Category Archives: Applying to study modern languages

So what happens in an Oxford interview?

Last week we took you through the practicalities of coming to an interview at Oxford. This week we’ll delve into the interview itself, breaking down what you might typically expect from a Modern Languages interview.  What we cover here is an outline of the general format of Modern Languages interviews but you should be aware that practice can vary a little between colleges. It is worth bearing in mind that the interview is not designed to trick you or make you stumble: it aims to stretch you intellectually and give the tutors an insight into the way you think and your motivation for applying for the degree.

The Format

  • You will have at least two interviews, possibly more, each lasting around twenty minutes. This is so that you have ‘two bites of the apple’, as it were. We know that candidates commonly get nervous during interviews and may not always feel they have performed at their best. Having two interviews gives you two chances to demonstrate what you can do and optimises your chance of showing us your best side.
  • Your initial interviews will be in the college that is hosting you or, occasionally, they might be conducted centrally in the Modern Languages department itself.
  • However, you might also find that other colleges want to interview you in a system we call ‘pooling’. This means that all the languages tutors across all the colleges can view your application and can request to see you. You shouldn’t read anything into this. It does not mean that your first college has rejected you. It simply means that colleges are keeping lots of options open to them. Again, it is another chance for you to show us your best.
  • There will be at least two interviewers in the room. They may split the questioning 50/50 or one may take the lead while another takes notes. Don’t let this faze you – it’s just policy. They will start by introducing themselves and explaining the format of the interview. Some might shake your hand. Others might not. Again, don’t overthink this: whether or not you shake a tutor’s hand will not affect your chance of getting in.
  • The interview is likely to be split into two or three parts, depending on whether you are applying for the language from scratch or post-A Level (or equivalent).
  • If you are studying the language at A Level or equivalent, there will be some conversation in the target language. This is likely to be just three or four minutes and is another chance for us to assess your linguistic skills. We’re not looking for perfection or fluency. We are simply expecting an ability to speak in the target language at the standard expected of a candidate who is predicted a grade A at A Level. We will be assessing your language skills alongside your written work submission and your performance in the MLAT, so this is not the be all and end all.
  • If you are applying for a language ab initio (from scratch) don’t worry, we will not ask you to hold a conversation in that language!
  • Regardless of whether you are applying for a language ab initio or post-A Level, you will probably be asked to do an exercise in close reading. You will be given a text about 20-30 minutes before the interview and asked to read and think about it. This may be a poem or an extract of prose. It is unlikely to be longer than a side of A4. Practice does vary a little between colleges as to whether this text will be in the target language: some may give you a text in English; some may give you a text in the target language with an English translation; some may give you a text in the target language and also provide a dictionary or vocab. list, or invite you to ask about any words you don’t understand at the start of the interview. If you are applying for a language from scratch you will  be given a version of the text in English.
  • Use your preparation time to read the text fully, make notes if you like, and draw some initial conclusions from the text. Ask yourself not only ‘what are my first impressions?’ but, more importantly, ‘why and how are those impressions created?’
  • The tutors will ask you about the text for around ten minutes.
  • There will also be some general conversation as part of the interview. During this portion of the interview you might be asked to talk about: academic work you have completed in the last year or two; any relevant wider reading or work experience you might have done; subject-related issues that are very readily visible in the wider world (you will NOT be expected to have an intricate knowledge of current affairs); things you have mentioned in your personal statement.

Top Tips

  • The first thing to remember is that the interview simulates a tutorial. Tutorial-style teaching is really the USP of Oxford and Cambridge: it is a method of teaching that focuses on discussion in very small groups (usually a tutor and two or three students) on a more-or-less weekly basis. The interview is a way for us to see how you would fare in this type of teaching environment.
  • As such, we are interested in seeing your ability to contribute to an academically challenging discussion: this will partly be a matter of forming, expressing and, at times, defending your opinions on a particular topic, but we will also want to see your ability to think analytically, to read perceptively, and to be flexible in your thinking.
  • Try not to be too rigid in your approach. Be open to receiving new information and to changing your opinion based on that information if appropriate.
  • Go back and re-read your personal statement – there is a good chance you will be asked about it. Make sure you can talk about any books or films you have mentioned, or explain your interests further.
  • Decisions are not based on your manners, appearance, or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond what you have learnt in school.
  • The questions will be focused and challenging but this is not a trap and it is not a vocabulary test. If there is anything you are unsure about, whether that’s the questions you are being asked or a particular word you might not understand, it is absolutely fine to ask the tutors to repeat or clarify their question.

