Modern and Medieval Languages

Modern and Medieval Languages is one of the most varied, flexible, and wide-ranging of all Cambridge degree courses, and it can also be a life-changing experience. By the time you graduate, you will have spent a year abroad and acquired near-native fluency in one, two, or possibly three, foreign languages. You will have made yourself at home in the complex histories and cultures of at least one, but usually two or more, other countries, and encountered an array of disciplines, from Linguistics to Literary and Film studies, Critical Theory, Philosophy, and History.

MML at Christ’s

Christ’s has a long and illustrious tradition in Modern and Medieval Languages. Its students and Fellows were instrumental in establishing Modern Languages as a subject in its own right, and the Modern Humanities Research Association, which today plays a critical role in promoting the study of European languages and literature, internationally, was founded in a room in the College shortly after World War One. A number of eminent Modern Linguists have served as Masters of Christ’s, most recently Professor Malcolm Bowie, in whose honour our MML Society is named, and we have a lively, engaged network of MML alumni using the analytical and intercultural skills that they honed on the degree course, in different ways, around the world. Christ’s has been the springboard for many successful academic careers, and our Modern and Medieval Languages graduates also work in law, finance, journalism, PR, marketing, communications, international development, school teaching, translating, interpreting and a wide range of other fields.

The College has no fixed quota of places in Modern Languages, and the exact number admitted each year will vary according to the strength of our applicants across MML, History and Modern Languages and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (which allows students to combine a modern European Language with Arabic, Persian or Hebrew). Our typical annual intake, however, is around eight, and we accept students wishing to specialize in any of the languages available within the Modern and Medieval Languages “Tripos”: principally French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Classical Latin and Classical Greek. All these languages other than French and Classical Latin may be studied from scratch (ab initio), and we offer students the chance to take up Catalan, Dutch, Polish, Ukrainian, and Modern Greek as an additional language after the first year. Christ’s has a diverse and increasingly international student community, so whichever modern languages you choose, you are likely to find at least some native speakers with whom to practise in College, and we also assist our Modern Linguists with generous travel and book grants.

Christ’s is unusual in its teaching arrangements in that all students in MML have both an “overall” Director of Studies, who helps them balance different linguistic and cultural interests across languages, and a Director of Studies in each of the languages that they have chosen to study. This means that our undergraduates receive additional support in forging a coherent pathway through the Modern and Medieval Languages degree, whilst building strong relationships with staff teaching in individual languages. We bring our undergraduate Modern Linguists together for seminars on critical theory, exploring interdisciplinary approaches to the analysis of culture, and for “Year Abroad” talks, which have proved so inspiring that Christ’s third-year students now embark on some of the most exciting and enterprising projects in the University. Students also have the chance to exchange ideas with one another and with Fellows and postgraduates at regular social events such as drinks parties and dinners.

About the Course – The Modern and Medieval Languages degree programme lasts four years, the third of which is spent abroad. Students study at least two languages for the first two years, but may choose to focus on a single language thereafter, if they wish. Each year of the degree includes both language courses and a choice of “scheduled courses” covering different aspects of culture, history, linguistics, literature, philosophy, art and film. The University’s Undergraduate Study website provides a helpful summary of the degree structure, and further information about the courses available can be found on the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty website.
 

Student Perspectives

Callum: 

Hi, I’m Callum, a third year German and Spanish student at Christ’s. Before coming to Cambridge, I wasn’t totally sure that it was going to be the place for me — as a Northern guy from a working class background I was convinced I was going to be the odd one out. To my surprise and delight Christ’s has been a wonderfully open and inclusive environment and doing MML here in particular has suited me perfectly.

Unlike other courses, most of your teaching is outside of college, either at the faculty (department) or at other colleges with academics there, giving you a chance to get out and about. The course is incredibly varied with papers offered in all disciplines from language to literature and history to linguistics. Last year I particularly enjoyed studying Latin American literature and film as well as the history of the German language.

I started Spanish new at Cambridge (ab initio), having not understood a word of it before arriving. In my first year I went from the odd ¡Hola! to being able to converse entirely in Spanish and read Spanish novels. The ab initio course can seem a bit daunting, but it is well worth the effort — so don’t be discouraged if you only study one language at A Level (or equivalent).

I am currently spending my year abroad in glorious Munich, working as a translation intern for Allianz Versicherungs-AG… not as drab as it may sound! You are more or less unrestricted in terms of where you want to spend your year abroad, whether you wanna feel like a local in a trendy European city, or would rather go off-piste and live up a mountain in the Andes, it’s up to you!

If you think Cambridge is too posh or stuffy for you, then Christ’s will definitely surprise you. If a little Geordie lad can fit in here, then you can too!

Juliette Bowen

   Juliette:

   Applying to read Italian ab initio at Cambridge was a bit of a risk: not only had I never studied Italian before, but I hadn’t even been to Italy, so I didn’t really know whether the language would be for me! Thankfully, I ended up really enjoying it, partly because the first-year ab initio course (while it is quite hard work!) is very well taught, and you receive a lot of help and support from the MML teaching staff. In fact, I liked learning Italian so much that I decided to spend my whole Year Abroad in Italy. As I particularly enjoyed the literature papers that were offered by the MML Faculty in Cambridge, I’m now on an Erasmus study placement at the University of Bologna, studying Italian literature. So far, my time in Italy has been challenging but fun, and it has been really interesting to experience a totally different university system. Even though I will be taking my final-year language papers in Italian, I am still planning on taking one or two French ‘scheduled’ (optional) papers, too; the great thing about the MML degree course is that it is very flexible, so you can really tailor it to fit your specific interests.

