helps out when it comes to writing coursework or assignments; you can browse through the notes you have previously made and highlight those which are relevant. Be careful that coursework for different modules is normally always due in at the same time so you need to allow for this.

Participation in oral classes and seminars is highly important so make sure you are well prepared and have something to say. Don't sit back and let the one over-enthusiastic person do all the talking - interrupt if needs be or disagree with a point made to make sure your voice is heard. The teacher will recognise and appreciate your participation and you will also feel like you have gained a lot more.

Group work on a language project is a great way of getting to know other people on your course and sharing your ideas with them. I loved the group meetings during the first year, where we prepared for a group assignment - the boys would make us flapjacks and bring them to the meetings! (Unfortunately I cannot guarantee you would receive the same treatment!)

Try joining any language societies there are as they are again a good way of getting to know people and to having something in common with them. The societies organise socials, events and outings and I've had some great nights out; it's something to talk about with your friends before lectures - just make sure it's not because you did something embarrassing!

Make sure you buy the essential course-books; they are invaluable and tutors always use them to set individual work so don't rely on borrowing your friends' book and photocopying the relevant pages - it's too much hassle! If money is an issue, buy the books as 'used' off the internet; this is what I do myself as you end up saving about half the price and they're delivered straight to your door! Also, if you keep your books in good condition, you too can then sell them online when you've finished using them.

The best way of improving your fluency and grasp of a language is to talk it with someone else, preferably a native who will be able to tell when you slip up, or teach you any slang or colloquial language used, which would be useful for your year abroad. Most universities offer a 'tandem' service where students can meet up with a foreign student to speak the language for an hour or so a week. Just write down the time you're available (try and fit it in between lectures when you're already on campus) and the University will find a student who is available to meet up with you at that time.

Most Universities now offer access to foreign television. This is a great way of learning the spoken language but also a way of finding out about the culture of the country. Watch the news to find out about current affairs or a comedy programme to learn about their sense of humour. Do try and take advantage of the facilities which the University has to offer - they are completely helpful towards you gaining a better understanding of the language and culture.


Remember that language courses at University are not of the same structure as most other higher education courses. Whereas most tend to last for three years, language courses last for at least 4 years, as the third one is spent abroad. Students return back in the fourth year to complete the final year of their course; however at this stage most of your friends will have left. Bear this in mind when thinking about who you are going to live with - remember that your situation is not the same as most other students, so try to get friendly with people from your course as soon as possible, as friendship groups are often established and formed quite quickly. Really try and throw yourself into the University life and make the most of the experience, without neglecting your studies! Remember to organise your time well and prepare in advance for assignments and seminars.