All posts by Schools Liaison

Big Think Competition

St Edmund Hall at the University of Oxford is running its annual Big Think Competition!

Every year, The Big Think invites students across the UK to tackle one of our academics’ ‘big’ questions. These questions have been specially designed to challenge you beyond your normal school curriculum – helping you explore the latest breakthroughs in your subject and what it might be like to study it at university. Entering can also help boost your personal statement for university applications.

The competition opened on Friday 1 March. To enter, simply record a video of 5 minutes or less presenting your arguments and opinions. No need for fancy equipment or to show your face if you don’t want – feel free to get creative!

Winners will receive:

  • £100 (First Prize)
  • £50 (Second Prize)
  • £35 (Subject Commendations)

Winners will also all be invited to Oxford for the day where they will get to discuss their entries with subject tutors, tour round with current students and enjoy lunch in our dining hall.

Big Think: Modern Languages

The ‘Big Think’ question for Modern Languages this year is:

Is there such a thing as an untranslatable word?

This question has been set by Dr Holly Langstaff, tutor in Modern Languages at St Edmund Hall. Holly researches and teaches French literature from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries. She also runs several outreach initiatives, such as the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, the Think Like a Linguist project and Bristol Translates Summer School.

The competition will close Wednesday 1 May. To view the full list of questions and enter, visit seh.ac/bigthink. Good luck!

Modern Languages Study Days

On the blog this week, we take a look at the exciting Study Day opportunities for budding linguists coming up this summer!

Study Days are a great opportunity for prospective applicants to experience life as an Oxford student for the day. Study Days will always include taster sessions for the subjects which you are interested in studying at university, but often involve information sessions on admissions, a chance to talk to current undergraduates, and a tour of the College.

Study Days are free of charge with some colleges offering additional financial support to attendees. They are open to students at UK state schools, but places are sometimes prioritised by measures of socio-economic disadvantage.

We would very much recommend applying to any of the opportunities below!

Exeter College – Thursday 25th April

Each year, Exeter College hosts a series of subject days for Year 11 and Year 12 students attending UK state schools. These aim to provide tailored support for students interested in exploring a range of subjects at University level.

The Radcliffe Camera from Exeter College

The College’s Modern Languages Study Day will be taking place on Thursday 25th April.

You can register your interest here. The deadline to sign up is 5pm on Monday 18th March.

Balliol College – Monday 3rd June

Applications are now open for an in-person Modern Languages Taster Day at Balliol College in Oxford!

This event is designed for Year 12 students from UK state funded schools who are currently studying a language at A-Level or equivalent, and who intend to apply to study French, Italian or Spanish, or Modern Languages and Linguistics as a single or a joint-honours degree at Oxford University.

The Taster Day will include academic sessions, admissions information and a demonstration interview. You will have the opportunity to speak to tutors and current undergraduates. 

Balliol College chapel

To apply for a place at this event, please complete this form.

Please note, we will prioritise applications from disadvantaged students and from groups which are underrepresented at the university. Before submitting an application, please ensure you can attend the day in its entirety. This will be in-person at Balliol College in Oxford. 

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 17 May 2024.

St John’s College – Wednesday 12th June

St John’s College is pleased to welcome applications for our Year 12 Modern Languages Study Day. The Study Day is open to all Year 12 students currently attending a non-selective state-school in the UK.

Inside St John’s College chapel

What does the day involve?

  • Academic taster sessions led by Oxford Modern Languages tutors
  • Information on applying to, and studying at, Oxford University
  • A Q&A session with current Modern Languages students and tutors
  • A tour of St John’s College and lunch in Hall

To sign up, please complete the application form on our website. All events and resources are free to qualifying pupils. Travel grants are also available for eligible participants.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please do get in touch with us at access@sjc.ox.ac.uk.

Make sure you apply to these exciting opportunities before the deadlines!

Modern Languages Residential Opportunity

Oriel College is excited to be hosting four one-night Residential Programmes over the Easter holidays!

Their Modern Languages and Linguistics Study Day, aimed at students considering degrees in various combinations of Modern Languages or Modern Languages and Linguistics, is taking place on 25-26th March.

The programme is designed to support Year 12 students from non-selective state schools in the UK who are considering degrees at highly selective universities like the University of Oxford. Participants will experience subject sessions, applications workshops, and opportunities to work with academics at the University of Oxford.

