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Language learning

Screenshot from Duolingo

Screenshot from Duolingo. Credit: Kristian Bjornand

One of the challenges of learning a foreign language is that you're constantly learning new vocabulary and grammar, yet you also need to meet words that you've previously learnt regularly enough for them to stick in your mind and become part of your active vocabulary.

Here are some resources that you may find useful and enjoyable:

Reading in your language is an important habit to get into. It is not easy, but the more you do it, the more enjoyable it becomes. Do ask your teacher to recommend texts that you could try at your current language level, and look at magazines / newspapers as well.

Parallel text book cover

Credit: Damian Cugley

There are a range of ways to approach reading, and it's good to vary what you're doing. Sometimes you might read a short passage and look lots of words up, other times you could read to get the gist, and only interrupt yourself to look occasional words up. You may also like to explore parallel texts, as these have the language you're learning on one side and the text in English on the other, which can be very helpful.

Date posted: 

Thursday 26 June 2014

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In Our Time

Students discuss their work with their supervisior in a King's supervision.A King's supervision in progress

What do we mean when we say that we're looking for students who can think critically and independently?

Listening to Radio 4's In Our Time programme will give you an insight into what Cambridge is looking for in our students, our methods of teaching and learning, and our interviews. Each week, presenter Melvyn Bragg discusses a topic in depth with three academics.  You'll notice how in the course of forty-five minutes the guests identify the key questions to be addressed, examine all sides of the debate, frame clear and confident arguments of their own, and engage enthusiastically and flexibly with each other. Much of the teaching and learning at Cambridge happens in similar small group discussions, known as supervisions. In many respects, our interviews model the format of a supervision, so that we admit the students who will benefit most from this style of teaching.

But most importantly, tuning into In Our Time will give you insight into your subject, whatever it may be! The BBC has an archive of 646 programmes and counting, which cover wide-ranging topics in culture, history, philosophy, religion, and science. Last week, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed the philosophy of solitude.  This week, they'll discuss the medieval writer and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Whatever your interests, you'll find a relevant programme.  You're just as likely to become fascinated by a topic you'd never heard of or thought about before.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 25 June 2014

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Universities Celebrate the Tour de France in Yorkshire and Cambridge

Bicyles outside King's College, CambridgeBicyles outside King's Credit: Paul Shirley

The Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 is coming to Britain!

Stage 1: Leeds to Harrogate

The University of Leeds has been counting down to the start of Stage 1 with a timepiece crafted by Engineering students, among other events.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds is showing Maxine Peake's tribute to British cycling champion Beryl Burton from 30 June to 19 July. The theatre is also host to a panel discussion on women in sport on 30 June.

Stage 2: York to Sheffield

The University of York cycled the solar system last weekend in readiness for Stage 2.

Academics from Sheffield Hallam University will lead athletes and commentators in a discussion of the Tour de France's impact on science and techology, health, and economy in its Science of Cycling event on 30 June.

Stage 3: Cambridge to London

The peloton will roll past King's College at the start of Stage 3. The University of Cambridge Museums are marking the occasion. The Polar Museum is holding an exhibition called 'Reinventing the Wheel: Bicyles in the Polar Regions' from 10am to 4pm on 1 - 12 July. The Fitzwilliam is hosting Cambridge Cycle of Songs on the steps of the museum from 11.30 to 12.30 on 7 July.  Local school choirs will sing from nine pieces specially commissioned from composers and poets to celebrate iconic locations along the Tour's route in Cambridge.

As the Tour crosses the English Channel again, Britain's celebration of the bicycle continues. The annual Stockton Cycling Festival returns on 11 - 13 July.

Date posted: 

Tuesday 24 June 2014

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Tails You Win: The Science of Chance

There is another opportunity to watch David Spiegelhalter's Tails You Win: The Science of Chance documentary on the BBC iPlayer. David Spiegelhalter is "Professor Risk," or more properly Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. He shows us how to use (or how not to use!) statistics to understand the risks we face in everyday life.

Read more of David Spiegelhalter's work on his Understanding Uncertainty website and in the archive of his columns for Plus magazine.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 18 June 2014

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Summer Science Exhibition in London (1-6 July)

What do you know about the evolution of butterflies?
Credit: Dennis Jarvis (cropped)

The Royal Society has an annual display of the most exciting cutting-edge science and technology in the UK, including everything from artifical intelligence and car crash investigation to tropical storms, ultrasonic waves, and immune-bacterial interactions

Do make a note if you live close enough to visit. The dates are 1-6 July this year, and the exhibition will take place at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG (near Charring Cross tube station).

See the exhibition website, which includes details of the events and exhibits.

