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Personal Statements for Language at Cambridge

I'm applying for a joint honours with a language from scratch (aka no a level in a language) at Cambridge and really don't know how to show my interest in Spanish/Italian on my personal statement seeing as I haven't studied it.
Any general advice from language students on it/ books to read, from those who have done similar?
Thank you :smile:
Original post by cos04
I'm applying for a joint honours with a language from scratch (aka no a level in a language) at Cambridge and really don't know how to show my interest in Spanish/Italian on my personal statement seeing as I haven't studied it.
Any general advice from language students on it/ books to read, from those who have done similar?
Thank you :smile:


Hi there.

@Meduse could provide some great advice. :smile:

Best wishes. :smile:
¡Hola! / Salve ! (Translation: hello!)

I'd recommend that for your personal statement, you have a think about the following and start developing your answers: why do you want to learn the language, were there any direct/indirect encounters or experiences you had with the language that prompted your desire to learn it, and why is language important? These will help to form some sort of a basis for your personal statement and they will help you to lead to other questions.

Make sure you don't ramble. I'm sure your teachers will have already mentioned this, but you do need to be concise and your thought processes need to be put into words. There should be no doubt about how you got from X to Y.

Ensure you include any questions provoked by any material you have looked at.

Please avoid any clichés like "learning languages opens doors" or "I relished in the cultural peculiarity of...", they're sick of reading that sort of thing. I'd advise that you hook into something specific that is personal to you.

I would definitely suggest you delve into some of the literature. It took up a large amount of the word count in my personal statement (I applied for Modern and Medieval Languages and received an offer). Obviously given you're applying for a joint honours, it may differ somewhat. You could pick something that relates to your other subject, as you said you're doing a joint honours, but you don't have to.

I can only propose literary recommendations for Spanish, as I only speak basic level Italian. I'm sure you could do a bit of digging into the classics, though, and pick something that takes your interest. There'll be plenty of articles containing reading lists online. For both Italian and Spanish, I'd recommend you buy any books in both the original language, and a copy with the English translation. Some books will have both the original language and a parallel translation, which is quite handy. This is so you can go back and forth between both texts and understand everything properly.

What you'll need to do throughout is constantly analyse and reflect back on what you have read. I quoted in the original language within my personal statement and pointed out what I learned, as well as any conclusions I came to. Beware of foreign characters. There should be a second personal statement box where you can submit a version that includes them. Else, I don't think it allows you to include them in the initial box.

If you can, read pre-twentieth century works as well as more contemporary writing. Ask yourself the following: how do these works compare to other ones you know? Do these books or films ask any big questions about the nature of life, experience, identity, history? If so, do they give straightforward answers?

Remember, though, that you're not producing an analytical essay. Don't go overboard with literary devices and whatnot. It's fine to pick them out if they lead to an important and more personal point, but they're much more interested in what you thought and why.

You're not bound entirely to literature, though I would advise you focus on it to some degree. Feel free to also watch some films in the foreign language with English subtitles. El laberinto del fauno is an interesting one with lots to analyse, and many students across the country studied this one for A-Level. It may be helpful to research any context before watching a film, or you could watch it without, write down your initial thoughts, and then compare them to after having done the research. You could also watch Volver. I normally wouldn't recommend these post A-Level as they're quite commonly mentioned and they're within the national curriculum, which you'd be expected to read around. Since the language you're studying will be ab-initio, they'll know you haven't studied these works in the classroom.

Here's a list of Spanish authors I'd recommend to get you started:
Federico García Lorca (La casa de Bernarda Alba, Bodas de sangre, and Yerma are good ones)
Gabriel García Márquez
Jorge Luis Borges
Roberto Bolaño
Diego Velázquez

You could explore some artwork, too, if you wanted.

Have you learned any Spanish/Italian at all? If so, how much do you know?

If nothing at all, I invite you to take a look at the grammatical basics. There are lots of beginners' books to choose from for this, which I'd recommend doing. Alternatively, there are several websites online with conjugation tables, explanations of tenses, etc. I'd recommend lawlessspanish.com and lawlessitalian.com. Don't worry about trying to learn everything, but having a basic understanding helps.

