Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge

University of Cambridge: Guide & Discussion Forum

As well as the Cambridge Uni Guide we have a page on Cambridge Slang. Also see Standard IB offers for Cambridge.

Courses: for more information on courses, click here

Colleges: for more information on colleges, click here

What will the application process be like?

Sample Personal Statements

TSR has a Personal Statement section here with guides and help. See TSR example Cambridge Personal Statements and Laguages Personal Statements

Written work

You are likely to be asked to send in a couple of essays written in the course of your school work. You shouldn't write these especially for Cambridge and both you and your teacher will have to sign a cover sheet for each essay saying that it is the original assignment that you handed in at school and hasn't been re-written. What this means is that you need to make sure that you're working really hard on your school/college work and have at least a few examples of your best work ready to submit when Cambridge asks you for them.

The essays that you send in could be pieces you wrote in the languages you are planning to study at Cambridge. They may also want to see an example of your writing in English - you could send in a piece on any aspect of literature, history, thought, culture, politics etc. There isn't usually any word limit, Pieces written in a foreign language are likely to be shorter, Pieces written in English are probably best if they are between 1,500 and 2,500 words long (that is an opinion, not an official Cambridge guideline).

They will be looking at:

  • Your ability to write accurately and idiomatically in the target language
  • Your ability to structure an argument
  • Your ability to analyse a question / a piece of literature / a source
  • Your writing style

Note, however that they don't expect you to be prefect! They realise that you will improve a lot over the course of your sixth from studies and will be better by the time you start at university.


Often you will be asked to sit a short test whilkst you are in Cambridge for the interview. There is a sample test here. The tests are always designed so that you don't need any specific preparation for them - just turn up and do your best.


Watch the mock interview filmed by Emmanuel College here. In your interview, you can expect to talk for up to 10 mins in the foreign language if you are studying it post-A Level. You will probably be given a passage to read before the interview. This could be literature or a more argument-based piece. You might be asked to read a section aloud so that they can look at how fluently you read and what your pronunciation is like. You will have a discussion about the piece which will enable the interviewers to see your level of comprehension and how well you respond to new material and ideas. There will probably also be some wider discussion. This might relate to interests you have mentioned in your Personal Statement or written work.

How should I prepare for MML at Cambridge?

This advice may be useful in preparing for your interview but is intended for more general preparation throughout your A level (or equivalent) courses. It's probably stuff you're doing already, but there's no harm in setting it out even so. Note that the Cambridge website has a lot of information on it for preparation in the summer before you start at Cambridge (see, for example French department essential advance preparation for undergraduates, Preparation for ab initio Spanish and Preparation for ab initio Russian) so read what follows in combination with that.

For Ab initio languages:

  • Learn as much of the basic grammar as you can. Get hold of a good grammar book to work through and consider doing a language course if you are able to. (Lots of departments set some exercises to be completed before coming up to Cambridge; see their relevant websites for more information.)
  • Learn as much as you can about the country/countries covered by your language. History, politics, culture etc. Visit if you can, and if you do, make sure that you make the most of it - talk to the locals as much as possible, visit places, pick up magazines and newspapers to read at home.

For Post-A level languages:

Language work

  • Make sure that you really know all the grammar you cover in your A level course. Revise it often. Create tests for you to do at different stages of your course. It is really important that your grammar foundations are solid if you are going to build on them successfully!
  • Read as much as you can in the foreign language - this can combine with your preparation for the literature paper if you're doing it. The more you extend your vocabulary etc the more easily you will be able to read and the more enjoyable and fruitful it will be. Don't worry if there are a lot of words you don't know at this stage and certainly don't look up every one in a dictionary as this will slow you down too much. Just look up a few key words and try to get the gist of what is being said. It doesn't matter too much which authors you read during your A levels - follow your interests. Your language teacher should have suggestions if you ask them.
  • Spend time abroad if you can (though don't worry if you can't) and make sure that if you do, you're in an environment where you're talking as much as possible with native speakers - it's no good going abroad but then mainly speaking English because you are with family etc.
  • Listen to a radio station in your language rather than English radio. Watch films in the language. Use facebook in the language. Use your phone in the language. When you visit tourist places, get the leaflet in the language rather than English (or get both and compare them! This can be particularly good if there are some terrible translations ...). You get the gist! Make the language as much a part of your every day life as possible.

Scheduled papers

  • You have a choice of literary or linguistics options alongside your language work (in German there's also a thought paper for first years if you want to take it). Note that for French in your first year there is no such choice: you have to take an introductory paper to literature, linguistics, film, and thought. See the Cambridge MML website for further details about the papers available - there's a lot of detail there.

For literature papers,

  • The main thing is to READ - poetry, novels, plays, essays - whatever interests you. Read anything during your A levels then tackle the set texts during the summer before you start. (The more you can read before starting, the better: every minute you spend completing your first reading of a text during term time is a minute that you could be spending planning an essay on that text ...)
  • If there is a particular period or movement that interests you, you might want to explore it more generally with an introduction to to period (which may well give you an idea of what to read next too!). Find the corresponding paper introduction on the Cambridge website as there are often suggestions for introductory reading there.
  • You might also want to start thinking about different ways of approaching literature. A primer in literary theory could be interesting and useful. Here are a few suggestions:
    • Jonathan Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction - a lively short text,
    • Andrew Bennett, Nicholas Royle: An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory
    • Peter Barry's Beginning Theory

Don't feel that you need to agree with or memorise everything in these books - just use them as a way to stimulate your thinking about the foreign texts you're reading.

