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Group of people outside Town Hall holding plates

Secondary-school pupils from County Durham recently became certified ‘language detectives’ after completing a series of after-school sessions delivered by School of Modern Languages & Cultures undergraduates, who acted as language ambassadors.

The pupils put their language skills to the test in a code-breaking exercise, learned about how languages are linked, what careers a modern languages degree can lead to and how translation works. They also had taster sessions of Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Russian and Spanish, so they could discover what studying these languages at university is like.

The pupils were also welcomed to the Town Hall for some tapas. Councillor Watts Stelling explained that the event formed part of the Durham’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025, adding ‘we’re proud to be involved in events and programmes such as these, which encourage young people to broaden their horizons and explore more about wider cultures throughout the world’. The newly certified language detectives will promote language learning to Year 7 and Year 8 pupils, as well as in local primary schools. Penny Johnson, who organized the programme, said ‘our language ambassadors did a tremendous job and we have received very positive feedback from both the secondary teachers and the pupils involved. Many have told their teachers that this experience has encouraged them to consider studying languages in the future’.

Earlier this year, pupils from three local primary schools joined ‘Children’s University’ events where they had mini-lectures on topics such as ‘Italian Woman Making History’ and ‘Dangerous Animals in Latin American Literature’ and asked questions about university study. Organizers Laura Lewis and Claudia Nitschke commented: ‘We were inspired by the many questions the pupils had and the keen interest they showed in the workings of the university and the School of Modern Languages & Cultures in particular. The feedback from the teachers has been positive throughout and we are looking to run a hybrid version of the Children’s University this year, potentially including topics that are even more carefully aligned to the primary school curriculum’.

These events form part of the School’s strategy to encourage language learning at primary and secondary school level locally, and to diversify its student recruitment. Thomas Wynn, director of admissions, noted that ‘as well as adding French to our portfolio of languages that can be studied from scratch at Durham, we are looking at additional ways to bridge the gap between school and university. We are excited to launch the alumna-funded Helen Sharp Undergraduate Scholarship in Modern Languages, which supports a talented student from a low-income background’.