So that’s a rundown of Modern Languages interviews at Oxford. It’s a lot to think about and we understand you may justifiably be feeling a little nervous. Of course, not everyone who is interviewed can be offered a place, and we know that this can be disheartening. But remember, you have already done incredibly well to reach interview stage. Whatever the outcome of your application, you should be proud of what you have achieved simply by getting into the room. Above all, try to enjoy the process – it’s not every day you will have the undivided attention of world-leading experts in your subject who are interested in what YOU have to say.

Check out our other interview related posts on this blog by clicking the ‘interviews’ tag. All that remains to be said is good luck!

Oxford Interviews: the Practicalities

A few weeks ago we published an admissions checklist for everyone applying to Oxford in this admissions round. By now you should have submitted your UCAS application, sat the admissions test(s) or ‘MLAT’, and be about to submit your written work, the deadline for which is this Saturday, 10 November.

You’re probably now beginning to turn your attention to the interview. For many candidates, interviews are the scariest part of the process. Today we’ll walk you though the practical elements of the interview period. Stay tuned for a break down of the academic aspects of Modern Languages interviews, which we’ll cover next week.  

The Practical Stuff

  • Interviews for Modern Languages courses take place between Tuesday 4 and Saturday 7 December 2018. Precise dates will depend on which course you have applied for, but take a look at the interview timetable here.
  • Shortlisting for interviews happens in mid- to late- November. The college considering your application will write to you indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview, and the practical details. You may not receive this until a week before the interviews are due to take place. Usually the college contacting you will be the college to which you have applied. If you made an open application, it will be the college to which you have been allocated. Sometimes you might be invited to interview by a different college than that to which you applied: this is because we reallocate some candidates during the process to ensure an even spread of applicants across the colleges and give you the best chance of getting an offer.
  • You will be asked to come to Oxford for several days. Dates will be confirmed in your invitation letter or email. Once you arrive you will find out when your interview(s) will take place.
  • Your accommodation and meals during this period will be provided free of charge by the college which has invited you.
  • During your time in the college, undergraduate helpers will be around to meet you and advise you. They will take you to your interviews so you don’t get lost, and they are always happy to have a friendly chat and facilitate social activities in the times between interviews. You can see a helper’s account of the interview period here.
  • Most colleges will have a hub where candidates are encouraged to spend time when they are not in interviews. This hub is a social environment, often with TV, games, and other activities. Feel free to take this time to meet new people, ask the student helpers any questions, and essentially try to have fun!
  • If you have any additional needs, the college will support you. Mentioning your disability or specific learning difficulty will not affect your application: admissions decisions are made on academic grounds alone.

Join us next week when we’ll discuss the academic aspects of the Modern Languages interview at Oxford.

Admissions Checklist

It’s that time of year when we are looking forward to receiving lots of applications from prospective students so we thought it would be useful to include an Oxford admissions checklist on this week’s blog. Year 13 students: if you are thinking of applying make sure you have prepared for all the points below. Year 12 students: it’s never too soon to start thinking about your applications for next year.

Step 1: UCAS application – remember that the deadline for Oxford is earlier than the usual UCAS deadline. Submit your application by 6pm on 15 October 2018.
You’ve probably been hard at work on your UCAS application for a little while now and will know that it consists of: your actual grades (e.g. GCSE), your predicted grades (A Level or equivalent), your personal statement, and a reference from your teacher. Here are some key things to remember about the personal statement…

  • You’ll submit the same personal statement for all the universities you apply to. Therefore, focus on the course/ subject, not the universities.
  • Show us your academic ability and potential, and your commitment to the subject. It’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond schoolwork.
  • Only mention your extracurricular activities if they are relevant to the subject for which you are applying. We want to see how your interests beyond school have helped to stretch you academically or motivate you to pursue your subject.
  • Be honest and be yourself – we’re interested in you as an individual. Also remember that this is not the time for false modesty – feel free to sell yourself!
  • Don’t list qualifications like your GCSE grades or anything else that’s covered elsewhere on the application.
  • Be sure to re-read your personal statement before an interview – the tutors may ask you to talk about things you’ve mentioned.

Step 2: Admissions Tests. The deadline to register for a test is also 6pm on 15 October. Your schools or test centre must register you. Ask your school or test centre for your candidate number now so that you know you have been registered.

