Category Archives: Why study languages?

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

Undergraduate vs DPhil: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to continue studying a subject you love, beyond an undergraduate degree? Well, wonder no more! Further study is a popular route taken by our graduates, whether it’s completing a Law conversion, a PGCE, or a DPhil [1] . On the blog this week, current DPhil student in German, Isabel Parkinson, explains what this means and entails…

Being a DPhil student is to exist in a strange, liminal space between the student bubble and the real world. You’re straddling the boundary between town and gown; certainly no longer an undergraduate – in fact, you’re probably teaching them! – but still going to college formals, still claiming a student discount whenever the chance should come your way. I was an undergraduate here at Oxford, and I’m a third-year DPhil student now – not quite long enough to have produced a full thesis, but long enough to have noticed the biggest differences between the two degrees.

Expertise

Even if you are just a couple of weeks into your DPhil research, you’ll have crafted a research proposal that is so niche, and so specific to you, that you are probably already a world expert in your own little field. It’s possible that nobody else in the Faculty will be looking at your chosen author or text, or will have considered your topic with the particular slant that you have put on it, or will have seen the archive material that you’re accessing.

Isabel presenting her research at a conference.

How often you meet with your supervisor will depend on what you both decide, but there is a real possibility that you could go for at least a fortnight without seeing anybody else (theoretically, at least – I do not advise doing this). It’s a personal choice, how much you fill this time and what you fill it with: you may choose to take on teaching commitments, to convene this seminar or that reading group, to deliver outreach, to present at conferences.

Instead of tutors asking you questions to which they already know the answers, your supervisor(s) will ask you for your opinion and input because they recognise it as valuable, informed. It’s a disquieting feeling at first; similar to when the GP asks you what treatment you fancy for whatever ailment you’ve presented them with. But as you’re trusted to set your own working pattern, your hours, your deadlines, as the bare bones of your research proposal get fleshed out, the feeling of being a clueless undergraduate pushed, blindfolded and disoriented, into a world of Real Academics, begins to fade.

People

The end of an undergraduate degree brings an end to tutorial partners, college classes, lectures. Rather, as a DPhil, you will likely mix much more with people in fora not specific to your degree – the MCR [2] , perhaps your scholarship or funding group, on projects or at conferences. It generally means coming into contact much more frequently with people working on very different research – oncology, music, archaeology, politics, anthropology… you get the sense very quickly that you could assemble an unbeatable University Challenge team.

St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Unlike school, undergraduate, and maybe even Master’s, a DPhil cohort is also a much broader cross-section of ages and life stages. I spend an inordinate amount of time saying to new acquaintances, variously, ‘nooo, I can’t believe you’re thirty-seven!’ or ‘wow, so – yes, you were still in primary school when I was a Sixth Former?!’ Mixing with people who have spent years in the working world, or who are married or have children, helps to remind you that life is a little broader and bigger than your laptop screen and your library desk, in a way which the undergraduate world seldom does.

Time

Unlike at undergraduate level, there is more of a sense at DPhil level that you are expected to have a rich life outside of your research. Three senior academics have now told me, independently of each other, that one never has as much free time again after the DPhil – so enjoy that time; read widely; explore new topics; do those things that you didn’t get time for as an undergraduate.

View of the Radcliffe Camera from Exeter College
Focus

From swapping between ten or so subjects at GCSE, three or four at A-Level, a plethora of assorted papers or modules at undergraduate – a DPhil is the culmination of an increasingly specialised focus across your academic journey.

Rather than the constant working towards deadlines as an undergraduate – handing in a completed essay for a tutorial and, Sisyphus-like, beginning the whole process again with a fresh title – you spend three or four years focussing on one title, one big research question. That focus will shift as you get better at research, get worse, and then get better again, as you read more texts and soak up more opinions – but that’s what keeps the whole process so absorbing.

Isabel Parkinson

St Hugh’s College | DPhil in German


[1] Doctorate of Philosophy. The PhD is known as the DPhil in Oxford.

[2] MCR (Middle Common Room): The self-governing body and social centre for graduate students in a college. Fourth year students are also granted MCR membership. The MCR is also a room located in the college. 

Apply to Study Beginners’ German!

