Modern Languages

Matt Hines

What do I enjoy most about my course? Freedom! Modern Languages at Oxford your degree really is your degree, and it’s exciting that everyone is doing something different; in such a large university with centuries of history, you still feel like an individual doing something new.

Matt, Queen's, student from 2014
Emma Beddall

I decided to study Modern Languages because I really enjoy learning languages! My studies keep me interested as we learn through a very wide variety of activities to develop all the different skills required when studying languages. It is also very rewarding to be able to converse with other people in their own language or read foreign books in their original form, especially when I can see the improvement in my language skills over time. What have I enjoyed most about studying French and German? While I appreciated the variety of texts we studied during first year, I have really enjoyed being able to specialise in my second year and beyond. I’ve ended up studying quite a number of Medieval options, a really fascinating area of study that is usually hard to access elsewhere. My best experience so far was participating in a conference on Medieval German at the University of Bonn, where I had the amazing opportunity to present a topic in the presence of world-leading academics from Bonn and Oxford. I’ve also enjoyed spending time abroad during the summer vacations, so I’m looking forward to studying in Germany during my year abroad and seeing how it compares to Oxford.

Emma, Somerville, student from 2013
Carolina Bax

I've always loved literature and language learning, having been bought up in a bilingual family environment, has been something that comes naturally to me. I think I tried convincing myself I should be applying for other subjects, but ultimately when it came to choosing, I picked the one which I thought would be most enjoyable - I have never for a minute regretted my choice! I really love my course, and one of the things that I think is the best is how through studying literature you can span not only other literary classics by authors of other nationalities but also philosophy and history. The feeling of smugness in being able to read important works in their original language also never really stops being a novelty for me… I’ve got to say that one of the best ways to remind yourself, in times you might have forgotten, why you chose your course, is to take on activities or go to exhibitions, talks, or films which are related to your subject. However, my best memory has been a one-on-one tutorial (I promise this is true!) in March 2015, where I wrote about Der Vorleser. I’d had good tutorials before, but this one was almost mindblowing – I’d loved the book so much that I’d ended up writing 6,000 words on it, and the discussion I had with my tutor about morality lasted over an hour and left me feeling elated!

Carolina, St Hilda's, student from 2013

I found the course challenging at first, as studying literature in another language can be daunting but you’re given so much support and feedback on your work that you soon get used to it and I felt more confident after only a few weeks. I initially found language work here frustrating as it’s based on literary translation, but soon got the hang of it and find that it links in well with the ‘Content’ side of my course. Speaking classes are few and far between until fourth year, which is certainly a downside to the course at Oxford.

My year abroad in third-year has to be the most memorable part of my course. Not only did I gain a year’s work experience, I lived in two very different countries. I taught English in a Technical School in Toulon (in the sunny South of France), and learnt the local dialect, Provençal. For the second half of my year abroad, I went to Paraguay where I volunteered for an education charity, teaching French and English to members of a small community. It was an amazing and very broadening experience that I’ll never forget.

Danny, St Anne's, student from 2010

Modern Languages at Oxford is one of the most flexible and open courses around – not least because there are so many combinations to choose from. The first year course is fixed with a half and half split on language and literature, which provides you with the solid base needed to progress successfully in your degree. From then on, however, you could be a pure medievalist, a modernist, or anything and everything in the middle. Then before you know it, you’ll be off on your year abroad, ready to explore your own interests further. You can teach English, work and study on your year abroad, and in each case you'll alway have University funding!

Lectures are about 4-5 hours per subject, on average, each week. Tutorials will always be at least one per subject a week, and they tend to increase in Trinity as the exam term draws closer and you may have things such as revision tutorials. You tend to have grammar classes regularly for each language in first year.

What makes Oxford different?

The strong focus on studying literature definitely distinguishes it from other courses at other universities and offers strong links to other subjects, whether it's philosophy, history, or classics! The teaching is extremely focused on you and means you’ll be evaluated in your development through university as an individual: your improvements and your relationships with your tutors will be the first place you’ll notice this.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Louise Chegwidden

Read some French literature or poetry. Maupassant does some good short stories which can be found online for free and give a good insight into French literature.

Louise, St John's, student from 2014
Violetta Kundu

Candide, Voltaire - my favourite French book that I studied for A-level.

Any Italian poetry - I never did that much poetry before university, and think that if I had at least touched on some famous poems by key Italian writers, I would have felt more confident.

