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Your personal statement is an opportunity to demonstrate to universities your motivation for studying Modern Languages (Modern and Medieval Languages, or MML, at Cambridge) and how ready and capable you are to do so. While other factors like grades and interview performance matter too, the personal statement acts as a point of reference, and universities will revert to it throughout the admissions process, so it’s important to get it right.

Often, the hardest part is getting started, since most students understandably find it difficult to distil their passion for languages into so few words, not to mention finding the time to write it! To help you know where to begin, this guide sets out the steps to take along the way, including what to include and exclude, how to begin and end, and answers to some of the more common questions students have.

Why are Personal Statements Important? 

The personal statement helps universities to assess whether a student has the potential to be successful on a particular course at a particular university, and also helps admissions tutors to choose whom to admit.

Given that the personal statement may be the deciding factor between you and another potential student for admission onto the course, it’s vital your statement satisfies the criteria tutors are working to. You must be able to demonstrate your passion for, and motivation to study, Modern Languages – it’s no good making the statement generic!

You should show evidence of being able to work independently – your lecturers won’t always be checking that you’ve done the work, so they want to know they can rely on you to do it. Universities also want to know you have the skills and curiosity to succeed on a languages degree. In other words, how have you developed your capacity for language-learning and used this beyond the classroom?

In short, the personal statement needs to do so much work in such little space, it’s essential you get it right.


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What Should I Include in a Modern Languages Personal Statement? 

When you have to condense your motivation for studying languages into 4000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters, whichever is shorter, you have to make every word count. It’s therefore vital that what you include is personal, relevant and impactful.

It may sound obvious, but for something to be personal it needs to be about you and why you want to study languages – so devoting half the statement to your favourite author won’t achieve this.

Likewise, you should only include what is relevant to an application for advanced study and to a languages degree in particular. It's good to mention extra-curricular activities and experiences, but only if you can relate them back to your chosen course of study. To write an impactful statement, you should choose to talk about the most compelling evidence that demonstrates your capabilities and interests in Modern Languages. In short, you must be selective!

Your Passion and Motivation

It may sound obvious, but why do you want to study Modern Languages above everything else? It’s important you convey what it is about languages and their cultures that really drives you.

A good way to demonstrate this passion is by talking about experiences you have beyond the classroom that are relevant to languages, for example travelling to the intended country of study, reading around your subject or watching films in that those languages, and formulating thoughts about what you’ve read, seen, and heard. When talking about experience beyond the classroom, it’s OK to paraphrase what others have thought and felt about the same subject, but just paraphrase, don’t quote; tutors are only interested in your views.

Evidence of Academic Achievement and Independence

It goes without saying that universities want to know you’ll be able to work independently and are self-motivated, so you should include evidence of your academic autonomy and critical engagement with the subject. Examples of this could include learning other languages in your spare time and drawing comparisons between those you knew before, going beyond your school syllabus and finding out more about the history of the language(s) you’re applying to study and its wider culture, including through art, music and film, participating in ‘taster days’ or online courses for different languages, or attending lectures on your language(s) and their cultures.

This is also a good place to include any language-related competitions you’ve entered or prizes you’ve won, but remember to talk about your entry or what you gained from the experience, not just the fact you entered or won.

Thoughts about your Future 

Universities like to know that you’ve fully considered what you’re signing up for. A good way to show an awareness of what a languages degree entails is by talking about the Year Abroad and which country or countries you’d like to study or work in, or what sort of activities you want to get involved with when at university.

You could also mention any career plans that you think a Modern Languages degree will help with. This demonstrates on the one hand that you’ve done your research and won’t be surprised by the degree, and on the other that you’re prepared to make the most of your time when you get there. Just remember to keep it to general Modern Languages and not about any particular degree course or a particular university.

What Should I Avoid in a Modern Languages Personal Statement? 

What you don’t include in a personal statement is as important as what you do. The first consideration is that you’re likely applying to more than one university, so remember not to make the personal statement about any specific institution.

The statement should be as focused on you and Modern Language study as possible, so avoid such clichés as quotations from others and don’t waste precious words trying to ‘scene-set’ at the start: be as direct and to the point as you can. Admissions tutors have a limited amount of time to read sometimes hundreds of statements, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them to understand you and your desire to study languages.