All expenses (accommodation at Oriel, meals, and activities) will be funded by the college. Reasonable travel costs to Oxford to attend a residential programme will also be reimbursed.

Oriel College

Who can apply?

Residential Programme applicants must satisfy all of the following criteria:

  • Currently in Year 12 at a UK state school
  • Predicted A-Level grades equivalent to the University of Oxford’s standard offer for the relevant course (see the university website for full details)
  • Interested in studying a degree level course in Modern Languages or Modern Languages and Linguistics.

Previous programmes have been oversubscribed, so applications will also be prioritised based on the following criteria:

  • Studying at a non-selective (comprehensive) state school
  • Studying at a school with limited history of progression to Oxbridge
  • Home postcode
  • Receipt of Free School Meals/Pupil Premium

Applicants are also welcome to notify the college of any other relevant personal circumstances in the sign-up form.

Apply now!

The application form is available here. The closing date for applications for is midnight on Saturday 9th March 2024.

If you have any questions about the programme, please email the Outreach Officer for Oriel College, Arron O’Connor, via outreach@oriel.ox.ac.uk.

German Olympiad – round 2!

Great news: Round 2 of the Oxford German Olympiad 2024 is now open for entries! The Olympiad is an annual competition run by the Oxford German Network for learners and speakers of German from ages 9 to 18.

The theme of this year’s Olympiad is Kafkaesque Kreatures, taking inspiration from the animal stories by Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who gave the German and English languages the word kafkaesk / Kafkaesque to describe a weird, disturbing experience. 

Image taken from the Oxford German Network website.

There are three Round 2 tasks to choose from this year, with exciting cash prizes for the winners of each task:

  • Oxford German Network Task
  • The White Rose Prize: Einen Brief schreiben
  • Camden House Book Proposal

Winners and runners-up will be invited to a prize-giving ceremony at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, in June 2024.

Further details about the tasks and the competition in general can be found here. The deadline for all entries is 7 March 2024 at 12 noon.

Please note:

  • students may enter only one of the three Round 2 tasks
  • there are age restrictions for each task
  • Round 1 and Round 2 of the Olympiad are separate competitions. Students may enter both, but do not need to have entered Round 1 in order to enter Round 2.

There’s also still time to enter Round 1! Find details here.

BAME HUMANITIES STUDY DAY 2024 – APPLY NOW!

Following a successful four-year run, Oxford’s University College, Magdalen College, and the Faculties of History and Modern Languages are delighted to announce that the virtual BAME Humanities Study Day will return for 2024 on Thursday 4th April!

This event offers UK state school students with Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritage an exciting opportunity to engage with academic taster sessions from across the Humanities subjects, and also to access insight into Oxford student life and support with the admissions process.

This year, the day will open with a welcome and an introduction to the humanities subjects from current students followed by the opportunity to attend two humanities subject lectures. Students will learn more about the Oxford application process in our subject-specific admissions workshops. The day will conclude with a live student life Q&A where you will have the opportunity to ask your questions to current Oxford students from BAME backgrounds.  

Screenshot of the Q&A with undergraduates from the 2021 Humanities Study Day

For the academic lectures, students will be able to choose from the following subjects: ClassicsEnglishHistoryHistory of ArtModern LanguagesMusicAsian and Middle Eastern StudiesMusicPhilosophy or Theology. You will be able to specify your preferred subjects on the event’s application form below.

Last year, students chose to attend academic taster lectures on fascinating topics such as:

  • Myths and Counter-Myths: Roman Imperialism and French Colonialism in North Africa (Classics)
  • Orientalist painting and how to write it (Medieval & Modern Languages)
  • Popular Music: History and Interpretation (Music)
  • The Shock of the Nude:  Art, Science, and the Racial Imaginary in Modern China (History of Art)
  • The Spirituality of Black Lives Matter: The Enduring Truth of Black Liberation theology (Theology)
  • Mathematics, Magic and Mongols: the forces that shaped medieval Islamic astronomy (History)

Before attending the subject day, I had no prior ideas about attending Oxford, nor was I really interested. This was mostly because I thought Oxford was an unreachable place for someone like me, a coloured girl who does not come from a highly prestigious background, which I believed Oxford to be the opposite. Attending the study day made me realise Oxford is actually a very accessible and open place for someone of my background…

–  2023 Study Day participant

Eligibility Criteria

Students must be…

  • Currently in Year 12 (or equivalent)
  • Identifying as having Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) Heritage 
  • Attending a UK state school (unless you have extenuating circumstances or meet several of the priority criteria listed below) 
  • If spaces are limited, priority will be given to students who meet one or more of the following: first generation in your family to attend university, have experience of being in care, are a young carer, are eligible for Free School Meals/Pupil Premium, are from an area of deprivation or area with a low rate of progression to university.

