Why study languages at Magdalen?
Magdalen has a long tradition of excellence in the area of Modern Languages and its students regularly obtain good or very good degrees. Over the last ten years, several Magdalen students have been in the top ten in the Finals classification in the whole University in Modern Languages (or Joint degrees with Modern Languages).
Magdalen welcomes applications for most of the languages offered at Oxford. Magdalen also welcomes applications for any of the Joint degree courses involving Modern Languages, which in our experience work very well and regularly produce excellent results. Details of Joint degree courses are available below.
Magdalen has designed and installed a teaching room dedicated to the development of advanced language learning. Known as the Austin Gill room (in memory of a former French Tutor), it offers satellite, video and audio equipment, as well as access to computer-assisted language learning programmes.
Oxford offers a final-year option in Modern European Film Studies which is proving increasingly popular, and also first-year courses in French and German film (studied by those taking the “French sole” or “German sole” options). With the University Lecturer in European Cinema as one of our Fellows, and thanks to its excellent collection of foreign language DVDs, Magdalen is particularly well equipped to prepare students for these courses.
Magdalen Modern Languages graduates have, in recent years, gone on to well-paid jobs in such highly competitive areas as the City, international banking, management consultancy, interpreting, the Law, accountancy and the Civil Service. Here they find that their languages are a bonus and that the transferable intellectual skills which they have acquired during their time at Magdalen form an excellent basis for demanding work in a variety of areas.
Magdalen does not regard Modern Languages primarily as a vocational course. Nevertheless, some of its graduates go on to do post-graduate work and become university teachers. Others become language and literature teachers or translators and interpreters at home and abroad.
What is the course like?
The Oxford Modern Languages course normally lasts four years, with the third year being spent abroad (see below, How can I spend the year abroad?). In the first year, all students take two subjects: either two languages, or a single language with Linguistics (no previous knowledge of Linguistics assumed), or a single language with further topic papers in that language (only available in French and German), or a language in combination with one of Classics, English, History, Philosophy, or a Middle Eastern Language (see The Five Joint Degree Courses with Modern Languages). For further details see the University Undergraduate Prospectus and the Modern Languages Faculty Prospectus (available to download from the Faculty website at: http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/prospective).
The first-year syllabus is carefully constructed to introduce you to the study of language, literature and culture at a high level, through Faculty lectures, Faculty classes in certain languages, and college classes and tutorials. Most of the work is done in small groups. After the first year there is a wide range of choices, and while language classes continue, you will do most of your literature work in individual or paired tutorials.
Who are the tutors?
Magdalen currently has three tutorial Fellows in Modern Languages (French, Spanish, and European Cinema), a Professorial Fellow (Martin McLaughlin, the Fiat-Serena Professor of Italian), and Lecturers in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Linguistics. Our Tutorial Fellows and Lecturers are: Dr Toby Garfitt (Modern French language and literature); Dr Juan-Carlos Conde (Spanish language and literature); Dr Reidar Due (European Cinema, Modern French literature and thought); Ms Alexandra Lloyd (German language and literature); Dr Jennifer Baines (Russian language and literature); Dr Nicola Gardini (Italian); Dr Claudia Pazos Alonso (Portuguese); and Dr Rosalind Temple (Linguistics).
Who are we looking for?
We admit up to about 10 students a year, for all sorts of different combinations of languages and associated subjects. Usually between 6 and 8 will be doing French, perhaps 2 or 3 German, 2 or 3 Spanish, and 1 or 2 for each of Italian or Russian, but we have no fixed quotas. Our policy is to take the best candidates, whatever their particular interests may be, although in each year we try and take at least one student offering a language in combination with History; and the same with Classics or English or Philosophy or Middle Eastern Languages.
We are looking for students who have demonstrated a high level of ability in at least one modern foreign language, and who are predicted a clear A grade at A-level (or the equivalent) in that language. The majority of successful candidates will also achieve a clear A grade either in a second modern foreign language or in English. We shall normally expect an A at A-level in a third subject, which might be History, or Mathematics (among the most common), or, indeed, any other Arts or Science subject. Latin is always helpful, whether at A, AS, or GCSE level, because of its emphasis on grammar and syntax. For further details see the University's guidance on Entrance Requirements.
What part does language work play at Magdalen?
Magdalen, like the entire Modern Languages Faculty, takes language work seriously. Normally, language papers constitute around 50% of the Preliminary Examination (taken at the end of three terms) and a similar percentage of the Final Examination.
The Final Examination involves oral/aural tests studied in the language or languages, which count as one full paper each.