Christ’s is a fantastic college for MML. One of the best things is the fact that, as well as having a Director of Studies (DoS) who oversees the overall progress that you are making in your degree, you also have a DoS for each of your languages, which means that you always have someone who can give you really in-depth advice about paper choices and other such things. The critical theory seminars, held throughout the year, are really helpful in bringing a fresh perspective to your academic work – they are also one of the many occasions on which Christ’s MML students get together and get to know each other!
 

Juliette has written more about her experience studying Modern and Medieval Languages in her student profile.

If you would like to read more accounts from Christ's students, please see the student profiles pageEthan's profile, a second year MML student, may be of particular interest
 

Applying to Christ’s

Details and a timeline for the application process can be found on the how to apply page. Successful applicants for Modern and Medieval Languages come with a variety of previous educational experiences, and a variety of qualifications. You do need to have studied at least one of the two languages in which you wish to specialize to A-level or IB Higher Level standard (that is, a standard broadly equivalent to level B2 of the Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). You also need to be academically ambitious: our standard offer for A-level candidates is A*AA, and for IB candidates 42 points overall, with 776 at Higher Level, but the majority of Christ’s students arrive with higher grades, and if you are studying within another system we would expect you to be working at or close to the top of the mark range. (Thus, an Option Internationale du Baccalauréat candidate should be aiming for at least 17/20 overall, with 17 or 18 in their languages, including English, a European Baccalaureate candidate for at least 85% overall, with 9/10 in their languages, and so on.)

You do not need to have studied literature, thought or history in any formal way before. Many MML students at Christ’s do have an A-level or comparable qualification in History, English Literature or the literature of another European country. However, we regularly accept students who have taken one or more languages alongside Mathematics and other Sciences. The structure of our degree course allows undergraduates to sample a variety of disciplines, and it is possible to maintain a broad portfolio of interests throughout the four years, but almost all students eventually chart a pathway based either on cognate cultures and literatures, or on the structure, history and properties of language (read about Linguistics within the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos). A background in Mathematics can be particularly helpful for the second of these pathways. What is most important, though, is that you are enthusiastic about language-learning, intellectually enquiring, and curious about cultural difference. It is also essential that you enjoy reading, because an interest in words and how people use them is the backbone of the course as a whole.

After you apply through UCAS, we will ask you to submit two essays you have recently completed, either as part of your school curriculum, or independently, providing you with guidance on appropriate length and format. We usually interview at least 80% of our applicants, and will arrange for all shortlisted candidates to sit the one-hour MML Admissions Assessment on the day of their interview. (The assessment requires you to use one A-level standard modern language; if you are applying for Classical Latin or Classical Greek with an ab initio language, you will sit the Classics Admissions Assessment instead.) Candidates at Christ’s have two interviews, one for each of the languages they plan to study. Shortly before one or both of these interviews, you may be given a short text to read, for discussion during the interview. An interview for a language you have already studied will include some questions in that language; interviewers for a language you wish to learn from scratch will be seeking to gauge the level of your commitment to that language, as well as general linguistic and analytical aptitude.
 

Directors of Studies, Fellows and Staff in MML

Developing Your Interests

We encourage prospective applicants for Modern and Medieval Languages to read widely, both in any language you have already studied, and around that language, and any language that you wish to study ab initio. Your reading does not have to be academic, but it is important to engage actively and critically with the culture of the countries where your chosen languages are spoken, whether by reading novels, poetry or drama (in the original or in translation), learning about the history of those countries, or keeping up with current affairs. (A comprehensive directory of European newspapers is available at Online Newspapers.) You should not neglect audio-visual materials, either: many students come to us inspired by films they have watched in relevant languages, and radio and television are a good way to maintain a level of immersion, though you should always try to reflect on what you have heard and seen. (A comprehensive directory of European radio stations is available at ListenLive.) Guided activities in the analysis of literature and culture, together with many other resources, can be found on the HE+ Modern Languages website.

It can also be good preparation for a degree course in MML to think more generally about how languages are structured, and how they evolve and differ from one another, as well as what they have in common. If this aspect of the subject especially interests you, there are some ideas for further reading on our Linguistics page, and the University’s Linguistics Department participates in the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty Open Day in March. Other subject-specific events you might wish to consider include Master Classes and taster days, and if you are a UK student from a background where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education, you can apply to attend a Sutton Trust Summer School in Modern Languages or to shadow a current MML undergraduate via the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.
 

Further Information

If you are able to come to a College Open Day, we will be glad to tell you more about the College and the Modern and Medieval Languages course in person. If you are not able to come to an Open Day, we will be happy to answer any queries you may have by e-mail (admissions@christs.cam.ac.uk).

"When I leave Cambridge, I will miss being in an environment in which it is okay to be passionate about and to work hard at your subject. There aren’t many other places where that is the case."

Juliette (French & Italian ab initio)