To sign up, complete this application form. If you are unable to attend live on the 4th April but would like access to the recordings and resources, then please still submit an application via the form. 

Applications will close on 25th February 2024. We cannot guarantee every applicant a place but are aiming to accommodate a large number of students.

If you have any questions about this event, please email us at outreach@magd.ox.ac.uk

MODERN LANGUAGES OPEN DAY – Bookings Now Open!

We are delighted to welcome prospective students to Oxford on Saturday 11th May for our annual Modern Languages Open Day. The event will be held from 10.30am-4pm at the Examination Schools, located on the High Street.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

This event is a fantastic opportunity for students who are interested in learning more about our language courses, or who are still considering their options, as this Open Day will cover ALL of our languages: French, German*, Spanish, Italian*, Russian*, Portuguese*, Modern Greek*, Czech*, and Polish*. Most of our Joint School degree subjects – English, History, Philosophy etc. – will also be represented at the event.

*All of these languages can be studied here at Oxford from beginners’ level. 

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Our Modern Languages Open Day is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to think about university study are equally welcome to attend.

The Open Day will offer an overview of our Modern Languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning*, with individual language sessions and a parents’/guardians’/teachers’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Tutors and current students from the Faculty will be available throughout the day to answer questions from prospective applicants and their companions.

*Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

You can view the full event programme here.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Booking your place at this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Bookings will close at midnight on 8th May 2024.

We look forward to seeing lots of you in May and welcoming you to Oxford!

The Estonian Sauna

On the blog this week, French and Beginners’ Russian student, Catrin, tells us all about the wonders of the Estonian sauna, and her experiences of using them while on her year abroad last year.

The Estonian sauna is a weird and wonderful place.

Photo belongs to Catrin Mackie

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our Beginners’ Russian cohort was told we would be going to Tallinn instead of Yaroslavl’, which had been the destination of choice for decades. I had no idea what to expect from Russia’s small north-eastern neighbour. Tallinn truly surprised me, and one of the things I miss the most is cold water swimming and the sauna culture that accompanies it. My favourite Russian word that I learnt on my year abroad was моржевание (morzhevanie); a specific, one word translation for “cold water swimming” or “winter swimming”, that comes from the word “morzh” meaning “walrus”.

Tallinn is a coastal capital, sitting on the shores of the Baltic Sea, which meant any ‘morzhevanie’ I would take part in would be, well, baltic. I was sceptical. However, when told that the Estonian way was to swim in the freezing cold water and then run straight back to a cosy, boiling hot sauna, I was more convinced. The ritual of the trip to the sauna became part of my life in Estonia- a friend and I went every Sunday through the winter swimming season, which lasts from the beginning of November through to the end of April. Estonians and the international community alike can buy season tickets for their favourite sauna for a discounted price, much like football fans would do in the UK.

Sauna culture in Estonia is sacred. There are approximately 100,000 saunas in Estonia for a population of 1.3 million. In the capital, it may be a somewhat trendy novelty that tech employees and Erasmus students dabble in for the period of their stay, but a more traditional kind of sauna, namely the “Võromaa” smoke sauna tradition in southern Estonia, has warranted cultural heritage status on the UNESCO list. It is part of a wider Russo-Scandinavian sauna tradition, with slight variations from Estonia to Russia to Finland to Sweden to Norway. Some of the most burning questions include: is it a wood-burning or a steam sauna? What sticks do you hang in the sauna to hit your body with to increase circulation? Should you wear a little felt hat to regulate your body temperature or not? And, for the sauna fashionistas amongst you, what colour should the little felt hat be?  

A testament to its cultural heritage and importance, saunas are now being delivered from Estonia to Ukranian soldiers on the front lines of the war by the NGO “Saunas for Ukraine”, and the movement is garnering support online to send more. It has provided battalions of the Ukranian army with a place to wash, convene, and boost morale. The modern Tallinn sauna is part conference room, part cool hangout spot, part extreme sport training centre. During my first trip to the sauna- a repurposed small shipping container in the trendy, harbourside Kalamaja district- it was full of people who were attending the same technology conference which didn’t officially start until the following day, but business discussions had clearly begun as they scurried as a pack between the sea and the steam.