Here at Oxford, the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages welcomes applications for German at all levels. This means that if you haven’t studied the language at A-level, you can still apply to study Beginners’ German as part of your degree.

Excitingly, 2023 marks the first year that prospective students can apply to study Beginners’ German as part of our Joint Schools degrees. This means that you can combine learning German from scratch with another of the following Humanities subjects:

  • Classics
  • English
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy

So, if you’re hoping to study one of these subjects, but are interested in learning a new language, why not choose Beginners’ German?!

Take a look at our brand new video below to learn more about studying German for Beginners at Oxford, and to hear about the experiences of our current students who have chosen this excellent option!

If students apply via the Beginners’ German route, they will sit the Language Aptitude Test, which forms part of the Modern Languages Aptitude Test (MLAT).

Students taking Beginners’ German will receive intensive language tuition during their first year and further targeted language support specific to their needs during their second year. From the start of their course they will have some teaching on narrative works together with the post A-level group, and they will be fully integrated from the start of the second year, with access to all the course options in linguistics, literature, film and culture.

During the course, Oxford’s tutorial system and small-group language teaching will enable students at all levels to receive the appropriate tuition for their needs, which will build on the knowledge they have already acquired.

You can learn more about German at Oxford here.

Some Reminders

Happy Wednesday all! After some technical difficulties last week (apologies if anyone had issues accessing the blog), we’re back with a couple of reminders about upcoming events for (prospective) Modern Languages students… have a read below!

N.B. The deadlines for applying/registering for these opportunities/events fall within the next week, so don’t hesitate to sign up now!

Wadham College’s Modern Languages Summer School

A Summer School class at Wadham College, 2022
  • When: Monday 21st August – Friday 25th August 2023 
  • Where: Wadham College, Oxford
  • What: Summer Schools are designed to give UK pupils studying in Year 12 a taste of what it’s like to be an undergraduate studying at the University of Oxford. Pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university.
  • Who: Year 12 French, German, and Spanish students from UK state schools
  • How to apply: Fill out this application form.
  • Deadline to apply: 5pm, Friday 5th May 2023
  • More information: You can find more information here and email the Wadham Access Team at access@wadham.ox.ac.uk with any questions.

Modern Languages Open Day

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns
  • When: Saturday 13th May 2023, 10.30am-4pm
  • Where: Examination Schools, 75-81 High Street, Oxford
  • What: Our Modern Languages 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. 
  • Who: The 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. 
  • How to register: Booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here.
  • Deadline to register: Bookings will close at midnight on Wednesday 10th May 2023.
  • More information: You can view the full event programme here and contact the Faculty at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk with any questions.

We look forward to seeing you at these exciting events over the summer – don’t forget to apply/register ASAP!

Study Days for days!

Following our recent post about Modern Languages Study Days at St John’s College and Christ Church, we’re delighted to bring you news of another Study Day for budding Modern Languages students – this one is hosted by our lovely colleagues at St Catherine’s College AKA St Catz!

Academic Study Days are a great opportunity for students in Year 12 to spend a day exploring a specific academic area at St Catz, meet with some current students, experience a taste of academic teaching, and enjoy lunch in the dining hall.

St Catherine’s College (St Catz), Oxford

St Catz are running their Modern Languages Study Day on Wednesday 31st May, 10.30am-4.15pm.

Students attending this exciting Study Day will have the opportunity to sample a range of languages that are available at the University of Oxford. As part of this day, students will be able to choose two language sessions to participate in from a choice of:

  • Post A-Level Spanish,
  • Post A-Level French,
  • Beginners’ Czech, and
  • Beginners’ Italian.

    All students will also have the opportunity to participate in a Linguistics taster session.
You can apply to attend here!

St Catherine’s College’s Academic Taster Days are all free to attend and open to all Year 12 students (or equivalent), with places being allocated on a first come, first served basis. Please complete this form to register to attend one of the events.

Modern Languages Study Days

On the blog this week, we pass over to our friends at St John’s College and Christ Church to promote their exciting upcoming Modern Languages Study Days!

