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Guten Tag! My name is Tara, and I’m here to give some insight into studying German at Oxford (and Modern Languages more generally) as a current Oxford student. As I am in my second year at this time of writing, I will be able to share both my experiences of the course so far and my expectations for what is to come as I progress further, including the all-important Year Abroad!

I hope that this can give anyone considering applying for Modern Languages an impression of what the course could entail for you, and that you can then start to think about what aspect of the course you would enjoy the most! This can be a great thing to mention at interview, as researching the specific contents of the course that you are applying for shows dedication.

I’ll be sharing my specific experience of studying German Sole (German on its own without a second subject), but much of what I study will apply to other course combinations or will be similar to them – for information pertaining to your exact course choice, I recommend referring to the university website. It is also important to note that at Cambridge it is not possible to study a single language on its own, so if you are considering applying there then you will need to bear that in mind.


Year One

The majority of Oxford’s European language courses are split approximately equally between the study of language and literature throughout, but those who are starting a language from scratch have much more language tuition in the beginning to catch them up to their post-A-Level peers by the end of the first year.

For the Preliminary Examinations (the course that is studied in the first year) all language students study a core programme of a few pieces of literature in the relevant language alongside practical language work such as speaking and translation, whilst sole language students (such as myself) also study additional modules to replace the missing second subject in their schedules.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to study these additional modules (known as ‘papers’ at Oxford) – in German these focused on Weimar cinema, Middle High German (German from the Medieval period), and German philosophy – as they allowed me to explore subject areas that I had never encountered before and that I may not have been able to study at most other UK universities (namely regarding the study of Middle High German). I’ve found that I have a particular interest in film thanks to the Weimar cinema paper; the blend of art, literature, and music that it entails fascinates me, as I’ve always enjoyed these three areas separately but never had the chance to combine them for academic analysis.

Subject matter is completely prescribed at this stage of the course with no choice offered in what you study, but this is to ensure that you have a thorough grounding in the subject before you can branch out later. It’s impossible to know what you like unless you try it, after all!


Year Two

In Year Two, you are given more choice in what you study within the overall structure of Final Honours School (the programme of study for the rest of the degree). To give the example of what I’m studying, as a German Sole student I am taking a Linguistics paper and three periods of literature at the moment, with more papers to come as I progress into later years. Papers are taught differently depending on college so I can’t really comment on a universal way in which they are taught, but at Lincoln (where I am based) my tutor gives me lots of choice in the works that I study within a paper – this has been really helpful for me, as it has allowed me to expand on my interest in film and focus on texts that I am truly passionate about.

One nice thing about the way in which the Oxford Modern Languages courses work is that there are no formal examinations at the end of the second year – this means that you can learn for the sake of learning without the threat of exams looming over you, so you have the freedom to explore your interests! This also applies to the Year Abroad, where you may wish to read around the papers you are taking or explore additional interests alongside your main activity for the year.


Year Three – The Year Abroad

The Year Abroad is often the quality that makes Modern Languages courses stand out amongst other humanities subjects. This is especially the case at Oxford, where it is uncommon to have a period studying abroad except for within the Modern Languages courses. Oxford is very flexible when it comes to what you do during this year, providing useful guidance but not restricting you to a narrower choice of options (note: activities offered in later years may be subject to change due to Brexit). This is beneficial for both your academic and personal development; you can choose to enrich your studies by attending one of Oxford’s partner universities in Europe (and elsewhere in the world, for certain languages), teach English as part of the British Council Scheme, or find your own internship or source of employment. Being able to tailor your year based on your own interests is a real advantage of the Oxford policy, as many UK universities limit your options much more. 

It is also important to note that, although most of those studying European languages in Oxford go abroad in their third year, certain students (such as those studying non-European languages and Russian from scratch) are instead required to spend their second year abroad.

As for my plans, I am intending to study abroad in Germany, as I would like to take advantage of an extra year of university teaching (potentially learning an additional foreign language alongside my German studies) within the inherently social university environment – the aim is to speak as much German as possible, after all! – and to experience life in a traditional German town setting. I am very much looking forward to it!


Year Four and Beyond

Upon returning to Oxford from wherever in the world you have spent the previous year, attention shifts to the all-important final examinations. I can’t share my own lived experience of this as I haven’t yet reached this stage, but the year involves continuing with your Final Honours School papers in the first two terms before sitting your final exams in the third term. You will receive your final degree classification in the summer, and will then be free to decide what you do next!

It is worth noting that everything that I have spoken about in this piece is what applies to this year’s course structure – the course is unlikely to majorly change anytime soon as far as I am aware, but I would always recommend referring to the course pages on the university website for the most up-to-date guidance.

To conclude, I would like to wish anyone applying to Oxbridge the best of luck, and that I hope this has been useful to any prospective Oxbridge linguists – Viel Glück bei der Bewerbung!

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