In the following weeks, we became regulars and noticed that the French embassy in Tallinn ran a group trip to the sauna every week; a mixture of diplomats and NATO soldiers who challenged each other to stay in the freezing sea as long as they could (one soldier managed 8 minutes!). I heard friends conversing in Estonian, Finnish, Russian, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese (that was just on one Sunday afternoon in mid-January). The sauna was a very international space, and a great place for cultural exchange.

Photo belongs to Catrin Mackie

One of the most memorable conversations we had was with two of the chattiest Estonians my friend and I had ever met (Estonians are famously quite reserved), who, upon hearing that I was Welsh and a Welsh-speaker, immediately asked “can you tell us that really long Welsh place name?”. I obliged before even thinking how incredible it was that two Estonians knew about the name of a tiny village, which happened to be my grandfather’s birthplace, on the complete opposite end of Europe. In exchange for my consonant-heavy declaration, we were told an Estonian phrase that was made up almost entirely of vowels- “on the edge of the ice” in Estonian is “jää-äär”.

On other visits, the sauna was completely silent, and a place for meditation and reflection. Desperate not to miss our habitual “ice swimming Sundays” on a trip around Scandinavia, we found the most intense group of cold water swimmers in Kemi, Finland (a mere hour outside the Arctic circle!). The sea was completely frozen over. The sauna was boiling hot, and very quiet.

The relaxed nature of the cold-water swimming community in Estonia eventually left me wondering: what kind of place would the world be if all diplomatic and political negotiations happened in saunas?

– Catrin Mackie, French and Russian student

New Year, New event!

The Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is delighted to announce a brand new event for the 2023/24 academic year – a Beginners’ Languages Taster Day!

Alongside our usual Modern Languages Open Day (which will take place on Saturday 11th May), this year we will be running an event dedicated to our beginners’ languages courses. This new event offers students from UK secondary schools in Year 12 or equivalent an opportunity to gain greater insight into our beginners’ languages degree programmes at Oxford. Students in Year 11 who are starting to consider their options for university are also welcome to attend.

The Taster Day will take place on Saturday 2nd March in our main Faculty teaching spaces – the Taylor Institution Library and 47 Wellington Square. After an information and Q&A session in the morning, students will have the chance to attend taster sessions in two of our beginners’ languages.

Photo taken from our Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

The following languages will be represented at the Taster Day, with academics and current undergraduates present to provide further information about the course(s) and to answer students’ questions:

  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Czech (with Slovak)
  • Modern Greek
  • Polish

The provisional event programme can be found here.

To register for the Taster Day, students should fill out this form by 10am on Friday 23rd February so we know who to expect at the event. Please note that spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and the form will close once our maximum capacity has been reached.

We are also pleased to be able to help students who are in need of additional financial support with reasonable expenses such as travelling to and from Oxford for the event. There is a space to include this information in the registration form.

Photo taken from our Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Our beginners’ languages courses offer an exciting and rare opportunity for students to engage with a new language and culture for the first time, or to pick up languages they studied at GCSE. The courses are challenging yet rewarding, with many designed to bring students up to A-level standard within the first year. Therefore, we would love to welcome students who are strong linguists and/or who are looking for a new challenge at University to this event.

As well as alongside a post-A-level language, most of our beginners’ languages can be studied in conjunction with subjects from the Humanities such as English, History, Linguistics, or Philosophy, for which applicants do not need to be studying a language to A-level or equivalent. With this in mind, we would also welcome students of Humanities subjects who are interested in picking up a language at University.

For further inspiration and information, below are some links to content from our tutors and undergraduates about why taking a language from scratch is so worthwhile:

  • Blog post Why study Czech?
  • Video – Branching Out: Picking up a language from scratch
  • Video – Studying German for Beginners at Oxford:

We look forward to seeing you on 2nd March!

UNIQ Applications still open

Every year UNIQ helps change the lives of young people, helping them to get into Oxford and other highly-selective universities. Apply now to take part!

What is UNIQ?

