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 Modern Languages interviews.

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

I was given a poem in German to analyse for around 15 minutes then we spoke about it, I was asked a few questions about my EPQ in German and why I wanted to study the subject. I was not asked a strange/obscure/impossible question.

Tamanna, Somerville, student from 2013
Louise Chegwidden

In my first French interview I was given a poem to read before for 15 minutes. In this time I read over it and made some notes about form, rhyme scheme and themes. In the interview they spoke to me briefly about how I found the college to settle me in. They then asked me to read a stanza of the poem, presumably to hear my french accent. We spoke for about ten minutes about the poem, my opinion of it, and what I thought it was about. I then had a brief conversation with an interviewer in French about my holidays - very simple and comfortable conversation which any A level student should be capable of. We spoke about things I said I had read on my Personal Statement in some detail.

In my second interview at a different college I was given three texts and a dictionary for 20 minutes. I read over them, made some notes and looked up some vocabulary. They chatted briefly to me then they asked me to translate a short section of very difficult grammatical structure. They helped me work this out then asked questions about the time of one of the texts and what I thought of it. They also asked about a trip to Paris I had mentioned on my Personal Statement and what I had studied when I was there. It lasted about 20 minutes.

Louise, St John's, student from 2014
Imogen Howarth

Italian: This focused on my personal statement and what I'd written about the Calvino text I talked about. There was also a short bit about why Italian and my ability to cope with the demands of the ab initio course. I was then given an Ungaretti poem with both a literal and literary translation, and I was asked a few questions about the poem and translations.

German: I was given a poem to look at and read half an hour before the interview and the majority of the interview was taken up with examining the poem with the tutor. I was then asked a bit about my Extended Project Qualification, which I'd done on German literature and finally I was asked to speak in German and talk a little about the work experience I'd done in a Berlin primary school. Most of the interview was taken up with discussion about the poem, and, although that sounds daunting on paper, it went very quickly.

Imogen, Queen's, 4th year
Violetta Kundu

Worcester College: I was asked to read a piece in French before my interview (I had 20 minutes to go through it). I then had to try and talk about it in the interview. Obviously there were parts I hadn't understood, so I admitted this to my interviewers. This was absolutely fine (they knew it was difficult, that's why they set it) but then I was made to guess about meaning, vocab, form etc. It's nerve-wracking but you just have to go for it; as long as you show some form of intelligent thought process then your answer is of secondary importance. I think it's better to say you don't understand too; then struggle through it.

I was asked about what I had written in my personal statement, i.e. I mentioned a certain book in my statement, and was asked why I liked it, and what was my favourite passage from it. I was then even asked if I could quote from my favourite passage.

Pembroke College: One odd question was about my grades in another AS subject, that weren't as high as they could have been. I was asked why I hadn't got an A, which put me on the spot a little. I didn't want to blame a teacher for my grade, but also didn't want to allude that I wasn't myself smart enough to get the A. I told them I planned to re-take (which I did, and upped the grade).

The poem I had to read in French before the Pembroke interview was all about birds - I know nothing about birds but obviously the tutor did and made a comment that made no sense to me at all; like I had to know the wingspan of a hummingbird to understand his reference. At this point you have to admit you don't understand! I think there are always going to be odd questions and parts of the interview where you feel under pressure or that you're flailing a little, but once you admit you're not sure, then even the tutor has to move on.

Christ Church (Interview #1): I was asked in an Italian interview what my favourite English book was, and why. It felt like an informal chat more than an assessment, which was comforting, though I think they are hoping you'll say something quite literary and high-brow whereas I went on and on about my favourite crime novel. Maybe this isn't ideal but the tutor went along with it and I'm sure we discussed the same questions about an Agatha Christie book that we could've discussed about a Shakespeare play, or a Milton poem. I think it can be important to show them a little of your personality, as well as appeal to their literary tastes!

Christ Church (Interview #2): I was asked again what my favourite English book was in a French interview. I made the mistake of choosing something I hadn't read, but that sounded impressive (Jane Austen). I was immediately asked to quote the first line from the book and describe my favourite character. My advice is to never lie about what you have read!

This interview was also really abstract in places. I had to read a poem about a spider and then imagine I was that spider and someone had broken the web I had just made - how did that make me feel? It was unusual but I think the tutors just want to hear how you think out loud.

In all language interviews you have to do part of it in the target language. I was really worried about this but it was the 'easiest' part. I talked about language exchanges that I had been on (mentioned in my personal statement) or continued chatting about the books we were discussing, or even spoke about the French drama that was showing on BBC4 at the time. It's really informal.

Violetta, Christ Church, student from 2013

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