European and Middle Eastern Languages

Lydie Sheehan

I really enjoyed studying languages and I was torn between studying a completely new, non‐European language such as Chinese, or studying more than one language ‐ then I found out with the EMEL (European and Middle Eastern Languages) course you can do both. I liked the sound of the course as it meant I could study something completely new (Arabic) as well as continue with a language I already had significant knowledge of (French). I love learning more about two very different subjects and cultures. On the Arabic side of things, especially in first year, everything is fresh and new and so any small step, from learning the alphabet to completing your first translation, feels like a big achievement, which is really rewarding. Meanwhile with French there’s really no limit to what you’re expected to know, particularly in terms of vocabulary, so there’s a constant need to stay on top of things and become ever more fluent. My best experience has been going abroad!

As much as the Oxford experience itself is fantastic, spending eight months living and studying in Jordan was really special. Being able to put my language skills into practice was great, especially since much of the focus of the rest of the degree is more geared towards literary texts and translation.

Lydie, Pembroke, student from 2013

My main reason for choosing Oxford for my course – German and Turkish - was because it was the only university in the country to offer it, which I think is rather silly as the languages so obviously complement each other! Although the tutorials and grammar classes can be completely exhausting, I come out knowing far more on one text or one grammar point than I ever thought possible. To me, the depth of knowledge that I get and the fact that, by the end of my course, I’ll know three languages is what makes it perfect.

Despite only being here for one year, I already have great memories such as eating Turkish food during a late night grammar session or seeing a performance of one of the German set plays, ‘Von morgens bis mitternachts' (From Morn to Midnight) by Georg Kaiser, in London.

Sara, St Hilda's, student from 2013

For the first year of EMEL, you have 12 contact hours: seven hours for your Middle Eastern language and around five for the European language. Initially, the focus of the Middle Eastern language learning is on pure, intense grammar but halfway through the year, you begin to study short texts. Meanwhile, the European language study focuses on the literature, history and culture of the country as well as the language. Second-year is spent abroad in the two countries that so you have a chance to improve both languages. You attend a language course in the Middle Eastern country and have the opportunity to attend a university in the European country. The workload increases slightly in third and fourth year but console yourself with the fact that there are no important exams in third year and, in fourth year, you get to write a bridging essay on an aspect of your choice that combines both languages!

What makes Oxford different?

  • Not many people can speak a Middle Eastern language. For example, you get a great reaction from everybody when you tell them that you study German and TURKISH.
  • Oxford offers you loads of opportunities to improve your language through summer schools, internships and translation services.
  • The plays, prose and poetry studied are beautifully written works of literature that you might not otherwise have read.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Lydie Sheehan

On the French side I just read as much as possible. Poetry was particularly important as it’s not necessarily something that the average student reads in their free time but it will become an important an area of study if you pursue a French degree.

For Arabic I read ‘A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani which is scarily long but it doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover and gives a great overview.

Lydie, Pembroke, student from 2013

Tell us about your interview?

Persian Interview: For my interview at college I was given a poem by an Iranian-American poet and asked to comment on it. For example, I was asked about what I thought the main imagery of the poem represented etc. In my answers I tried to relate my comments as much as I could to my knowledge of Persian culture and language. Furthermore I talked about poetry in a more general sense and compared the text with other poems I had read by both English and Persian poets. Then, as I had talked about my interest in colonialism in my personal statement, the tutor asked me questions about the lasting impact of colonialism on the Middle East in general. In response to this I spoke about colonialism in a broad sense before focussing specifically on the impact it has had in shaping the Arab-Israeli conflict.

French Interview: For both of my French interviews I was asked to comment on poetry. In the first interview the poem was in French and discussed in English whilst in the second it was the opposite. After general discussion of the themes of the poetry I was asked to link it to my broader reading. I was also asked about the books I had studied at A level and had to defend my position on the themes and philosophy of the book. As the tutor was a specialist in the field we were discussing I was frequently challenged on my views but tried to stick with them whilst acknowledging where they may have been faulty.

Alex, Wadham, student from 2015

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years (with a year abroad)
Students per year: 7

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying Oriental Studies or Modern Languages (or even consider applying for those courses!).