UNIQ is the University of Oxford’s access programme for UK state school students. It prioritises places for students with good grades from backgrounds that are under-represented at Oxford and other universities. Every year more students from diverse backgrounds get offered places at Oxford with help from UNIQ.

In terms of Modern Languages, we will be offering courses for French, Spanish and German again this year, all of which include the opportunity to taste two beginners’ languages.

UNIQ offers:

  • online support through the application process
  • a residential at an Oxford college for most participants
  • a trip to an Oxford open day for another 250 participants

UNIQ is completely free: accommodation, meals, academic courses, social activities, and travel are all included.

Every year students use their experiences on UNIQ to help inform their university choices and to make successful applications. UNIQ students who apply to Oxford have a higher rate of success than other applicants.

How to apply

UNIQ prioritises state school students with good grades from backgrounds that are under-represented at Oxford and other highly selective universities. UNIQ welcomes applications from:

  • Year 12 students from England and Wales in the first year of A level studies or equivalent
  • Year 13 students from Northern Ireland in the first year of A level studies or equivalent
  • S5 students from Scotland studying Highers or equivalent

We use criteria such as experience of being in care, eligibility for Free School Meals, and information associated with the area that you live in to prioritise who comes on UNIQ.

Find out more and apply here! Applications close at noon on 23rd January 2024.

My first term studying French at Oxford!

In our final blog post before Christmas, first year French & Philosophy student at St John’s College, Laurence, tells us all about his first term at Oxford – settling in, making friends, and exploring new literature… over to you, Laurence!

Laurence at Matriculation

I have finished my first term studying Philosophy and French at St John’s College, and what a rollercoaster it has been! Freshers’ week, matriculation [1], my first tutorial [2]… and all while making new friends and starting to feel at home in Oxford. I initially wanted to study Law but decided that I first wanted to explore French literature and culture, as it had been my favourite subject during A levels. It is not a decision that I have come to regret! I would recommend French at Oxford to anyone with a passion for languages and literature.

The French course at Oxford is varied and engaging, with something for everyone. The first year syllabus is perfect for helping students get a sense of what they might like to pursue in future years – in the space of eight weeks I studied French essays, tragedies, and poetry. These included Michel de Montaigne’s Des Cannibales (c. 1580) which sheds light on French attitudes to South American tribes, raising fascinating questions of religious politics, Gallic identity, and colonialism’s fallacious distinction between savage and civilised cultures. Montaigne also pioneered the form of the ‘essay’ itself and his later revisions and editions to the initial text demonstrate his attempts to grapple with complex subject matters. We touched on all these points and more in our classes and tutorials, which are supplemented by lectures in the beautiful Taylor Institution Library.

Another benefit of the course is the variety of subjects that can be combined with French: whilst I study philosophy, I have friends studying French and English, Arabic, German, and linguistics, to name a few. I think Philosophy and French is a great combination… in later years I will have the opportunity to read the philosophical works of Descartes, Sartre, Pascal, and Merleau-Ponty in their original French, as well as studying the philosophy of language.

Inside the Radcliffe Camera

On an average day in my week, I might wake up early and go to the Radcliffe Camera for at least an hour of work as it is my favourite study spot. After a couple of lectures or a tutorial and then some lunch, I might have a grammar or conversation class. I particularly enjoy these because I love speaking in French, and there is no better place to practise than with the patient, friendly native speakers that are employed at St John’s to help us improve. We have discussed topics as varied as the Bouquinistes (book sellers on the banks of the Seine in Paris) and the life of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, through presentations, debates, and games.  After dinner, my class might work on a translation together or do some reading in the college library. The collaborative element of language learning is really encouraged in the Oxford environment – tutors want us to test each other on vocab and speak French among ourselves wherever possible. You might even find a native French speaker in your college – I often test my speaking skills with my Canadian friend!

Finally, life at Oxford is not all about work. I enjoyed a languages ‘initiation’ party in college where second year language students encouraged us to dress up as figures from our personal statements. I came as Socrates, and one friend of mine donned his long, black wig as Madame Bovary! In short, life as a language student at Oxford has so much to offer…

Thank you Laurence for that excellent insight!

After a short break over Christmas, we’ll be back with more blog posts in the new year. For now, we wish you a restful and joyous festive period with loved ones. Bonne fêtes à toutes et tous!


[1] An Oxford ceremony that marks a student’s induction as a member of the university.

[2] A teaching format of a tutor and 1-3 students.