A privilege and a pleasure: Professor Ian Roberts reviews OPS 2015

A privilege and a pleasure: OPS 2015
Professor Ian Roberts

It has been wonderful to receive such inspired and inspiring feedback from the teachers who attended OPS 2015. I was particularly heartened by this response from the MFL subject leader of a sixth-form college in the West Midlands:

It is such a privilege to be able to learn new concepts, and to widen and enrich existing knowledge. It has been a great pleasure to talk with colleagues from other institutions and sectors.”

These are the two central aims of the Oliver Prior Society, which is now enjoying its second year of revival.

In all, 104 delegates travelled to my college, Downing, for the two-day meeting on 29 and 30 March 2015. Members of the MML Faculty at Cambridge mixed with secondary-level teachers from all sectors and from across the country representing 65 different schools. Several longstanding members of the Society were present, including one delegate who has been coming to OPS annual meetings for the past 50 years. We were joined by friends and colleagues from Alliance Française de Cambridge, the University of Exeter, Routes Into Languages East, and several other national organisations supporting language teachers. We knew that with such a diverse mix of delegates we were set for a lively and stimulating annual meeting.

Elspeth and Sarah

Photo: Perry Hastings

 Elspeth Wilson and Sarah Schechter hear from the Cambridge Bilingualism Network

Once again, I was very grateful for the willingness of colleagues in the Faculty to share their current research, giving our teachers real insight into what the learning experience is like for MML undergraduates at Cambridge. Rory O’Bryen opened OPS 2015 with a fascinating presentation about the works of nineteenth-century Colombian poet Candelario Obeso. The lively round of questions from the audience that followed Dr O’Bryen’s talk really set the tone for the rest of the meeting: throughout, there was a delightful exchange of knowledge and expertise. We remained in the nineteenth century with Nick White, who introduced us to his research on the cultural legacy of the Franco-Prussian War. Dr White explained how this project exploring “the war before the First World War” gets to grips with the use of the language of war in unexpected contexts – in commentary of the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and Germany, for instance – in order to understand how history speaks to the present moment, especially as Europe reconstructs its identity. Identity politics were also central to Abigail Brundin’s lecture on the seventeenth-century proto-feminist nun Arcangela Tarabotti, who developed a powerful political voice that was heard far beyond the convent walls. Remarkably, Dr Brundin showed how Tarabotti’s writing retains its empowering potential today.

Photo: Perry Hastings

Photo: Perry Hastings

Dr Abigail Brundin speaking in the Howard Theatre, Downing College

In her talk, Henriëtte Hendriks questioned whether language shapes the way we think, and encouraged audience participation through on-the-spot- translation exercises. Teachers commented afterwards on the value of this research, as they find themselves so often working with students whose first language isn’t English. Bilingualism was something of a theme for OPS 2015, providing us with opportunities to talk freely about pressing political and social issues. We were fortunate enough to hear from Sarah Schechter, Project Manager of Routes Into Languages East, about the many and various initiatives rolled out locally and nationally to encourage language learning at secondary level. Clips from entries to the Routes Spelling Bee, Language on Film, and Sing to the Future: Language Beatz competitions were not only impressive, but thoroughly entertaining. The Vice Chancellor made an appearance (albeit virtual!) at lunchtime, as doctoral candidate Elspeth Wilson and Dr Theodora Alexopoulou screened a short film produced by the Cambridge Bilingualism Network. Your Languages, Your Future emphasises both the importance of proficiency in a second language for any number of careers and the need to recognise and validate all the languages children might be using at home. The film was a perfect complement to the persuasive after dinner speech given by Cambridge Language Centre Director, Jocelyn Wyburd. We didn’t mind at all that Jocelyn threw cautionary etiquette to the wind in talking politics, as she grappled with the possible outcomes of the forthcoming General Election and the potential impact of new departures in education policy on teachers nationwide.

Photo: Perry Hastings

Photo: Perry Hastings

Delegates lead the discussion in the closing Q&A

The Q&A session that closed the event on Monday afternoon was driven and energised by our delegates.  Queries and concerns regarding university admissions procedures were raised frankly and responded to constructively by the MML Faculty panel in the hope that the most able A Level students increase their assurance and develop the ambition to pursue languages to degree-level.

To borrow from one of our delegates, I must say that it was a pleasure and a privilege to preside over the success of OPS 2015. And although I step down as President of the Oliver Prior Society at the end of this year, I have every confidence that the society will continue to go from strength to strength.

If you would like more information or would like to become involved, please visit our website www.oliverpriorsociety.org or write to us at oliverpriorsociety@gmail.com

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