It’s the time of year when the annual rankings of universities and higher education courses are published. Here at the Oxford Modern Languages Faculty we are a modest and unassuming bunch, reluctant to blow our own trumpet. We do, though, work extremely hard to make sure that our undergraduate courses are inspiring and exciting, a world-class education in language and culture, and a qualification that will be one of the most valuable passports you can have to success the career of your choice.
Over the last few weeks, we have shared with you some of the material we would normally tell you about at an open day. Dr Simon Kemp, Tutor in French and Co-Director of Outreach, gave us a video overview of what it’s like to study modern languages at Oxford… but do the current students agree?
We asked three current undergraduates to tell us a little bit about their experience of studying languages with us: Dalveen is in her first year studing Spanish and Linguistics; Alex is in his second year studying French and History; Charlotte also studies French and History and is in her final year. Here they give us a glimpse of what Oxford has been like through their eyes.
Linguistics is an increasingly popular area of study amongst our undergraduates, with some opting to study the subject as one half of a ‘joint schools’ degree (a degree where you combine two subjects e.g. ‘Modern Languages and Linguistics’), while others study it within their Modern Languages degree as an optional paper. But, for most people, linguistics is not something they will have had a chance to study at school and the subject will be brand new to them when they start at university.
So what exactly is linguistics? Fortunately, our colleague from the Faculty of Linguistics, Dr Jamie Findlay, has recorded an introduction to the subject. Check it out below and, if you like what you hear, perhaps consider incorporating linguistics into your degree…
One of the wonderful things about studying languages at university is that you quite often have the opportunity to pick up a new language from scratch. This can be a wonderful chance to immerse yourself linguistically and culturally in something brand new. At Oxford, within the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty, you can study Italian, Russian, Portuguese, German, Modern Greek, Czech or Polish as a beginners’ language.
In this video, Julie Curtis, Professor of Russian at Oxford, tells us a bit more about why that could be an exciting option…
If you’re exploring your options with regard to universities, you probably have lots of questions, perhaps about the different courses on offer or the application process, maybe about the year abroad or what kind of jobs your degree with set you up for. Two of our tutors and Co-Directors of Outreach got together to record some responses to frequently asked questions. Prof. Julie Curtis teaches Russian and Dr Simon Kemp teaches French. Here they are providing some answers to the questions you might have…
0:33 What is the standard A Level or equivalent offer for Oxford Modern Languages courses?
01:24 Should I try to take four subjects at A Level? Do you take EPQs into account?
02:50 Can I take a gap year before starting my course?
04:58 What do you look for in a personal statement?
06:29 What do your language tests look like?
08:45 What schoolwork should I send in?
10:13 What happens in an interview?
12:57 How should I choose a college?
15:07 If I study two languages are they both studied up to the same level? What if I take one of those languages frm scratch?
17:00 How does a ‘joint school’ affect the Modern Language?
18:57 How do I plan my year abroad? When I’m on it, how do I keep up my studies in the other subject?
22:54 What careers do Modern Languages graduates go on to have?
Today would have been an Oxford open day, a date we look forward to every year as a chance to meet lots of prospective students and tell them why we think studying languages at Oxford is special. This year, that open day sadly can’t go ahead but some of our current students have come to the rescue!
We know that meeting the undergraduates is one of the best ways to really get a feel for what it’s like to study at Oxford, to feel part of the community and to hear from someone who has been in your shoes not so long ago. We asked eight of our current students some questions that we are frequently asked at open days. They are studying different languages, are at different stages in their degrees, and are at different colleges – we hope this will help you to get a sense of the variety of student experiences here at Oxford. And, of course, we do hope to meet you one day!
Something we get asked about a lot at open days is the amount of literature on the Oxford Modern Languages course. Prospective students usually want to know how far the course focuses on literature and what the benefits of literary study are. Literature is certainly an important part of a Modern Languages degree at Oxford, and if you study with us you will do at least some literature as part of your course. But you’ll also have the chance to explore other areas, such as film, linguistics, theory, or translation, depending on the language you are studying.
