Oxford Languages Summer Placement

Oxford Languages Summer Placement

Each year Oxford Languages offers summer placement positions, for two candidates to work on various lexical projects within the department.  Our interns from 2021 reflect on their experiences:

What made you want to take part in the Oxford Languages summer placement?

Lucy Wilson: I am interested in and have experience in writing, research and editing. The job description looked like work I would enjoy and I was curious about what the work ‘behind the scenes’ of the dictionary was like. It seemed like a great experience to work with a hugely recognisable company in a job that looked exciting.

Suzy Bott: I was first and foremost drawn to the idea of lifting the curtain on all of the work that goes into creating such world-renowned dictionaries and a cherished household name. Furthermore, as a foreign languages graduate and Master’s student of editing and translation, I was keen to learn about the role of a lexicographer, a profession in the language industry that I knew relatively little about. Finally, I was also excited to put my linguistic skills to use in a completely new way – opening the aptitude test to see questions on sense disambiguation and collocations was all I needed to know that this internship was going to be right up my street!

What have you learnt during your time at Oxford Languages?

Lucy: I’ve learnt that Oxford Languages is much more than just the OED. I had no idea of the scale of it before I started this placement. I have learnt about all the work that goes into editing a dictionary and keeping it updated. I’ve learnt about the process of new words entering the dictionary and how new words are decided upon which was something I was particularly curious about before I started.

Suzy: I really feel that I have learnt a great deal during my placement. For example, I have learnt a lot about both the number and the scale of the projects carried out by Oxford Languages. I now appreciate the extent to which the dictionaries are very much ‘living’ in the sense that they are continuously undergoing a meticulous revision process that has no definitive end. The teams are perpetually monitoring how language is actually used, taking a descriptive approach to the English language – describing how language is used, seen and heard in the world – as opposed to a prescriptive approach which tries to dictate how English ‘should’be used. As a result, Oxford Languages staff members have to keep their ears to the ground, listening to the public, field experts and licensees, ready to react to constantly changing times.

Furthermore, even though the Oxford Languages dictionaries are widely considered the authoritative voice on the English language, and rightly so, I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that the people who work here will be the first to admit that the dictionaries are not perfect! (That being said, you can rest assured that everyone on the team is trying their hardest to get it as close to perfect as possible).

No other dictionary in the world has as many in-house teams of expert lexicographers, etymologists and bibliographers, just to name a few, working year in year out on dictionary projects. But what is great is that the public have a role to play, too, as the extra eyes and ears for the dictionaries, helping pick up the occasional mistakes and oversights that might get through, or alerting the team to problematic or outdated dictionary entries.

Do you feel that your time here will help you in the future?

Lucy: I think my time here will very much help me in the future. I think I have learnt skills and gained experiences that will be transferable to the kind of jobs I hope to apply for in the near future. It has also widened my knowledge about different jobs I wasn’t aware of before.

Suzy: I do think that my time with Oxford Languages will help me in the future. For one, having worked on a different project every week, I have learnt that I am very capable of switching between different ways of working and quickly getting to grips with new pieces of software, databases and corpora. I now understand how to navigate and make the most of resources such as the various Oxford dictionaries, Sketch Engine and the HTOED, as well as free resources such as Google Books and Twitter, to assess the frequency of a given word, its collocations and the different ways it is used across the world. As I go on to pursue a career in translation and editing, this knowledge and the time I have spent further improving my attention to detail, my ability to identify subtle nuances between senses of the same word and related words, and my capacity to deal with unfamiliar and potentially specialised material, will undoubtedly be useful for my future work. Finally, I hope to continue to cross paths with the people I have met here at Oxford Languages – it is always helpful to know a team of word specialists and language lovers!

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.