Category Archives: Applying to study modern languages

Starting from Scratch

These days, most languages that you might want to study at university can be started from scratch. Oxford offers beginners’ courses in all our languages apart from French and Spanish, which means you can pick up any one of the following that takes your interest:

German

Russian

Italian

Czech

Portuguese

Greek

Polish

Plus, within each of our language courses are options to explore further related languages, including Bulgarian, Croatian, Ukranian, Catalan, Galician, Yiddish, Occitan.

And as well as the Modern Languages Faculty, two other Oxford faculties teach languages, several of which are available to combine with ours in a two-language degree.

The Oriental Studies Faculty offers Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew or Turkish (last four available in a combined course with modern languages).

And the Classics Faculty offers Latin and Ancient Greek (both available in a combined course with modern languages).

So if you’re at all curious about trying something new, there’s lot’s to choose from.

Around the time that Oxford opened its Beginners’ German course, the Guardian newspaper published a story exploring beginners’ languages in UK universities. Here’s an extract:

Though it’s difficult to detect in admissions statistics, university language courses are changing, with more opportunities for students to study a language from scratch. Ab initio courses, as they are termed, once the preserve of Russian, Chinese and Arabic, are now being extended to include more familiar languages: Spanish, sometimes French and especially German. In some universities, such courses are long established, but others are making new forays: Oxford offered beginners’ German for the first time this year (available in joint honours to students with an A-level in another language); King’s College London, went further and this year offered German from scratch with a range of subjects. Manchester has introduced French from scratch – plus the chance to add a language as a minor degree subject.

For Lauren Valentine, 19, completing the first year of a single honours French degree at Manchester, the university’s new “flexible honours” programme has allowed her to fulfil her dream of learning Spanish, foiled when her school split her year into two random language groups and she ended up with French. “I was always embarrassed on family holidays when all I could say was una cola lite,” she says. “I couldn’t do Spanish at sixth-form college either, and I didn’t have the confidence to apply for joint honours with Spanish ab inito because I thought it wouldn’t ever be as good as my French.
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“We did a lot of intensive grammar in the first year, and I feel that my Spanish is now above A-level standard, though the vocab will take more time to bed in. The course has given me even more than I’d hoped, and I now want to go into translation or interpreting.”

The new Manchester programme, introduced this year and allowing students to take a “minor” in a range of subjects including languages, is designed to catch students who might not have considered languages, or perhaps lacked the confidence to apply to study them at degree level. While the university still demands at least one good language A-level for traditional joint honours language courses, the minor courses require no prior language experience. This year, 30 out of 53 students taking a minor chose a language, and the vast majority plan to carry on – with a few even switching to full joint honours.

The scheme allows students to “dip their toe in the subject” for a year without risk, says assistant undergraduate director, Joseph McGonagle, and if they do continue they can get a language on their degree certificate. “The feedback is brilliant – they are grabbing it with both hands.” The hope is to double the numbers this September, he says. “This is about rebuilding from a low base – or a different base. We can’t let the popularity of school languages decline and not address that at university level.”

[…] At Oxford, ab initio German introduced this year has proved popular, and nine students are signed up for September (compared with 70 who have German A-level). Beginner students are taught very intensively and therefore their numbers will, for now, be capped at 16, says Katrin Kohl, professor of German literature.

The new course, Kohl notes, has attracted students drawn to German in diverse ways: perhaps through an interest in the economy, through family connections, or after reading something influential.

Jocelyn Wyburd, chair of the university council of modern languages and director of the language centre at Cambridge, sees the expansion of ab initio as “universities grappling with a pipeline problem” – a “woeful” 48% of the GCSE cohort last year took at least one language.

A strong fight back by language departments, mainly through the Routes into Languages campaign, plus government initiatives, may ultimately see a turnround in language take-up in the UK. But for now, Wyburd says, universities are “reinventing their rules. Each department is devising its own pathways and constantly reviewing what are the non-negotiables.”

Can ab initio rescue languages? “It can. Will it? I don’t know – I’d love it to. But it’s not a panacea.”

Ninety-Six Percent

posted by Simon Kemp

96%. That’s the satisfaction rate among our students with the French undergraduate course at Oxford.

That compares with an average of 93% satisfaction for courses across Oxford university, a satisfaction rate of 88% for courses across the ‘Russell Group’ of universities, and a satisfaction rate of 84% for undergraduate courses in all UK universities.