St John’s College – Wednesday 10th May

St John’s College, Oxford 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
  • An introductory lecture on applying to, and studying at, Oxford University
  • An interview session with a practice interview demonstration
  • A Q&A session with current Modern Languages students and tutors
  • A tour of St John’s College

To sign up: Complete the application form on our website between 20th March and 8am Monday 17th April 2023. All events and resources are free to qualifying pupils. Travel awards and Digital Assistance Awards 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.

Christ Church – Thursday 1 June

Christ Church is excited to be hosting a Modern Languages Study Day on Thursday 1 June 2023. This day is aimed both at students who are currently studying languages and those who are interested in picking up new languages at university. It will offer a taste of Modern Languages at university across both cases.

Christ Church War Memorial Gardens

You do not need to be studying a language already to do a Modern Language as part of your degree at Oxford. As well as degree courses in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Modern Greek, Oxford also offers joint-honours courses that can involve languages in different combinations, such as French and Beginners’ Russian, Spanish and Portuguese or Russian and Beginners’ Czech (with Slovak). Oxford also offers a range of joint-honours courses that combine languages with other subjects, such as English and French, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Philosophy and Beginners’ German. More detailed information about course combinations and content can be found on the Oxford courses webpage.

To find out more about the Modern Languages Study Day and apply to take part, please check the Christ Church Modern Languages Study Day webpage.

Make sure you apply to these exciting opportunities before the deadline(s)!

Modern Languages Open Day – Book Your Place now!

It has been wonderful to meet so many students at our language-specific open days over the past few weeks. Building on this, we are delighted to be able to welcome prospective students to Oxford for our Modern Languages Open Day on Saturday 13th May, 10.30am-4pm. The event will be held 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 will also be represented at the event.

*All of these languages can be studied here at Oxford from beginners’ level. From this year’s admissions cycle, students can also apply to study Beginners’ German with our Joint Schools subjects (e.g. English, History, Linguistics etc.) for the first time.

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. You can view the full event programme here.

Booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Bookings will close at midnight on 10th May 2023. Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

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

Why Study Languages?

One of the most popular sessions that we run with school groups is our ‘Why Study Languages?’ workshop. This can be delivered in person in school or here in Oxford during a study day or school visit or virtually, which often has the benefit of reaching a wider audience or multiple classes at once. The session can also involve different levels of interactivity with pupils and can be adapted to different year groups, depending on what is most appropriate and convenient for the target audience.

This session is delivered by staff and students here at the University of Oxford and aims to give pupils greater insight into the importance of studying Modern Languages throughout their school days and hopefully at degree level too. This can be particularly useful for year groups which are approaching their GCSE/A-level choices, as a way of encouraging pupils to continue with their language learning and increasing take up of MFL subjects at these levels.

We address the common misconceptions about language learning, such as the idea that most people speak English around the world.

Our ‘Why Study Languages?’ session usually starts with a short presentation which:

  • addresses some of the myths surrounding the study of Modern Languages and why these may not be true;
  • delves deeper into various aspects of language learning, exploring concepts like linguistic identity and the fundamental link between language and culture;
  • highlights the many skills which Languages students develop thanks to their studies; and,
  • demonstrates how and why these skills open up a truly varied set of career options for linguists.

The presentation can be accompanied by short interactive tasks for pupils to complete based on the topics covered during the session, or can be a standalone slideshow for pupils to digest on their own.

This is all followed by a question and answer session which provides pupils with the opportunity to ask our wonderful current Modern Languages undergraduates what it’s like to study languages at university/here at Oxford, what their own language learning journey has looked like, and anything else they might be curious about!

We’ve had some lovely feedback about this session from school groups we’ve worked with recently. The comments below from our time with Year 9 French and Spanish classes at Bacon’s College, London, made it clear that the session had impacted their decisions about languages moving forward…

From this session, I learned that there are more jobs opportunities than just teaching and translation. This encouraged me to continue to study French in GCSE.

– Year 9 pupil from Bacon’s College

I loved this session I am adamant that I will do a language for GCSE and A-level. Thank you for giving us this presentation.

– Year 9 pupil from Bacon’s College

The pupils also had some wonderful comments about what they’ve learned from the session…

I learnt from this lesson that languages are not just about grammar and vocabulary, and can be used for other uses like learning about culture and etiquettes. I understand how it helps in jobs and studies when we are older. I remember that daily practice is essential to improve.