Magdalen shares a French Lecteur/Lectrice (supplied by the École Normale Supérieure in Paris) with one other college and a German Lektor/in (supplied by the DAAD) with four other colleges.
The French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian Departments employ native speakers as Language Instructors and Lecturers. In Languages other than French and German, courses run by these native speakers are the main provisions for language teaching. In addition, Magdalen undergraduates are always encouraged to participate in the courses which they offer on syntax, essay-writing and oral/aural skills.
Magdalen students studying German and/or Russian do a course on German and/or Russian syntax during their first year which has been specially designed to improve their formal understanding of the language.
Magdalen students are encouraged to use the University's Language Centre. This is one of the best equipped Language Centres in the country and has been singled out for special praise in recent Teaching Quality Assessments.
Magdalen offers an annual prize for a long essay in a foreign language, funds for travel abroad, and grants to enable its modern languages students to take part in language courses in target countries during one of the Long Vacations.
Magdalen students have regularly taken the well-established final-year option in advanced translation from French.
When you graduate, you should be able to converse fluently and write accurately in one or two foreign languages.
But doesn't the Oxford course emphasize literature?
Yes, indeed. Some of the greatest works of literature were written in languages other than English and we will certainly encourage you to read widely and learn to appreciate them. You will spend a large proportion of your time and energy on literary study.
Many students become enthusiastic about literature once they study it at university.
Don't forget that our course offers options in Linguistics, the history of the language and Film Studies.
BUT it is only fair to point out that most of the written work you will do will not be in the foreign language(s) you are studying but in English, because (a) you need to be working at a high intellectual level from the outset, and (b) the essays and commentaries you write in exams will be in English. It is the compulsory year abroad that offers the real opportunity to immerse yourself in the foreign language.
How can I spend the year abroad?
As a foreign language assistant in one country (the commonest solution, arranged through the British Council).
As a student in one or two foreign countries.
Working in a paid job in one or two foreign countries.
Magdalen's tutors have contacts with universities in several countries, and long-standing arrangements with Russian course providers in Moscow, St Petersburg and various provincial towns.
If you are studying Russian as a beginner (“ab initio”), you will spend the second year (and not the third year) abroad, in Russia, on a specialized language course. If you are studying a Middle-Eastern language, you will equally spend the second year in an appropriate country.
Magdalen students have recently spent their year abroad at universities such as Berlin and Montpellier, the Institut d'Études politiques ("Sciences Po") in Paris, working with the Argentine Football Association, teaching in Siberia, and internships in areas such as publishing and the media.
As far as possible, we will help you get where you want to go for your year abroad.
What is expected of a potential candidate?
A good command of the basics of the grammar of the language(s) you intend to study, or a commitment to acquiring them during a gap year.
A real interest in literature. Even if you have done no literature as part of your A level course, you are not necessarily at a disadvantage if you can show us that you read naturally and intelligently in any language. This includes English literature and foreign literature in translation, and indeed film.
Can I start a language from scratch?
Yes. Most people who study Czech, Greek, Italian and Portuguese do so from scratch or on the basis of a GCSE, and it is possible to do the same with Russian and Italian. But please consult us first. If you wish to start German or Spanish from scratch or on the basis of a pass at GCSE, it is advisable to apply for deferred entry as these Departments do not offer beginners' courses.
The Czech, Greek, Italian, Russian, Polish and Portuguese Departments now offer language teaching to absolute beginners. Please note that beginners’ courses can only be taken in conjunction with another language in which you are not a beginner.
Do you accept people who plan to take a gap year?
Yes, but only if you can provide us with hard evidence that you intend to spend it relevantly (e.g. working for a substantial amount of time in a country whose language you intend to study). Deferred entry is not permitted in the case of Joint degrees with Modern Languages.
What is the entrance procedure like?
All candidates are required to take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests on 6th November 2013 as part of your application. These are 30-minute long written tests for each language you intend to study, but not, of course, in languages which you intend to study more or less from scratch. The test(s) will be taken in your school or college, or an approved test centre. Candidates applying as a beginner for Russian or Italian will need to take a Language Aptitude Test. For Modern Languages courses which include the study of Linguistics in the first year and the joint course of Modern Languages and Linguistics, candidates will need to take a Linguistics Aptitude Test. Specific test requirements are explained on the Undergraduate Admissions pages at the following links: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate_courses/applying_to_oxford/tests/ml_tests.html, and http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate_courses/applying_to_oxford/tests/index.html, where you will also find specimen test papers.
