May 9, 2023, by Lauren
Interview: What’s it like studying a language alongside your degree?
Studying a degree means you can completely immerse yourself in your subject. But when you’ve decided upon your favourite subject, the one that you are staking your entire future on, it can feel conflicting if you’re also interested in studying a language.
The University of Nottingham’s Language Centre gives you the chance to study a language alongside your degree (or just for a semester!). Niamh and Alfred joined me to talk about the centre.
Being proficient in another language is an excellent skill and university is an ideal time to practise it. What makes the Language Centre a helpful learning environment?
Niamh: I would say it’s the area of the university that has most felt like a community. In a seminar group, we’ve had another member of staff drop by and come around and chat with everyone and learn alongside us, just to see how they were getting settled.
Everyone in your class is in the same boat, and at the same level, whereas in bigger degrees it might be different. With a language, because you’re all together, you all support each other. It’s a really friendly environment. I’ve got my 2-hour lecture in a few hours, 4 till 6, and I look forward to that. It feels like you’re going to see a nice small group of your mates and just have a chat in a different language. I just find that really cool.
Alfred: I love the community aspects because we’re all doing different degrees in our Mandarin class, which is quite nice. But everyone also wants to learn the language, so that’s really great.
You’re both passionate about the language you’re studying but aren’t doing it as a degree. How do you think the language skills will fit into your future?
Alfred: Thanks to starting Chinese, I’ve become really interested in Chinese politics. So I’ve been picking modules based on that, which I probably wouldn’t have done before. I’m considering studying in China for a master’s or something similar.
Also, me and one of my classmates have applied for a four-week scholarship this summer to go to China. That’s an amazing opportunity that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t decided to learn a language at university.
Niamh: I’m a bit of a “Film-head” but I like having Spanish as this skill set that I’ve got tucked away, because film is quite an unreliable industry. Having Spanish has always been a comfort to me. If I can develop it, then I’m not just completely throwing myself in the deep end.
Alfred, tell us more about that scholarship, like how did you apply?
Alfred: We applied to go to university in Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China. We applied through the Confucius Institutes, so not through the Language Centre.
That allowed us to take an exam in March, which you have do to be able to apply for the scholarship. It’s from July to August for four weeks. You can be any language level, but as long as you have a level you can apply.
It takes a while to get the hang of even one type of assessment at university. Each department has different marking criteria. Are language assessments an extra challenge?
Alfred: Yeah, it can be a challenge because for politics, the coursework is very different to what we do for language. But I like that variety.
Doing essays can get quite long, whereas with language exams, it’s quite nice to have something I was familiar with during school.
Niamh: I think what makes it different at this level is that it feels like you are being trained for a life in this area. I’ve got my Spanish oral coming up, in the form of a mock job interview. And that makes it feel more worthwhile to really push yourself because it replicates a real-life situation that you might use that for.
So whereas before I had felt a bit disillusioned thinking, “in real life, am I going to get asked like, how many pets I have?”, now I am asked subject specific and relevant questions. I think it does give you motivation to manage it all.
Any final thoughts?
Alfred: I’m really, really glad that I picked Mandarin. I’m still able to focus on my degree, so I think it’s a great idea. It definitely adds more variety. With the Chinese politics, it made me realise that I’m really interested in something that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
Niamh: Like Alfred said, I’ve never had the chance to study abroad before. So that would be an absolute dream come true. I’ve really been looking into it. I think it’s something that I definitely can see myself doing and as part of my future career.
Want to know more about the language centre? Head over to their webpage, Thanks very much for your time, Niamh and Alfred. It was fantastic to talk to you both!
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