That's all I can think of.

Buena suerte / buona fortuna. (Translation: good luck)
(edited 1 year ago)
Reply 3
Original post by Meduse
¡Hola! / Salve ! (Translation: hello!)

I'd recommend that for your personal statement, you have a think about the following and start developing your answers: why do you want to learn the language, were there any direct/indirect encounters or experiences you had with the language that prompted your desire to learn it, and why is language important? These will help to form some sort of a basis for your personal statement and they will help you to lead to other questions.

Make sure you don't ramble. I'm sure your teachers will have already mentioned this, but you do need to be concise and your thought processes need to be put into words. There should be no doubt about how you got from X to Y, and no bold statements without explanation or justification.

Ensure you include any questions provoked by any material you have looked at and in which direction they led you.

Please avoid any clichés like "learning languages opens doors" or "I relished in the cultural peculiarity of...", they're sick of reading that sort of thing. I'd advise that you hook into something specific that is personal to you, and let it lead you onto other things.

I would definitely suggest you delve into some of the literature. It took up a large amount of the word count in my personal statement (I applied for Modern and Medieval Languages and received an offer). Obviously given you're applying for a joint honours, it may differ somewhat. You could pick something that relates to your other subject, as you said you're doing a joint honours, but you don't have to.

I can only propose literary recommendations for Spanish, as I only speak basic level Italian. I'm sure you could do a bit of digging into the classics, though, and pick something that takes your interest. There'll be plenty of articles containing reading lists online. For both Italian and Spanish, I'd recommend you buy any books in both the original language, and a copy with the English translation. Some books will have both the original language and a parallel translation, which is quite handy. This is so you can go back and forth between both texts and understand everything properly.

What you'll need to do throughout is constantly analyse and reflect back on what you have read. I found it useful to make note of anything I found interesting. I quoted in the original language within my personal statement and pointed out what I learned, as well as any conclusions I came to. Beware of foreign characters. There should be a second personal statement box where you can submit a version that includes them. Else, I don't think it allows you to include them in the initial box.

If you can, read pre-twentieth century works as well as more contemporary writing. Ask yourself the following: how do these works compare to other ones you know? Do these books or films ask any big questions about the nature of life, experience, identity, history? If so, do they give straightforward answers? What are the effects of any ‘strange’ things about these works that perhaps you don’t understand at first?

Remember, though, that you're not producing an analytical essay. Don't go overboard with literary devices and whatnot. It's fine to pick them out if they lead to an important and more personal point, but they're much more interested in what you thought and why.

You're not bound entirely to literature, though I would advise you focus on it to some degree. Feel free to also watch some films in the foreign language with English subtitles. El laberinto del fauno is an interesting one with lots to analyse, and many students across the country studied this one for A-Level. It may be helpful to research any context before watching a film, or you could watch it without, write down your initial thoughts, and then compare them to after having done the research. You could also watch Volver. I normally wouldn't recommend these post A-Level as they're quite commonly mentioned and they're within the national curriculum, which you'd be expected to read around. Since the language you're studying will be ab-initio, they'll know you haven't studied these works in the classroom.

Here's a list of Spanish authors I'd recommend to get you started:
Federico García Lorca (La casa de Bernarda Alba, Bodas de sangre, and Yerma are good ones)
Gabriel García Márquez
Jorge Luis Borges
Roberto Bolaño
Diego Velázquez

You could explore some artwork, too, if you wanted.

Have you learned any Spanish/Italian at all? If so, how much do you know?

If nothing at all, I invite you to take a look at the grammatical basics. There are lots of beginners' books to choose from for this, which I'd recommend doing. Alternatively, there are several websites online with conjugation tables, explanations of tenses, etc. I'd recommend lawlessspanish.com and lawlessitalian.com. Don't worry about trying to learn everything, but having a basic understanding helps.

That's all I can think of.

Buena suerte / buona fortuna. (Translation: good luck)

Thank you so much did not expect that level of response!
I will use your tips and see if any questions arise
Thanks again :smile:

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