We’re very proud of that achievement, and always working hard to make sure our course is the best, most challenging and stimulating course that we can make it.

You can explore statistics on many aspects of our French course here, and through the Unistats link to the government website, you can compare data on our course with those at other universities. (If you do, one odd statistic I noticed is the suggestion that our French course has ‘0% coursework’. I presume they mean ‘0% compulsory coursework’, which is true, but in practice almost all our students choose to include at least one coursework portfolio or dissertation project among their final exams.)

Note too that 92% of our students agreed that teaching staff were good at explaining things to them (which leaves a little room for improvement still, but compares very well to our rival institutions), and 90% of students were in full-time work or study (such as Masters courses) six months after graduating. The excellent employability prospects of a modern languages degree, from here at Oxford or from anywhere else, is something we’ve talked about before, and really can’t emphasise enough.

More Interview Questions

posted by Simon Kemp

It’s university admissions time again, and Oxford has been trying to take some of the mystery out of our interview process. As well as releasing the video above, the university has been asking its tutors to reveal the questions they ask interview candidates. The story has been widely reported in newspapers, as well as on the BBC website here.

One of the questions was from an interview for a place on a degree involving French:

What makes a novel or play “political”?

This was a question for a French course. Interviewer Helen Swift, from St Hilda’s College, said:

“This is the sort of question that could emerge from a student’s personal statement, where, in speaking about their engagement with literature and culture of the language they want to study, they state a keen interest in works (such as a novel, play or film) that are “political”.

“We might start off by discussing the specific work that they cite (something that isn’t included in their A-level syllabus), so they have chance to start off on something concrete and familiar, asking, for instance, “in what ways?”, “why?”, “why might someone not enjoy it for the same reason?”.

“We’d then look to test the extent of their intellectual curiosity and capacities for critical engagement by broadening the questioning out to be more conceptually orientated and invite them to make comparisons between things that they’ve read/seen (in whatever language).

“So, in posing the overall question, ‘What makes this political?’ we’d want the candidate to start thinking about what one means in applying the label: what aspects of a work does it evoke? Is it a judgement about content or style? Could it be seen in and of itself a value judgement? How useful is it as a label?

“What if we said that all art is, in fact, political? What about cases where an author denies that their work is political, but critics assert that it is – is it purely a question of subjective interpretation?

“A strong candidate would show ready willingness and very good ability to engage and develop their ideas in conversation. It would be perfectly fine for someone to change their mind in the course of the discussion or come up with a thought that contradicted something they’d said before – we want people to think flexibly and be willing to consider different perspectives…

“Undoubtedly, the candidate would need to take a moment to think in the middle of all that – we expect that “ermmm”, “ah”, “oh”, “well” will feature in someone’s responses!”

There are further details about the Oxford interview on the university website here.

And you can explore lots more on the subject in the blog archives in the ‘Applying to Study Modern Languages’ category.

 

Number One

oxford-university-radcliffe-camera

posted by Simon Kemp

This week, just a little supplemental note to the post a few weeks ago noting that, according to the QS university rankings, Oxford modern languages faculty is the best modern languages faculty anywhere in the world.

Now, according to the Times Higher Education, it seems we’re also part of the best university in the world. According to their global rankings, which (in their words) are ‘the definitive list of the world’s best universities, evaluated across teaching, research, international outlook, reputation and more’, Oxford University is number one. It’s the first time in the twelve years that the ranking has been compiled that a UK university, rather than a US one, has gained the top spot. Their full list, with detailed breakdown of how we do on teaching, research and other measures, is here.

I mention this not just because I want to brag about it, but because it helps to prove the point I really want to make which is that

(a) we’re a great place to study modern languages,

and so,

(b) you should really think seriously about applying to come and study them with us.

We’re looking for bright, talented and well-motivated people from all backgrounds to come to Oxford and join our modern languages courses. Last year we invited 87% of the people who applied to us to study modern languages to come for an interview, and offered places to 34% of applicants. That shows, I think, that wherever you’re from and whatever your story, we’ll take your application very seriously and think carefully about whether we can offer you a place. We’re always delighted to hear from potential students. If you think you might enjoy studying with us, what do you have to lose by applying?

We’re waiting to hear from you.

