English and Modern Languages Interviews

The best place to start is Oxford's official information on preparing for interviews. But after you've looked there, read on to hear some students talk about their English and Modern Languages interviews.

Rebecca Henderson

During my French interview I was asked "Is this text written or spoken?", to which I responded "Written - this is a sheet of paper." There was a moment of silence, during which I think the interviewers thought I was joking, and in which I panicked thinking at that point my chances were over... I was incredibly nervous (I have social anxiety) so speaking in French during my interview was really hard and I made lots of mistakes. However, the tutor did a really good job at putting me at ease. We started off talking about my written work (it was on 'Kiffe Kiffe Demain' and immigration - fairly standard A Level stuff) then moved onto more general questions about identity and immigration. It was tough, but not unmanageable and I found I was able to really stretch my abilities. It wasn't perfect, but I never gave up (even when gesticulating and describing sheep as "white and black soft things" because I'd forgotten the word...)

In both interviews, questions started on literature I had read and topics I had studied, then moved more generally with questions like:

  • "Why should we bother with medieval literature?"
  • "Can we ever know what Shakespeare meant?"
  • "What's your biggest challenge as a literary critic - is criticism useful if as critics we have limitations?"
  • "What's the difference between written speech in a book, and recorded dialogue? Can you tell?"
  • "Should we apply terms like 'feminist' to Chaucer? And if not, can you suggest a kind of framework we could use instead?"
  • "Both play X and play Y that you've mentioned on your personal statement are from the same period and tackle similar themes, but they're written in really different ways. Why do you think that is?"
Rebecca, St Anne's, student from 2013
Harriette Drew

I was mostly asked about the poem I had prepared in the half an hour before the interview . Then I was asked a little bit about my personal statement and one or two more general questions which I couldn't have prepared for. In the German interview, they asked my one very simple question about my holidays in German, but in both the focus was primarily on the unseen poems.

Harriette, Queen's, student from 2014
Lucy Mordaunt

I had three interviews - two at the college I applied to (one French and one English) and then one at another college which ended up offering me a place.

I had 20 minutes to read/annotate a French poem before my first interview and then my interviewers asked me some questions about it; we then talked about the narrative of a book I'd mentioned in my personal statement. They then asked me some questions about my French work experience in French - which I thought I'd struggle with, but it was actually ok. In my English interview we talked about a poem I had mentioned in my PS and also some of my reading since applying to Oxford. I was also given a medieval poem to read/discuss during the interview which I really really struggled with and thought I could say goodbye to any hopes of getting a place. In my third interview at another college it was joint French and English - I was given a choice out of a French or English poem to read beforehand and the French also had an English translation. I discussed the French poem with the French tutor and my PS with the English tutor.

The thing I was asked about most of all was narrative structure and techniques used by authors in the books I had read, which stretched me a bit because it wasn't something I'd really talked about before. I think also the tutors like you to compare stuff you've been reading if possible - I was asked about the portrayal of adolescence in Lolita compared to Emma by Jane Austen and The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (these were all books I had talked about in my statement).

Also the tutors are largely really understanding and give you the chance to guide the direction of the discussion to some extent. A couple of things I wasn't asked about at all were why I'd chosen my course/college or about my hobbies! So I would say don't waste time practicing responses to anything like that.

Lucy, Queen's, student from 2015

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