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…
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’.
Next Wednesday and Thursday we see the final open days before the summer holiday. These open days are taking place across almost the whole university, with most colleges and departments opening their doors to meet prospective students and their parents, carers, companions, or teachers. Here’s what you need to know…
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Many students find that attending an open day is the best way to get a feel for the university. These events are opportunities to find out information about the various courses Oxford offers, discover the college system, perhaps go on a few college tours, ask the tutors and current students any questions you might have, and learn about fees and funding, and the application process.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The university is made up of different colleges and departments, as well as central bodies. Colleges are your home when you’re in Oxford: some of your teaching is likely to take place there, and you would live in college for at least part of your degree. Colleges are small, supportive environments where you can study, socialise, and feel part of an intimate community. Facilities often include: accommodation, a dining hall or cafeteria, a library, tutors’ teaching rooms, music rooms, laundry rooms, and a common room (known as the JCR). Departments are where your subject is based e.g. ‘Modern Languages’. Some of your teaching will take place in the department, and there is usually a departmental library.
The great thing about the July open days is that all the colleges and most departments are open to prospective students at the same time, so you can really get a feel for the different constituent parts of Oxford University. Departments will be running talks on the courses they offer, and on admissions, which will often take place in the morning. Colleges will also be offering talks and tours of their grounds, as well as opportunities for parents to talk to college staff, and for you to find out more about funding opportunities, adjustments made for disabilities, and the welfare system.
Every department and college will have a slightly different way of running their open days and will have different things on offer. Information on topics like bursaries, career pathways, admissions, options for mature students and options for international students will also be available centrally at the Examination Schools. It’s really worth doing some planning in advance and identifying a couple of key talks you would like to attend or colleges you might like to explore, as the city gets very busy on open days and you’ll find yourself pressed for time. That said, you can often just wander in on an open day if a particular college catches your eye.
Full the full list of talks and tours offered across the University, see the open day guide.
The open days are on Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 July.
There will be different timings for different departments and colleges. The Modern Languages programme is available here. We’ll be running formal talks on Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford at 10.30-11.30 and 2.30-3.30 (the afternoon talk is a repeat of the morning). You don’t need to book for these: we’ll be letting people in on a first-come, first-served basis so just make sure you arrive in plenty of time.
We’ll also be running a drop-in session from 11.30 to 12.30. This is your chance to ask the tutors any questions you might have about the degree.
Everywhere! The open days really do take place all across central Oxford: you’ll probably find that you cover a fair amount of ground as you explore. If you’re not fully mobile, you might consider planning your route between colleges and departments quite carefully using the open day map, and it could also be worth contacting the departments or colleges you would like to visit in advance so that they can advise you about accessible entrances to venues. Oxford’s Access Guide is available here.
The Modern Languages events will take place at The Taylor Institution (number 22 on the map) on St Giles. This building is also the home of our Modern Languages library, and library tours will be running between 9.15 and 10am, and between 12.45 and 2pm.
TRAVEL TO OXFORD
Open days are very busy events and the city sees a high volume of traffic, as well as more congestion on trains and bus routes. Parking in Oxford is extremely difficult. If you are planning to drive to Oxford, we would suggest you use the park and ride facilities and allow plenty of time for your journey. There’s lots of travel advice for open days available here. Helpers will also be stationed at the Park and Ride, and the Railway station to offer advice. You might be able to benefit from help with the cost of travelling to an open day. See here for more information.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION?
You can find out all about the Oxford open days on the university’s website. We’d love to meet any prospective students and their parents, carers, or teachers at the open days. If you can’t make it this time, there will be a final open day on Friday 20 September. And if that’s also not an option for you, we’re always happy to answer questions from prospective students – get in touch at email@example.com.
This week, we bring you news of yet another open day we have coming up later in the Spring. You may remember that we posted a few weeks ago about our German open day, which will take place on Saturday 23 February, our Spanish & Portuguese open day, which will take place on Thursday 28 February, and our open day for Russian and other Slavonic Languages, which will take place on Saturday 2 March. You can book for all of those events at this link.
Now some good news for the enthusiastic Italianists out there – our Italian open day will take place on Saturday 9 March at our beautiful Modern Languages Library, the Taylor Institution. As well as offering an overview of the Italian undergraduate course at Oxford, and guidance about how to apply and different options for the year abroad, the day will offer prospective students a chance to attend mini-lectures on ‘Dante’s Ulysses’ and ‘Reading Italian’. These lectures will be suitable both for people who are studying Italian at A Level or equivalent, and those who are interested in picking up Italian from scratch. They are designed to give you a flavour of two different elements of the degree – the literature and the language. There will also be a separate Q&A for parents and companions. This day is a great chance to talk to current tutors and students about what it’s really like to study Italian at Oxford. If you are interested in attending, please book a place here. Here is the full programme…
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.
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. 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 beginners’ language don’t worry, we will not ask you to hold a conversation in that language!
Regardless of whether you are applying for a language from scratch 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.
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!
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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