Another point to consider is how you weave your achievements into the statement: tutors don’t want to see a list of awards but will want to see them as evidence of a broader interest in Modern Languages or suitability to the degree course, so make sure you’re selective and that what you mention is relevant.

Finally, don’t lie! You must be able to back up anything you claim as true in the statement; this is especially important if you’re going to be interviewed as tutors will question you about your statement’s content in depth.

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Advice on How to Start a Modern Languages Personal Statement  

When you have to condense your motivation for studying languages into 4000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters, whichever is shorter, you have to make every word count. For this reason, you should plan what you’re going to say before you begin.

Make notes around why you’d be a good candidate, what has led you to that course, and your wider interest in the subject. When you feel you’re ready to start, it’s sometimes a good idea to begin with some of the more substantive middle content as the opening line is often the hardest to write.

When you do come to write the introduction, avoid clichés like ‘For my whole life’ or ‘Ever since I was a child’ as these are hackneyed and have been seen countless times. Instead, be succinct and go straight into what interests you most about studying Modern Languages or where your passion for languages or a country/culture stemmed from; ensure you grab the reader’s attention with something pithy but not overly dramatic.


Advice on How to Finish a Modern Languages Personal Statement  

When it comes to concluding your statement, remember to leave the reader wanting to meet you and find out more. Tutors will have several considerations when reading the statement, such as whether to invite you for an interview, make you an offer, or want to teach you for three or four years. For that reason, you should leave them in no doubt of your suitability for the course.

A good way to achieve this is to link back to your introduction which (hopefully) established your passion and motivation for Modern Languages. In doing this, you can summarise and reinforce the depth of your interest in the subject.

It’s also helpful for tutors to see what you hope to accomplish on the degree course. Naturally, they won't be expecting a detailed plan for the three years; some general hopes and aims will be enough.



Understandably, there’s no one-size-fits-all statement, so each is unique. An advantage of applying for MML, however, is that the degree is interdisciplinary and so the opportunity to drawn on diverse experiences is greater than for other subjects. A good approach is to write down your interests in, experiences of, and exposure to not only the language but also the culture of the country through travel, music, film, art, architecture, politics, and food. With this list to hand, writing the statement will become much easier.

It goes without saying that reading as wide a range of texts as possible, both literary and journalistic, will be very helpful for developing your knowledge and interests, but try to keep up with current affairs of your country of study through podcasts and watching the news; it helps to know what’s going on there now, not just what happened in the past. It will be impressive if you can draw parallels between historical and modern events or works of interest in the statement.

You sadly don’t have an unlimited word-count, so you have to fit everything into 4000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines on the UCAS form, whichever is reached first.

It’s recommended you use as much of that word limit as possible in order to do justice to yourself and maximise the chances of a successful application. That said, don’t try filling space for the sake of it – make sure what you write is worthwhile.

Only include what you deem relevant to an application to study Modern Languages. The most obvious extracurricular activities constitute an engagement with the language(s) you propose to study, so travel, watching films, reading the literature, etc. Although you may be proud of your musical achievements, for example, only mention them if you can relate them to your degree course. Not everything has to be directly related to languages, however, so you could mention sport or music if these activities demonstrate your self-reliance, dedication to achieving a goal, and intellectual independence.

Whilst you cannot make your statement too specific to any one university, there are certain things you can do to ensure Oxbridge tutors know you are thinking of them.

Oxford and Cambridge languages courses have a high workload, so your statement should show how you’ve successfully juggled several intensive commitments, for example you might have won an essay prize while also getting a distinction for a school French project, or carried out prefect duties and found the time to help other students with their German.

Modern Languages at Oxford and Cambridge also put a strong emphasis on literature, so it’s a good idea to read poetry and prose in your language(s) with as wide a chronology as possible; you will be able to include this in your statement and draw on it at interview.

Moreover, as Oxford and Cambridge have very strong historical linguistics departments looking at how languages have changed over time, so this may be an area to delve into further, if that’s your thing.

Book your Modern Languages Personal Statement Package

You can contact our Oxbridge-graduate Consultants on +44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or email [email protected] to discuss our personal statement packages. 

If you’d like to know more about Modern Languages, we have admissions test guidance and interview preparation readily available. 

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