  • You will sit the test in your school or test centre on Wednesday 31 October.
  • For Modern Languages, you must take a test in each language you apply for which you are studying at A Level or equivalent. For example, if you are applying for French and German and are sitting an A Level in both of these languages, you will take the tests in French and German. If, on the other hand, you are applying for French and Italian ‘ab initio’ (from scratch), and you will only have the A Level in French, you do not need to take the Italian test.
  • For languages for which you are applying post-A Level, the test is a grammar test, so it’s useful to start revising things like tenses, prepositions, subjunctives, adjectival agreement etc. The test is not designed to be a vocabulary test and there are likely to be words you don’t know: do not worry about this. We are not expecting a perfect score – we just want to get a sense of how solid a grammatical foundation you have in your language at the point of application.
  • If you are applying for a language from scratch you will need to take the Language Aptitude Test (LAT). This takes a made-up language and asks you to spot patterns and rules within that language, based on some sample sentences. We are interested in your instinct for language learning and your ability to spot potential grammatical structures based on the internal logic of a language. There are examples of this and other admissions tests online – have a practice in timed conditions so you get used to the exercises.
  • If you are applying for a ‘joint schools’ degree (a language in combination with another subject: English, History, Classics, Middle Eastern Languages, Linguistics, Philosophy) you may need to take additional tests in those subjects. Check here for details.

Step 3: Written Work. The college considering your application will contact you about submitting written work. The deadline for submission is 10 November. You will need to complete a written work cover sheet for each piece of work that you submit.

  • For Modern Languages, you will need to submit one piece in each language you intend to study, and in which you will have A Level standard (or equivalent) before university.
  • AND one piece in English (e.g. an essay on literature, history…)
  • If you are applying for a joint schools degree you will need to check what schoolwork is required for those subjects.
  • The work you send in should be your original school or college work, marked by a teacher, and not re-written or corrected in any way. It may be typed or handwritten – as long as it is legible – and photocopies are acceptable.
  • We would expect the piece in English to be no more than 2,000 words.
  • The piece in the Modern language can be much shorter: we would recommend around 300-500 words.

Step 4: Interviews. These take place in early December and, for many applicants, are the scariest part of the process. We’ll do another blog post in the coming weeks about interviews so stay tuned…

Step 5: Decisions! You will be told if you have an offer on 9 January 2019.

Best of luck to everyone who is applying. Remember, you can always ask us any questions you might have about admissions by emailing schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Languages at Oxford: A tutor’s perspective

As the new school term approaches our thoughts turn to the next round of admissions to Oxford. If you’re going into Year 12 it’s a good time to begin exploring your options, and you might start by attending our open day on 14 September. If you’re going into Year 13 you should be starting to put together your application: drafting your personal statement, preparing for the admissions test, thinking about any written work you need to submit. You can see the process laid out on the University website and do remember that the deadline for UCAS entries is 6pm on 15th October.

So what are we looking for in a Modern Languages candidate? Here, Dr Tim Farrant, who is the French tutor at Pembroke College, outlines some of the things he’s looking for when he’s assessing candidates’ applications…

There are lots more videos available which give you an insight into Modern Languages at Oxford, both from the tutors’ and the undergraduates’ perspective. We’ve compiled some of them into a playlist which you can view here.

Why I chose German ab initio

Last week, we heard an overview of German at Oxford from Prof. Henrike Lähnemann. This week, Hannah Hodges, a current second-year undergraduate of French and German at St Peter’s College, tells us what motivated her to study German from scratch or ‘ab initio’.

The popular YouTube videos “German compared to other languages” didn’t really help me when justifying my decision to choose German as my ab initio language. Who would rather commit to four years studying the language whose word for butterfly is Schmetterling and not papillon or farfalla ?

Now in my second year of the ab initio German course, I stand by my decision to take up German as part of my degree. Why? Well, despite its reputation for being complicated, German is actually quite a logical language (at least compared to the endless list of French grammar exceptions anyway!). I may still stressfully pause before I say anything in order to figure out which translation of the I am going to use, but I can (kind of) see the logic behind the dreaded cases. Moreover, after spending seven years trying to decide when to use the passé composé, imparfait, passé simple or passé antérieur (what even is this?) in French, you can imagine my relief that in German there are only two commonly used past tenses and it’s not (too) important which you use in speech. And future? No need to worry about verb stems: with German you can use the present tense and just add a word like morgen (tomorrow) or nächstes Jahr (next year) which makes it pretty obvious you’re talking about a point in the future – logical, right?