Candidates are required to submit one piece of marked school or college written work for each language you are applying to study, written in the foreign language (unless you are applying to study a language from scratch). You must also submit one piece written in English on the literature or culture of the appropriate country, or failing that, something written in English from one of your other humanities courses such as English Literature or History. You should send three copies of each of these pieces, secured with a paperclip only and with a completed cover sheet, directly to Magdalen College, c/o Tutor for Admissions, to reach him no later than 11th November.
If you are short-listed you will have an interview for each language you intend to study. The interviewer will probably ask you about your reading, your interest in the culture of the relevant country, or the work you have submitted. Alternatively, you may be asked questions about a short passage in the foreign language which will have been given to you 30 minutes before the interview. You will, if you wish, be given the opportunity to speak in the relevant foreign language, but if you do not want to do so this will not be counted against you. Applicants for a single language (except French or German), as well as those applying for the Modern Languages and Linguistics course, will also have an interview for Linguistics, although no previous knowledge is assumed.
You may be interviewed by other colleges who are interested in you.
If we decide to offer you a place at Magdalen, we would expect you to have, or be able to achieve, AAA at A-level (or equivalent).
How can I prepare myself for the entrance procedure?
Make sure that you know the basic grammar of the language(s) you intend to study.
Read systematically - e.g. several works by one author; several works on one topic; several works from the same period; the book of a film.
Think about what you have read. Ask yourself what you liked or disliked about a book; ask yourself what you got from reading a book; ask yourself why you prefer one author to another; ask yourself why you prefer one book to another; ask yourself if the books you like have anything in common.
Ask us for advice. We are happy to give advice and information on any matters connected with the course and the entrance procedure. If you wish to visit Magdalen and talk to one of us, we shall be happy to see you, although we would encourage you to visit on one of the College Open Days.
Download a copy of the Modern Languages Prospectus from the Faculty website at: http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/prospective. This booklet will give you a fuller idea of what Oxford’s Faculty of Modern Languages has to offer.
The five Joint Degree Courses with Modern Languages
The Schools which offer degrees in combination with Modern Languages are Classics, History, English, Philosophy, and Oriental Studies (European and Middle Eastern Languages).
Magdalen welcomes applicants for these joint degree courses, which have been areas of particular strength in the College for many years.
What are the admissions procedures/requirements?
Admissions procedures and requirements for joint degree courses are the same as those for single subject degree courses — details can be found in the entries for single subject degree courses in the College’s admissions guidelines. The one important difference is that candidates for joint degree courses with Modern Languages will normally be interviewed by Tutors in both subject areas and, in most cases, will be asked to submit work on both subjects.
Why study for a joint degree course?
Many students find the variety offered by a joint degree course intellectually challenging and rewarding. The subjects with which Modern Languages can be combined connect with Modern Languages in numerous ways, and part of the interest of a joint degree course lies in exploring and developing these connections. Equally, a joint degree with Modern Languages can enable students to pursue a non-language-based subject whilst at the same time developing their linguistic skills.
What does studying for a joint degree course entail?
Students studying a joint degree course study roughly the same number of courses and are examined in a similar fashion as those students studying single subject Modern Languages courses.
As with single subject Modern Languages courses, all students studying for a joint degree (except in unusual circumstances) spend a year abroad.
What does a typical joint degree course look like?
Students taking a joint degree course usually divide their time equally between the two sides of the course. It is possible to ‘bias’ the course slightly towards one of the two subjects, but at most this can lead to a 60/40 split.
Courses are chosen from the ‘menu’ of compulsory and optional papers available on each side of the joint degree course. Given the wide range of subject courses available, there is ample opportunity for students to tailor a course of study to their particular interests.
In some joint degree courses, students study for ‘bridge’ papers or essays in their final year. These are designed specifically to combine the two disciplines.
Modern Languages and Linguistics
A new degree course has recently been established in Linguistics with a Modern Language. It is available with all the languages offered by the Modern Languages Faculty, except, currently, Czech and Polish. The course normally lasts four years, including a year spent abroad in a country where the foreign language is spoken, although it may exceptionally be taken in three years. It consists of a one-year introductory course, leading to the Preliminary Examination, and a two-year Honours course, with the year abroad coming between the second and Final years. Further details on the course can be found on the Linguistics website.
A special note on Russian for beginners.
Please note that it is not possible to take the beginners’ Russian course in the context of any of these Joint Degree courses.
Where can I obtain further information?
Further information on the five Joint Degree courses is available in the University's Undergraduate Prospectus.