Modern Languages and Joint Schools

Why Somerville for your Modern Languages degree?

A leading light in modern languages

Somerville College was one of the first colleges in Oxford to offer the study of modern languages, and we have now been at the forefront of the subject for over a hundred years. The study of modern foreign languages was pioneered in Oxford by women’s colleges like Somerville, and, while Somerville is now a college for both men and women, we have maintained our focus on modern languages as one of our most important academic subjects. Somerville students study a wide variety of languages, and often do extremely well – both in terms of their final degree results, and in the range of careers into which their degree allows them to move.

We have one of the university’s largest communities of modern languages academics, postgraduate and undergraduate students at Somerville. Fellows in German, French, Italian and Linguistics are based here in Somerville; we share our Russian and Spanish tutors with the nearby Lady Margaret Hall. All are at the leading edge of their field, with an international reputation in research, and a wealth of experience and enthusiasm in their teaching. We have native-speaker language instructors and spoken language tutors also based in college, all of whom are contribute to the tuition of the fifty-or-so undergraduates studying modern languages here at any one time.

We are without doubt the best situated college for the subject: Somerville is across the road from the language centre and a couple of minutes’ walk from the modern languages faculty. Students of modern languages at Somerville benefit from generous travel grants and scholarships to enable them to experience the cultures they are studying at first hand, and we are proud to have what we believe is the best college library for modern languages anywhere in the university.

A wide choice of studies

We offer students the opportunity to study French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Czech. You can study them singly, with another language, or with one of six other subjects: English, History, Linguistics, Classics, Philosophy, or a Middle-Eastern Language. Italian and Russian may be studied from scratch, as can linguistics, philosophy, Classics and middle-eastern languages. Whichever language(s) you choose to study, the course will consist of intensive language and literary study through the first year, followed by a very broad range of options in the second and final year, enabling you to follow your interests into modern or earlier periods of literature and culture, linguistics, or other fields including philosophy, critical theory and film.

We don’t expect you to have studied literature before you come to Somerville, but an interest in literature and a willingness to engage in literary studies will be essential. Through the literature courses, you will discover in detail the cultures of the countries, in Europe and beyond, where your chosen language is spoken. You will be confronted with challenging new ideas, and you will encounter perspectives on the world from times and places far removed from our own, some of which will open your eyes to startling cultural and historical differences, while others will seem peculiarly close to home.

Those of you who choose to study linguistics, either as half of your degree or as a smaller part of your studies in a language, will have the opportunity to discover how languages function and develop, how they are related to one another and what they have in common, how language is learned when we are children and how it is interpreted and generated in our minds as adults.

An academic experience

The modern languages course is four years long, of which the third is spent abroad in a country or countries where your language is spoken. Students spend the year as teaching assistants in schools, as exchange students at foreign universities, on work placements, or a combination of these. Somerville places teaching assistants via the British Council scheme, and has excellent formal arrangements for student exchanges with the Sorbonne and Tours and the University of Bonn, as well as through the ERASMUS and Socrates schemes.

In your first year you will be taught mostly by your college tutors and language instructors based in Somerville. From the second year onwards you will have tutorials with academics all across the university, depending on who is most expert in the particular topics you have decided to study.

Somerville has probably the largest college library in the university, with a particular emphasis in its collections on the arts and humanities. The Upper Extension is entirely devoted to modern languages, where we have huge and constantly updated holdings of literature, criticism, language and linguistics for all the languages taught here. The college’s modern languages collection holds around 12 000 volumes in total, and students are free to browse and borrow as they wish. Among the many other fields of the humanities represented in the library, of particular note for modern languages students are the extensive holdings on women’s studies and the visual arts, a film studies section and a selection of DVDs in modern European cinema. The light and airy main reading room, overlooking the college lawns, provides a popular space for our students to study.

Modern languages graduates are highly sought after by employers for their linguistic capabilities, as well as the skills of close analysis, critical thought and reasoned argument fostered by the course. Students in modern languages at Somerville have gone on to a wide variety of careers, including finance, law, management, international relations and the media.


A message from the modern linguists

Students of modern languages at Somerville are a diverse and welcoming community of people from all kinds of backgrounds. If you are interested by the prospect of coming to Oxford University for four years of intense study, new cultural horizons, and rich intellectual rewards, then we warmly invite you to apply to Somerville College.

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