Any resources that you make use of, relating to your subject, will help you academically. If you find them useful and interesting, this is what tutors will want to hear about in your interview. There's no right or wrong book.

Violetta, Christ Church, student from 2013

The book Stasiland by Anna Funder was very insightful and easy to read. It made me want to find out more about East Germany and German history.

Tamanna, Somerville, student from 2013
Imogen Howarth

TV station streams - most national TV stations in the target language's country offer live streams or catch up available in the UK which provide hours of listening to native speakers.

Duolingo and Memrise - for ab initio languages. Duolingo provides a good introduction to basic grammar and vocabulary (although it doesn't properly teach it and should be topped up with more in depth grammar teaching) and Memrise is a vocabulary learning platform. Both require accounts but are entirely free.

Imogen, Queen's, student from 2015
Matt Hines

I started to get myself in university application mode by reading literature (basically I googled "Best French/German books" and picked the ones that sounded good…) and quite quickly found some inspiring texts.

La Peste by Albert Camus is an inspiring text which gives a down-to-earth introduction to aburdism, and is easy to analyse.

Franz Kafka is one of the most troublesome and troubled writers in German literature, but gets any inquisitive mind thinking of answers to the mysteries of his works.

Matt, Queen's, student from 2014
Emma Beddall

The most important thing is just to access the language in whatever form you prefer e.g. films, radio, books, newspaper. I read whatever I could find in French and German, from A-level texts to random texts found in second-hand bookshops to the Harry Potter series (actually a very interesting study in translation that hugely improved my vocabulary while also being fun to read!).

Emma, Somerville, student from 2013
Carolina Bax

I chose to be honest, and not care whether I came across as a conventional, well-read applicant, but just as someone who had various interests, some maybe odd; I wrote about books that had been written by Herta Müller, a Romanian-born poet, whom I’d found incomprehensible. The German language part of my interview was spent discussing a written documentary about Berlin’s 70s heroine scene as narrated by Christiane F.

Watch films in German, it doesn’t matter whether they’re actually German films, but it does wonders for your language to read the subtitles and build up vocabulary. I went to see a lot of plays and operas in German, too, no matter how long they were - spending six hours listening to Strauss’s Frau ohne Schatten was a one way road to perseverance that would come in handy when trying to tackle an essay question!

Be ready to question anything, to hold on tight to your ideas, to tell yourself that it is legitimate to completely dismiss an analysis of a text if you think your ideas are strong enough. Bin literary criticism, invent your own. Your interest in the subject will shine through if it’s authentic. Just immerse yourself as much as possible in it, and enjoy it.

Carolina, St Hilda's, student from 2013

Tell us about your interview?

Matt Hines

Interviews are a stressful experience – but not necessarily entirely. A big team of helpers put me at ease throughout the four days I spent in Oxford, so that instead of nervous memories, the experience gave me a positive insight into what it’s like to be a student at Queen’s!

My French interview was first. I was given a poem 30 minutes beforehand, and went to the library to analyse it as best I could. At the start of the interview I read the poem aloud, then was asked what I thought it was about. I was encouraged to ask about any words I didn't know, as no English translation was provided. We simply followed its progression line by line, and I was invited to give my thoughts on what I found interesting, and was prompted about things I missed. The other tutor in the interview then asked me about a book I mentioned in my personal statement, and we discussed the changes noticeable in one of the main characters for approximately 10 minutes. I was then asked, in French, whether I had been to France, and only a short sentence was expected in response.

I was again given a poem before my German interview, which was taken from the first year syllabus, and had 30 minutes to analyse it. No translation was provided, but the tutor (the other tutor in the room just took notes) offered to translate any words I didn't know. Again, as in my French interview, I was invited to give my stance on the poem's meaning, and we followed it primarily line by line, but comparing the stanzas - this was appropriate for this specific poem. We then discussed a book I had mentioned on my statement, talking about the linguistic difficulties it posed (it was written in the 1700s) and then about the moral ideas it put forward, but only simply. Then, as before, I was asked, in German, if I had been to Germany, and I was expected to reply with only one sentence.

Matt, Queen's, student from 2014

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Modern Languages interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years (with a year abroad)
Students per year: 180

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 Classics and Modern Languages, English and Modern Languages, EMEL, History and Modern Languages, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Philosophy and Modern Languages or Oriental Studies (or even consider applying for those courses!).