Oxford University Modern Languages Extended Essay Rubric

Lucy Hamilton

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'I applied to Oxford on a whim: when I finally received my acceptance letter, I was convinced there’d been a mistake! Like most students, I began Linguistics as a completely new subject. I knew I loved languages, but had no idea what the study of them would entail. What makes this course so absorbing is that it offers such scope for specialisation: you can explore anything from controversial new theories on first-language acquisition to translation of nonsense verse like The Jabberwocky.'


He is an Associate Principal at ZS Associates, a management consultancy firm specialising in sales and marketing issues. He says:  

‘The Oxford tutorial system really mirrors the kind of deadline-driven project work we do for our clients – we understand and synthesise a large amount of qualitative and quantitative data in a short space of time and then make recommendations by layering in insights on top of the analysis to help solve the client’s business problem...when you think about it, the process has a lot in common with writing a good essay!’


The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The fact that language and grammar are almost entirely self-taught and expected to flourish without regular testing.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'It's okay not to love it all the time, and to think Freshers' Week is a bit rubbish.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'It provided me with amazing friends, amazing buildings to work in, amazing tutors (my teachers were world experts), incredible sporting opportunities (rowing!) and it prepared me for the world.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'1) Saturday of Summer Eights 2012

2) Picnics in Christ Church Meadows

3) Walking past the Rad Cam every day and still being impressed.

4) Sitting in Exeter Fellows' garden and taking in the view

5) Working on the balcony seats in the Taylorian (definitely the most breathtaking library in Oxford!)

6) Survivors photo at 6am at Magdalen ball after dancing to Labyrinth all night.'


Current job

Currently I work within the University of Oxford Development Office. I am also in the middle of translating a 17th century Portuguese book about native medicinal trees, plants and herbs, which was written in Kerala, India during the Renaissance Period (which is what I specialised in at University).

How did Oxford prepare you for this type of work?

As for the translation side of my work, it just so happened that not many others in the world have the combination of languages that were needed for the translation of this work: Malayalam (my native language), Portuguese (which I studied as a beginners' language) and English. My final year project as part of Linguistics was on the vocabulary and loan words in Portuguese and Linguistics, so I had already done a lot of legwork in finding words in Portuguese which were borrowed from Malayalam (often with their origin being other countries that traded with South Indians). As for my office role, my background in linguistics allowed me to analyse databases and gather information with ease.

What was the most important thing your time at Oxford taught you?

Studying at Oxford made me realise that I could, if I so chose to, do pretty much anything I wanted to in the world. That I studied at such a prestigious university was important consideration given by the employers (and can often be the difference in getting a job or losing out to someone from a non-Russell Group university).

Being from a state school background, it was eye opening to see how much work was involved in an Oxford degree, and I struggled at times. However, the tutors recognised hard work and I was able to share my passion for my chosen subjects with academics who were thought-leaders in the field.

Modern Languages have been taught in Oxford since 1724. The faculty is one of the largest in the country, with a total intake of more than 250 students a year (including joint courses). Undergraduate students can use the Taylor Institution Library, the biggest research library in Britain devoted to modern languages.

Language is at the centre of the Oxford course, making up around 50% of both first-year and final examinations. The course aims to teach spoken fluency in colloquial and more formal situations, the ability to write essays in the foreign language, and the ability to translate into and out of the foreign language with accuracy and sensitivity to a range of vocabulary, styles and registers. You will also develop your reading skills to a high level. The University’s excellently equipped Language Centre has resources specifically tailored to the needs of Modern Language students.

The study of literature gives you an understanding of other cultures that cannot be acquired solely through learning the language. It leads you into areas such as gender issues, popular culture, theatre studies, aesthetics, anthropology, art history, ethics, history, philosophy, politics, psychology and theology, developing your skills as a critical reader, writer and thinker.

Course structure

Your first year is closely structured. You will attend oral classes and courses on the grammatical structure of your language(s), translation into and out of the language(s) and, in some of the languages, comprehension. You will also attend introductory lecture courses and participate in seminars and/or tutorials on literature. If you study French, German, Spanish or Russian as a single language you will take a range of additional options in that language in the first year (see below). All other languages must be studied in combination with another language or another subject.

Your other years of study give you more freedom to choose the areas on which you wish to focus, from a very wide range of options. Students studying courses with Polish take this as a subsidiary language, beginning in the second year. Catalan, Galician, Provençal, Yiddish and most of the Slavonic languages may also be taken as additional options.

International opportunities

Modern Languages students spend a compulsory year abroad, usually in the third year. They may work as paid language assistants in a foreign school or do internships abroad, both of which provide valuable opportunities to develop career experience while improving language competence. The year may also be spent studying at a foreign university. (Students taking Beginners’ Russian spend the second year – as opposed to the third year – of their studies on a specially designed eight-month language course in the city of Yaroslavl.) Students are encouraged to spend as much as possible of their vacations in the countries whose languages they are studying. In addition to the possibility of Erasmus funding, extra financial support, including travel scholarships, may be available from your college and/or the faculty.

College choice

Please see our guidance on choosing a college, and which language combinations are available at each college.

Deferred entry

Students are welcome to apply for deferred entry for any language courses except those including Beginners’ Russian.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Classics and Modern Languages, English and Modern Languages, European and Middle Eastern Languages, History and Modern Languages, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Philosophy and Modern Languages or Oriental Studies.

Language Careers

Oxford aims to produce world-class linguists, and the skills gained and fostered by studying languages at degree level are much prized by employers. Their knowledge and transferable skills ensure that modern linguistics are among the most sought-after graduates in Britain. Employers value Modern Languages graduates because they are competent in one or two languages, have acquired a range of transferable skills and have first-hand experience of other cultures. Among the careers successfully followed by modern linguists are: journalism, management, the law, teaching and lecturing, arts and administration, civil and diplomatic service, environmental and development work, and many more.

Catherine is Director of the Refugee Support Network. She says: ‘Since graduating from Oxford, I have worked in the field of refugee education and education in emergencies for various charities, including Save the Children and various United Nations agencies.

The skills I gained at Oxford have helped me to analyse situations thoughtfully and critically, and gave me the confidence to establish the Refugee Support Network in 2009. I never thought I would use my language skills in situations as diverse as Sudanese refugee camps, with Haitian earthquake survivors and with young victims of trafficking in London.’

A typical weekly timetable

Your week’s work will include a tutorial in, or organised by, your college, language classes in the language(s) you study, and typically three to four hours of lectures for each subject.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

1st year


Two-language course

  • practical language work
  • study of important works and/or topics in the literature of each language

One-language course: as above, plus

  • for French, German, Russian and Spanish, additional options: film studies; literary theory (French); medieval studies (German/Spanish); key texts in French or German thought; short fiction (Spanish); Polish and Church Slavonic (Russian) 

Other languages must be studied in combination with another language or joint school.


First University examinations:Seven or eight written papers, including translation and literature (language only for Beginners’ Russian).

2nd year


Two-language course
  • practical language work
  • a period of literature in each language
  • optional subjects, including linguistics; medieval literature; detailed study of individual authors
One-language course
  • as above, but including a greater range of optional subjects
3rd and 4th years

Year 3

Typically spent abroad

Beginners’ Russian: Students spend the second year in Russia, and the third year in Oxford

Year 4

Continues the course from year 2, plus special subjects across a wide range of options including film studies

The options listed above are illustrative and may change. More information about current options is available on the Modern Languages website.


Final University examinations:
Nine or ten written papers and an oral examination are taken, including unprepared translations, literature subjects, special subjects and linguistics. Some special subjects are examined by submitting a portfolio of essays.

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