Check out this video from Dr Alice Brooke, tutor in Spanish, for a deeper insight into the role of literature in an Oxford Modern Languages degree…
Last Saturday would have been our main open day for Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford. It’s an event we normally look forward to delivering because it’s an exciting chance to meet lots of prospective students and share with them our passion for studying languages and cultures, as well as introducing them to what it’s like to be a student at Oxford. We’re sad not to have been able to host that open day this year but the happy news is that we are creating some online content to replicate what we would have said, had the event gone ahead as planned.
First up, our Co-Director of Outreach and Schools Liaison Officer for French, Dr Simon Kemp, has recorded an overview of Modern Languages at Oxford: the different courses that are available, what they entail, and why Oxford is unique.
If you were thinking about coming along to the May open day, or to the open days in July (which have also, unfortunately, been cancelled), do check out the presentation below. We would also recommend checking out the video introduction to the course here. We’ll be posting more open day material on here in the coming weeks and we sincerely hope to meet you one day!
University-wide open days, Weds 1 and Thurs 2 July, Fri 18 September
You need to book a place for all the open days above in February, March, and May, but you do not need to book for the July and September dates. You can make a booking here.
But you might be wondering what can I expect from an open day? How can I make the most out of my day? Which kind of open day is right for me?
Summer Open Days
Last year, we gave a detailed overview of the university-wide open days in the summer, which you can read here. Most of this advice will also pertain to the 2020 open days in July and September (although note that the dates are different from last year!). This is the right open day for you if you want to explore a few different colleges in one day, or if you’re not sure which subject you’re interested in, as most colleges and departments will be open on these dates. There’s a real buzz around these events but we highly recommend planning your day in advance as the city gets very busy!
Alex, who is currently in his second year of a degree in French and History, has this piece of advice for students coming to the summer open days: ” One piece of advice I have for prospective joint schools applicants would be to research which colleges do not offer your preferred combination before you attend a university-wide open day. That way, you’ll be able to prioritise visiting just the colleges which offer your degree, saving time on the open day and hugely simplifying the daunting college selection process!”
Language-specific open days
However, the Modern Languages-specific open days in the spring are a little different…
First, they include more academic content than a wider open day: because the smaller open days are so focussed in their scope, they can spend more time exploring a subject in depth. So, for example, on the German open day you can have an introduction to German film, linguistics, or different types of literature. On the Spanish and Portuguese open day, you can explore women’s writing in both languages, as well as begin to explore other peninsular languages like Catalan and Galician. The Italian open day will introduce you to one of Italian literature’s biggest names, Dante, and on the Slavonic languages open day you can learn about Czech pop stars!
While the bigger open days will provide a wealth of information about the courses we offer, as well as offer a fantastic opportunity to meet our students and tutors, the sheer scale of these bigger events limits the time and space we have to get stuck in academically. That’s why, if you already know you’re interested in a particualr language, we would encourage you to come along to a language-specific event if you can, as it will really give you a flavour of what it’s actually like to study at Oxford.
Second, the pace of the smaller open days is a little slower. While on the big summer open days you might find yourself rushing around the city, trying to fit in visits to three or four colleges and a couple of departments, the smaller open days are more measured and you will be escorted from one venue to the next. This gives you the time to have in-depth conversations with current undergraduates and tutors and to take in your surroundings.
Nadia, a current student, says: “I went on a Modern Languages Open Day. I found it very useful in giving me useful information on the course structure for both single and joint honours and helpful towards giving advice for the Oxbridge process for the admissions testing and courage to take my subject beyond the classroom. It was useful to also have taster sessions, which I found really enjoyable. It is an encouraging experience, so I would tell students on edge on whether to apply to go to these days as it will give you a gist whether the course and the place is the ‘best place’ for you.”
The general Modern Languages open day
If you’re interested in more than one language, or in studying a language in combination with another subject, you might consider coming to our general Modern Languages open day in May. The advantage of this event is that it offers both a wide overview of Modern Languages at Oxford in the morning, witha chance to ask questions about admissions, and plenty of time to speak to tutors from each language in the afternoon. You can therefore be exposed to more than one language but avoid the time pressures that can sometimes affect the summer open days.
So, if you would like to know more about several languages but you’re not able to attend more than one language-specific open day, this event will be a good opportunity for you to explore different options. There is also a separate Q&A especially for parents.