Joking aside, the thought of reading Thomas Mann’s paragraph-long sentences does at times make me question my own choice, but the usefulness of German in understanding the development of modern European thought and being able to read seminal texts in their original language such as Immanuel Kant’s Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (Answering the Question: what is Enlightenment) is rather rewarding. But perhaps the best thing is that German has the reputation of being a difficult language. Therefore, when you casually drop into conversation that you only started learning it a year and a half ago and someone asks you what the longest German word you know is,  you can confidently roll off the compound noun  Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung. Moreover, you can explain why the word is logically constructed. Trust me, people will think you’re amazing. So, don’t be put off just because the word for daisy is Gänseblümchen.

German at Oxford

In February we ran an open day for prospective students of German at Oxford. In the recording below, Prof. Henrike Lähnemann gives an overview of German at Oxford.

We offer German at a variety of entry levels, from post-A Level to beginner. The first-year course is designed to provide a structured introduction to the areas of the subject which will then be explored in depth later on. It is closely tailored to the entry level in order to equip all students with the necessary knowledge and skills. Whatever the starting-point, students study the same course for the second, third and fourth years.

In the first year, you will consolidate and improve your language skills while exploring issues of twentieth-century German society and developing an appreciation of German language and literary culture. A key element for post-A-level students is a course entitled Deutsche Gesellschaft und Kultur seit 1890. This is taught in German, in lectures and small classes, and is the basis for an integrated study of modern German language and literature. In tutorials and classes students on all of the first-year pathways will explore a range of literary texts and develop their oral and
written presentation skills in both English and German. The emphasis is on literature from 1890 to 1933 – a period of huge social change and industrial advance, and of the redefinition of the modern German nation through politics and war.

But students are also introduced to texts from other periods of German cultural history, from the medieval to the contemporary. The second and final years permit you to choose from a wide array of subjects, including the study of literary texts and cultural history from 800AD to the present day, modern linguistics and linguistic history, and a constantly evolving range of special authors and special subjects, including: Old Norse Sagas, Yiddish, women’s writing, medieval Minnesang, Nietzsche, cinema studies, the literature of the GDR, contemporary writing, advanced translation.

One of the great attractions of the Modern Languages course is the year abroad. Many students go as language assistants to schools in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. This offers an excellent opportunity for becoming integrated in a German-speaking community, and it is well-paid work which leaves time for you to continue your studies, travel and pursue other interests. Students of
German have also worked for international companies, in art galleries and museums, and at dance or theatre school. Others have studied at one of the many German universities with which Oxford has ties. Immersion in the language and society is an enormous benefit to our students. The key is to enjoy and to learn.

Most students at Oxford study German with another language, but it is also possible for post-A-level students to take “German sole” – in which case the first year course includes film, and medieval
and philosophical texts. Alternatively post-A-level students can combine German with Classics, English, History, Linguistics, a Middle Eastern Language, or with Philosophy.

A glimpse of our Year 9 Languages afternoon

Last week, the Medieval and Modern Languages team at Oxford had the pleasure of meeting a group of Year 9 students from several schools across Oxfordshire. We spent an afternoon with them doing workshops on film subtitling in French, German, and Spanish, picking up some Russian, Portuguese, Italian, and Hebrew ab initio (from scratch), as well as being treated to an introduction to linguistics. At the end of the afternoon, Dr Simon Kemp, who teaches French at Somerville College, gave us an overview of Modern Languages at university. If you are considering languages as an option at degree level, take a look below at Simon’s presentation…

Joint Schools Part 2: Applying

Last week, Georgina Ramsay, who studies French and English at The Queen’s College, gave us an introduction to studying a modern language alongside another subject. This week she tells us more about applying…

Applying

Once I was certain I was going to apply for English and French the first challenge was writing a personal statement that conveyed my passion for both the subjects. Something I would advise when it comes to writing personal statements for joint-honours degree courses is to find connections between the two subjects because, after all, the reason you are applying for two subjects rather than one is because you think they are complementary.

Admissions Test

Something to consider when applying for a joint-honours course at Oxford is that you might have to take two admissions tests. For me that meant taking both the ELAT and the MLAT on the same day. Before the day of the tests try to do as much practice in timed conditions as you can, using the past papers available online. If possible – especially with the MLAT – it can be useful to ask your languages teacher to have a look through it or go over anything you are unsure of. On the day of the tests remember to pace yourself!