– Year 7 pupil from Bacon’s College

What I learnt from the talk with Nicola is that to learn a language can be hard at first but if you keep practising, you will be able to speak fluently and that learning a language is important for many reasons like learning cultures.

– Year 7 pupil from Bacon’s College

If you’re a teacher from a state school and you feel that this session might be beneficial in encouraging your pupils to see the advantages of learning languages, please get in touch with us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.

Why Study Czech?

In this week’s blog post, recent graduate in Spanish & Czech from St Peter’s College, Joe Kearney, reflects on his decision to study Czech at Oxford and where the journey has taken him…

I chose to study Czech at Oxford because I wanted to try something completely different. At school I had studied French and Spanish, and I wanted to learn a language from a totally new language family.

Exploring Štramberk, Joe Kearney

The first year of Czech was certainly the challenge I’d been looking for. I sat in my first language class of the year, in front of the Czech lady (Vanda, she is lovely) who had been tasked with teaching me and my three classmates Czech from scratch, and wondering how I was ever going to learn what any of this stuff meant. The learning curve was steep, but incredibly rewarding. We started with the absolute basics: how the alphabet works, how to introduce yourself, how to order food in a restaurant. By the end of my first year I’d read my first short stories in Czech and I’d been to Prague and worked for a couple of months as a waiter in a pizza parlour! Learning a language from scratch is fantastic for anyone who fancies a bit of adventure.

We spent second year developing our speaking, listening, writing and translating skills, as well as reading more and more literature in Czech. Because Czech is a small course, with just a handful of undergraduate students every year, the course is really flexible. 20th century Czech history and literature fascinated me, and I was able to shape all of the rest of my degree around it. I learned about the interwar period in the First Czechoslovak Republic, the Czech experience under communism, and the Czech journey out of communism in the 90s and 2000s. Writers like Jiří Weil, Ludvík Vaculík and Bianca Bellová captured my imagination, and I was able to take my newfound interests with me on my year abroad, where I studied New Wave Czech film, a history of Czech photography, and modern Czech politics at the University of Ostrava.

View over the aptly named Smrk mountain, Joe Kearney
Skiing in the Slovak High Tatras, Joe Kearney

In Ostrava I got a job as a waiter in a tearoom (the best language training anyone could get!), I went climbing in the hills with my Ostravák friends, and I travelled with a great group of Erasmus students. One of the best things about the Czech Republic, we quickly found, is that it is a fantastic basecamp from which to travel all around Europe. I visited France, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, and even Sweden that year, as well as making use of the ridiculously cheap trains to get all around the Czech Republic. Some highlights were České Švýcarsko (Czech Switzerland), Skiing in the Slovakian High Tatras, and visiting Kraków, in Poland, and Stockholm, in Sweden. 

My love for Czech grew immensely on my year abroad, and final year went by in a blast. More learning, and more opportunities to take the voyage of discovery further and further.

I would highly recommend learning a new language from scratch at Oxford. My Czech degree was a fantastic awakening to a new world of culture, travel, and wonderful people. I have never looked back!

View over the Beskydy mountains, Joe Kearney

A huge thanks to Joe for sharing his wonderful experiences of studying beginners’ Czech as well as the stunning photos taken on his year abroad in Ostrava last year (2021-22).

If you’re interested in following a similar path, you can find out more about Czech at Oxford here.

Modern Languages Open Day – Book Now!

It has been wonderful to meet so many students (both virtually and in person) at our language-specific open days over the past few weeks. However, we are delighted to be able to welcome prospective students to Oxford for our Modern Languages Open Day on Saturday 7th May. The event will be held at the Examination Schools, located on the High Street.

This event is a fantastic opportunity for students who were unable to attend our more recent open days, or for those who are interested in learning about our other language courses, 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 degrees will also be represented at the event.

Students working in the Taylor Institution, the University’s centre for the study of Modern European languages and literatures

The Modern Languages Open Day is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to consider their options 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. You can view the full event programme here.

Booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

We look forward to seeing lots of you in May and welcoming you to the Modern Languages Faculty here in Oxford!