Modern Languages (French and Spanish)

I was quite torn about what I wanted to do at University, being unsure of whether to go for English or Languages, while also dithering about whether Law was the right option, since it was an area I’d always been interested in. However, as A-levels progressed I decided something involving languages and literature would be more enjoyable for me, and I could always do Law afterwards.

I was attracted to the Oxford course because the emphasis on and serious study of literature starts from day 1, while also gradually working towards fluency in both languages. The varied structure of the first year course suited me well as I personally had no idea what to study or what even one does study in a French and Spanish literature course, beyond the very basics. In the first year you are presented with a full range of literary texts , from medieval French poetry right up to a 21st century Latin American novel, with lots of things in-between. The range was fascinating, and you also look at the literary and historical backgrounds in which the writers wrote, and get to make links and comments in a way that you just can’t at A-Level. You then get to choose to study pretty much whatever you want in the following years, and the background of first year helps you to make an informed choice.

The course centres on the tutorial, a small group (usually with 2 to 4 students and one tutor) where each week a text and issues around it are discussed. Sometimes our essays are used as a starting point for discussion but usually the tutorials go in unexpected yet intriguing directions. You get a literature tutorial a week for each language, for which you will usually have done an essay beforehand. The tutors are so knowledgeable about each topic that you always end up thinking about a topic in a way that hadn’t occurred to you before. There are also lectures to introduce you to the texts. On top of that, you also get grammar and translation and some speaking classes, with a more technical focus in a class environment.

My favourite part of the course was the Spanish ballad (poetry) paper, as we got to study a genre from its conception to the present day, and it was interesting to chart its development. Also, I really liked translating into English, as the emphasis is on creativity and working with what you do know, without needing to worry about fiddly foreign grammar. The most challenging part was definitely getting used to reading Spanish and French in literary, often very old, texts, but you get used to it quite quickly. The workload is also a big step up, but luckily you get used to that too!

The thing I’d wish been more aware of starting off is how there is no mark scheme for literature essays in the same way as at A-level, so you have much more freedom to say what you want. It took me a few goes to break away from the A-level formula, but it was well worth it.

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