 

Oxvlog on Oxford Admissions Interviews

OxVlog

posted by Simon Kemp

As I’ve mentioned before, the Oxvlog Project on Youtube is a good way to find out what Oxford is really all about from the students themselves. There are students from many different subjects talking about all aspects of their experience at Oxford, and they’re talking particularly to school students who are thinking about applying here and want to find out more. Here’s Connor, who’s studying German at Somerville, talking about what it’s like to come to Oxford for an interview for a place on the modern languages course:

You can find Connor’s other vlog posts, along with many more, here.

But what’s it really like? European and Middle Eastern Languages

posted by Simon Kemp

Here, in the latest of our occasional series, is another short film about what you can do with modern languages at Oxford. European and Middle Eastern Languages is a popular and fast-growing two-subject “joint school” with modern languages. If you choose to study it, you can combine any one modern language out of French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese or Greek with any one Middle Eastern language out of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish. French and Arabic is a popular combination. Students taking it can use their options in each course to investigate the long and sometimes fraught history between France and Arabic-speaking North Africa and explore the wealth of connections between French and Arab cultures.

Here are tutors and students talking about the course:

There’s more information here if you’re interested, and you can find out about all our courses here.

Top Teachers

OUITA

posted by Simon Kemp

A nice tradition in Oxford is our Inspirational Teacher Award, where current first-year Oxford undergraduates are asked to nominate teachers or careers advisers who inspired them to apply to Oxford, fostered their passion for a particular subject or supported them through the application process. The students asked to nominate teachers are all from UK state schools or colleges with a limited history and tradition of sending students to Oxford.

fis

This year, one of my own students at Somerville, Fis Noibi, who’s studying French and Arabic, nominated the head of sixth form at her old school, and he was selected as one of the winners.

Mr Course, from Robert Clack School in Dagenham, was named as one of 10 inspirational state school teachers from across Britain. In an interview with the Barking and Dagenham Post, Fis said Mr Course is ‘more than deserving of the award because, if not for him, I would not be doing my current course, let alone in this university. Mr Course is such an inspiration’

The winning teachers were honoured at an awards ceremony at St Peter’s College.  The award scheme, which was established six years ago, recognises the crucial role teachers and careers advisers play in encouraging talented students in their schools or colleges. Here are the teachers and students, with Fis and Mr Course four minutes in:

 

 

Top Five Universities in the World for Modern Languages

The Library in the Modern Languages Faculty, Oxford
The Library in the Modern Languages Faculty, Oxford

posted by Simon Kemp

So, the annual QS World University Rankings have been published for 2016. One of the most respected and widely noted university rankings, QS independently rates over 900 universities around the world on their academic reputation and the employability of their students, and ranks them overall and for the individual subject they offer.

Modern language departments are rated for the ‘academic reputation’ of their teachers and researchers, and the ’employer reputation’ of the students who graduate their courses, and the two ratings are then combined to provide a Top Fifty ranking of modern languages around the world. You can see the full list of fifty here, but shall we just take a peek at the Top Five?

OK, in ascending order, at Number Five we have…

stanfordoval

Stanford University in the US. Up from 8th place last year, it has an Academic Reputation score of 92.3 and an Employer Reputation score of 86.4. Its overall score is 90.5.

In fourth place we have…

University_of_California-Berkeley_5686897_i1

UCB, the University of California, Berkeley. Holding steady in 4th place for the second year running, it has an Academic Reputation score of 95.7 and an Employer Reputation score of 83.6. Its overall score is 92.1.

And then in third place…

harvard

Harvard University, ranked the best university in the US for modern languages. Unchanged from last year in third place on the global rankings, it has an Academic Reputation score of 99.9 and an Employer Reputation score of 95.5. Its overall score is 98.6.

In second place…

Cambridge-ClareCollegeAndKingsChapel

Cambridge University, here in the UK. Steady in 2nd place from last year, it has an Academic Reputation score of 99.7 and an Employer Reputation score of 99.3. Its overall score is 99.6.

Which leaves the QS-ranked Number One modern languages faculty in the world…

oxford

Yes, it’s us. Oxford University is number one in the world for the fourth year in a row. Our Modern Languages Faculty has an Academic Reputation score of 100.0 and an Employer Reputation score of 100.0, giving an overall score of 100.0.

We offer a world-class education from world-leading academics. And we’d like you to come and study with us. You can check out our courses here. You can find details of open days and summer schools here if you’d like to check us out in person. And all the information on how to apply to study with us is here. We’re waiting to hear from you.