Fred, who is in his first year studying French and Linguistics, says: “I attended the Modern Languages open day in the May before I applied. I found it useful to understand how the individual subjects that interested me fit into the faculty as a whole, and how the faculty fit into the wider university. As someone applying for a more obscure subject (linguistics), the open day was a good opportunity to find out about the specifics of the course (how the teaching works, what module choices are available in second year) and meet the tutors in a more intimate environment.”
We hope that has given you a sense of which kind of open day might be best for you. Our top tips for any open day are:
plan your day in advance, particularly your route to and around Oxford. The city is not very car-friendly and open days can be congested so you will want to research transport options well in advance.
research the degrees ahead of time. The University outlines its courses online. Come to an open day with a list of questions to make best use of your time spent with the tutors.
talk to our current students. They have been in your shoes in the last couple of years and they remember what it’s like to be making a big decision about your future. Their advice will be friendly, honest and a fair reflection of what it’s really like to study at Oxford.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The tutors are very happy to talk to you about the degree, the way they teach, and how to apply. If something is worrying you or you’re not sure, we would much rather you ask for clarification or advice. As always, we’re happy to answer any questions about the degree(s) we offer and the admissions process if you email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to see some of you at one of our open days very soon!
This post was written by Ben, a first-year student in French and Spanish at St Hilda’s College. Reflecting on where he was a year ago, at which point he had just received his offer from St Hilda’s, Ben has some handy advice forYear 13 students who have received an offer to study at Oxford.
With a history spanning longer
than that of the United Kingdom, a rich diversity of colleges each functioning
in a slightly different manner, and the bragging rights of being known as the
‘place where Harry Potter was filmed’, the University of Oxford might appear to
be shrouded in mystery and magic. Perhaps it’s for this very reason that all
those on the inside (myself included) are consistently asked variations on the
question, “what’s it like to be an Oxford student?”.
In a somewhat ironic turn of events,
it’s this very question I found myself pondering about this time last year. Following
the eternity that the month or so awaiting a response after interviews seems to
last, I received that fateful email confirming my place to study French and
Spanish at my current college, St Hilda’s. Relief, joy, excitement,
uncertainty, a faint nervousness – these are all emotions I would use to
describe my reaction to that moment, and emotions I’m certain that some of you
kind enough to be reading this blog will be all too familiar with right now,
offer obtained, yet unsure as to what to expect.
Thankfully, help is at hand. Now
a term into my first year, perhaps the benefit of hindsight will help to shine some
light on the process of receiving an offer from Oxford. Here are four pieces
of advice if you do so happen to be about to embark on your journey with the University.
1. If you have been made an offer
by a college different to the one you originally applied for, don’t sweat it.
Whilst it is true that each has a different atmosphere, every student I have
spoken to in the first year already cherishes the college that they have ended up
at. And this isn’t just smooth phrasing copied and pasted from the university
website, no – I’m speaking from personal experience. I myself originally applied
to another college, and if I can settle in perfectly, you most certainly will
2. Keep an eye on your inbox.
Oxford’s team of tutors and academics will often give you advice and support
from the moment you’re made an offer – be that in the form of answers to any
academic questions you may have, or reading lists to prepare you for the
course. If you haven’t turned on notifications for your email app, now’s the
3. Go to an offer holder day. Many
colleges will run a day specifically designed for the incoming year group. Meet
others you may well be sharing a tutorial with, grill those already on the
course, perhaps even just get to know the college a little better – regardless
of how you spend it, it’s an event well worth attending.
4. Join Freshers’ pages. Oxford
students come from a wide range of different places, yet that distance is
nothing social media can’t handle. Prospective language students’ group chats
are particularly lively, and a great way to meet people if talking to those on
the offer holder day is just too twentieth century.
To finish this blog, whilst it
may seem daunting at first, arguably the most important piece of advice is that
of not panicking. Both your college and other students are fully aware that
everything is novel, and that the jump from Sixth Form to university requires
some getting used to. Surprising though it may sound, Freshers’ Week is in this
sense far more than a social event: it will give you all the valuable information
you could possibly need, settling any doubts whose answers you haven’t already
And so for now at least, as the
expression goes, ‘keep calm and carry on’.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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