Date posted: 

Friday 13 June 2014

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Slavery: Past and Present

Anti-Slavery Graffiti by Paul Don Smith

Street art by Paul Don Smith. Credit: MsSaraKelly

The Queen's Speech last week included the announcement of a Modern Slavery Bill, which promises to strengthen the prosecution of  human traffickers and improve the protection of victims.

The University of Hull's Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation hosts research into both historical forms of slavery and contemporary forms of enslavement. You can watch Prof. Catherine Hall (UCL) deliver the Institute's Annual Alderman Sydney Smith Lecture on 'Re-thinking the Legacies of Slavery.'

Hull Museums have extensive collections celebrating the work of local son and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833). You can visit Wilberforce House Museum to see the collections for yourself.

Liverpool is home to the International Slavery Museum.

M Shed in Bristol reflects on the city's role in the slave trade. You can visit the museum, or browse its Transatlantic Slave Trade collection online.

The University of Cambridge offers some resources for the study of slavery here.

Anti-Slavery Day is on Saturday 18 October this year. How will you mark it?

Date posted: 

Wednesday 11 June 2014

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Fantasy GCSE Set Texts

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Credit: tonynetone

What set texts did you read for your GCSE English Literature?

In the Guardian this weekend, authors chose the set texts they would like GCSE students to read.  Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard took the opportunity to 'bring in the classical world by the back door, via some great works of English literature.' She set William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599); Robert Graves, I Claudius (1934); Chrisopher Logue, War Music (1959 - 2011); and Carol Ann Duffy, The World's Wife (1999).

  • Which texts would you set GCSE students?
  • In making your choice, what is the most important consideration?  Introducing students to classic works, or engaging their interests?  Representing a range of literary genres and periods, or promoting particular approaches and topics?  Capturing the national heritage, or celebrating cultural diversity?

Date posted: 

Monday 9 June 2014

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'Eugene' Passes the Turing Test

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

Sixty-five years ago, King's mathematician and pioneer computer scientist Alan Turing famously asked 'Can Machines Think?' To answer his own question, he conceived a test in which questions would be put to both a human and a machine, in an attempt to distinguish one from another.  On Saturday, the Turing Test was passed for the very first time by supercomputer 'Eugene Goostman,' which convinced some of the judges that it was a thirteen year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine.

  • Is 'Eugene' really thinking?
  • What are the limits to artificial intelligence?

Find out more about the successful Turing Test 2014, organised by the University of Reading and hosted by the Royal Society.

Talk to 'Eugene' yourself (you may have difficulty accessing this site due to the extent of public interest at the moment!)

Read more about the sixty-five year history of the Turing Test in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Date posted: 

Monday 9 June 2014

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Universities Week: 9 - 15 June 2014

Elvet Bridge, Durham

Elvet Bridge on the River Wear, Durham. Credit: Tim Rawle

Next week is Universities Week! From Monday 9 to Sunday 15 June, universities across the UK are inviting us to be inspired, get involved and discover the work that they are doing to improve the way we live our lives.

As part of Universities Week 2014, you can...

  • Dive into Durham. Find out about the amazing discoveries made by Gary Bankhead, underwater archaeologist at the University of Durham, in the River Wear.  The exhibition opens at Palace Green Library, Durham, on Saturday 7 June
  • Try to tell a human from a machine at Turing 2014.  King's mathematician Alan Turing famously asked 'Can machines think?'  The University of Reading is conducting live Turing tests - pitting man against machine - at the Royal Society in London on Saturday 7 June
  • View the Cleveland College of Art and Design's Degree Exhibition 2014.  The students' work will be showcased to the public at Church Square, Hartlepool from Friday 6 to Saturday 14 June

Find an event near you.

Date posted: 

Thursday 5 June 2014

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Vice Chancellor celebrates Britain's 'living languages'

Italian books

Credit: Helder da Rocha (cropped)

Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, yesterday made a persuasive case for learning languages.  He was speaking from personal experience; as the Welsh-born son of Polish refugees,  he spoke Polish at home and learned English when he began school at the age of five.  He has found that bilingualism is an asset, both to the individual and to the nation:

These are real languages: living languages that give people a huge insight into culture and give the children who can speak them additional opportunities.

'I'd love to see more children in Britain having more than one language,' he concluded.

Cambridge offers opportunities to learn and use languages in its Modern and Medieval Languages, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, and Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic courses.

Whether or not you study a language as part of your degree, you can always take a language course alongside your undergraduate studies. The MML Certificate and Diploma is available, both for students starting new languages, or those continuing a language they studied at school. There are also a range of Language Centre Courses, as well as opportunities to study a language independently using the Language Centre's resources.  The Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Department provides free classes in Modern Icelandic and Irish.  There are also more informal opportunities to learn and speak a foreign language.  Student societies organise conversation meetings, such as the CU German Society's Stammtisch where society members meet in the pub to socialise in German.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 4 June 2014

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