Category Archives: Applying to study modern languages

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


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


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


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.


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…


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…


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 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 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…


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.

But what’s it really like? History and Modern Languages

posted by Simon Kemp

Next in our occasional series of short films about Oxford’s various courses with modern languages comes one of our most popular combinations: History and Modern Languages. Click the video below to see students and tutors talk about the course.

You can find out all the details of the course and how to apply for it here, and details of all our courses here.