Interviews

As you are applying for two subjects you need to be interviewed, and then accepted, by both tutours for both subjects. One of my concerns as my interview approached was speaking in the foreign language in my French interview. This is a common worry but remember that tutors do take into account that you are an A-Level student and also that you are probably nervous, so they are not expecting anything at all close to fluency. In fact, I remember in the last few minutes of my interview being asked a question in French and stumbling through and probably making mistakes. Do your best but do not worry about perfectionism! When it comes to analysing literature in the foreign language tutors are also aware that you may not have done this before but as the course places a large emphasis on literature it is definitely something to be aware of when applying.

Joint Schools: What are they?

At the University of Oxford you can study Modern Languages in combination with a number of other subjects: Classics, English, History, Linguistics, Middle Eastern Languages, and Philosophy. In this post, Georgina Ramsay, who studies French and English at The Queen’s College, tells us about what motivated her to do a Joint Schools degree. More information about Joint Schools Degrees can be found through the course listings on the University admissions pages. Over to Georgina…

It wasn’t until I was applying to university that I came across the term ‘joint-honours’ but I was definitely glad when I did. I had always assumed that I would apply to study English at university but following GCSEs, the first year of A-Levels and then attending the UNIQ Summer School I started to really consider the possibility of studying French. As excited as I was by the prospect of continuing to improve my French skills I was still conflicted between my two favourite subjects.

Taylor Institution (Modern Languages Library), Oxford

It was whilst researching degree courses that I realised that it was possible for me to continue with both English and French as there were some universities, including Oxford, that offered joint-honours degrees. I narrowed down my options, taking into account the split between the two subjects (some institutions place more emphasis on one subject) and what I liked about the Oxford course was that there was a 50:50 split.

English Faculty Library, Oxford

As an avid reader and bibliophile I had wanted to study English Literature because I liked the window it gave me into the world, history and different cultures. However, these reasons also applied to why I wanted to study French. A-Level French had been my first introduction into reading literature in another language and I had really enjoyed it. I realised that in studying French I would have access to a whole new world of Francophone literature.

After now having completed a full academic year I am certain that deciding to apply for both English and French was the right decision. I am now in my second year and I am still realising more and more the connections that can be made between the two sides of my course. For example, last year on the English side of my course I was really interested in postcolonial literature and looked at works by Frantz Fanon, a Martinican writer. I also studied Aimé Césaire in my French classes where I also learnt more about France’s colonial history. As a result I was able to see Fanon’s influence on Césaire and ultimately each side of the course was enriched by the other – which was what I had hoped for when I decided to apply.

Next week Georgina will tell us some things to consider when applying for a Joint Schools degree.

PS. We maintain that Modern Languages has a prettier library. 😉

Oxford Interviews: A Helper’s Perspective

Being invited to an interview at Oxford can be both exciting and daunting. While we hope that candidates will look forward to the chance to show us their intellectual potential, the last thing they should have to worry about is logistics – the when and where of the interviews themselves. Fortunately, when they arrive in Oxford they find that there are a multitude of helpers to make them feel at home. We rely heavily on our current undergraduates during the interview period to show candidates around the colleges, take them to their interviews, and generally put them at ease. This week, we hear from fourth-year German student at St Peter’s, Isobel Cavan, who gives us a helper’s perspective:

When I came to Oxford for my interviews, I can remember wishing that my four hour train journey could be just a bit longer so I could somehow re-read all the books I’d mentioned on my personal statement! I was incredibly nervous, but when I got to the college that was hosting me I was met by a really friendly second-year student, who showed me my room, where I could get food, and where all the information about interviews would be posted. He even carried my bag up four flights of stairs! He told me the best thing to do was to try and enjoy the whole process, and although it’s easier said than done, it really is true.

And the college hosting you will really try to help you enjoy it. Each college has a group of current students whose job it is to make you feel welcome, make sure you don’t get lost, and arrange a few fun things to do when you’re not doing your interviews. This might be showing films in the common room, or organising a group of people going for ice cream at G&D’s (the best place in Oxford for ice cream). It can be really helpful to be able to get out of your room and chat to people, most of them doing different subjects, and explore the town whilst you’re here.

Whilst the interviews themselves are never going to be the most relaxing half hour of your life, they’re actually pretty fun once you get into them. And if you have any worries, or just need someone to make you a cup of tea, there should be plenty of people around in the common room who’ll be happy to help. Four years after my own interviews, I’m really looking forward to helping out this year and making sure everyone knows where they’re going. Everyone helping will have been in your shoes not too long ago, and we understand how daunting it can seem. The colleges and tutors are all looking forward to meeting you, and I hope you have a great time at your interviews.