For linguistics,

  • Consider reading some of the recommended material, such as (for Spanish) The Spanish Language Today. These texts are usually available from town libraries, although often only through the inter-library loans system.
  • Familiarise yourself with the International Phonetic Alphabet if you have time (although remember that your language(s) won't use all the symbols!).

Where can I buy my set texts?

Note that it's really important to get the editions specified by Cambridge. If you don't, you may not have the same quality in footnotes etc and you'll spend the whole time faffing with page numbers when you want to discuss passages. Note that all the books will, of course, be available in the Cambridge libraries.

Tips for reading specific Part 1A texts

FRENCH: Montesquieu, Les lettres persanes

  • do a google search of french history of the period - there is a lot of social comment and time-relevant points.
  • Think about narration - who narrates it, what are they narrating, what is the relationship between narrator and author?
  • Think about the "epistolary style" (or however its spelt) and how that multiplies the "writer" and the "reader".
  • Think about who the characters are, what identities are imposed on them and by whom, what identities they impose onto others.
  • Think about how "real" the personas and the premise is - did montesquieu want to make it "real"?
  • Think about the ideas of "insider/outsider" "native/foreign" and the role of the "other"

FRENCH: Zola, Thérèse Raquin

  • Take your time, reading perhaps two or three chapters per day. This is many people's favourite text, and you miss a fair bit if you try to zip through it in two days or so.
  • Particularly in the first chapter, really revel in the use of language: think about how Zola creates an impression of the Passage du Pont-Neuf.

What is your timetable and workload like in Part IA?

For each post-A level language e.g. French:

  • A Use of French class once a week (1 hour) + 3-4 hours' homework.
  • 2 scheduled paper lectures a week.
  • A grammar lecture once a fortnight in the first term.
  • Translation class once a fortnight (1 hour) + 3-4 hours' homework.
  • A scheduled paper supervision once a fortnight (1 hour) + essay (maybe taking 3-4 days depending on how you work).
  • Oral supervisions with a native lectrice/lecteur once a week or fortnight depending on your college.
  • (possibly some extra college-based critical theory/western culture seminars once a fortnight)

For an ab initio language e.g. Russian:

  • A Use of Russian class once a week (1 hour) + 3-4 hours' homework.
  • 1 scheduled paper lecture a week in 2nd term (there is no scheduled paper work in 1st term).
  • A grammar class once a week (1 hour) + 3-4 hours' homework..
  • A translation class once a week (1 hour) + 3-4 hours' homework.
  • A scheduled paper supervision once a week in 2nd term (1 hour) + fortnightly essay (maybe taking 3-4 days depending on how you work).
  • Oral supervisions with a native speaker twice a week.

The Sidgwick Site

The MML Faculty is in the Raised Faculty Building, a sixties building on big concrete stilts, on the Sidgwick Site. Lectures are (very rarely) also held in the adjacent Law Faculty.

MML Exams

You take Part 1A exams at the end of first year, Part 1B exams at the end of second year and Part II exams at the end of 4th year. The exams are set by the MML Faculty and you will sit them in the lecture theatres on the Sidgwick Site. Most exams last 3 hours.

Result breakdowns are given here

How to revise for literature exams

1) keep reading / watching the texts - the better you know them the better. You should have read any book you plan to write on from cover to cover at least 3 times.

2) identify key passages and do some close work on them paying attention to the language used and effects created. Use those post-it sticky-outy things in the pages so that you can find these passages quickly. Photocopy them and have a field day with highlighters. Think about why they are key passages. Get some of those small index cards and do a card for each passage with key points about it on which you could remember for the exams. If you can talk in some detail about the text and the effects created that is very impressive.

3) identify about 25 shortish key quotations preferably ones that could be useful in alot of contexts and learn them so you can quote them under exam conditions. Make sure you learn them carefully and know exactly where the accents go etc.

4) identify the key themes for each book and think about them. Can you compare one theme in two different texts?

5) go through your lecture notes and condense them, identify the key points. Make some revision cards for those too.

6) If a lecturer has made a good point, rather than memorising his/her example, try to find your own example of the same idea using a different part of the text. That is much more impressive to examiners than repeating material you've been given in lectures.

7) PRACTICE ESSAYS in exam conditions in an hour. Try a few and give them to your supervisors to mark (supervisors are usually happy to do extra marking). Once you have written each essay, go over the question again while looking at the text and identify the quotes and passages your would have used if you had had the text. Make a revision card for each timed essay you did showing the key points and quotes you would put in an ideal essay.

8) Do a bit of secondary reading and find some shortish quotes / points that could be used in many contexts. Make sure you can remember and spell the names of the key critics.

9) Practice essay planning and decide how long you need to spend in your hour planning the essay and how you're going to go about it. Ask your supervisor for a revision session on essay planning in which you sit down and plan essays together on questions youve just been given.

10) Learn to read exam questions carefully and work out exactly what they are asking you before you start writing. It's all about identifying the key words and 'unpacking' them - working out what they really mean, what the connotations are, where these words might have come from, whether they are used ironically etc. Spending time looking at the question carefully will help a lot. Feel free to disagree or to problematise the question - if it's a bit vague, ambiguous or contradicotry this can be used to your advantage in your essay.

11) make sure that everything you wirte in your exam essays is RELEVANT to the question. If it's not relevant, don't write it.

Sample exam / essay questions (French)

Prospecive students. don't worry if these seem like hard questions - you will be trained to answer them during the first year.


1) Cléo de 5 à 7 is at root a drama of identities reflected, represented, and refracted. Discuss.

2) Cléo de 5 a 7 is a film whose heroine is caught between self-obsession and the indifference of others. Discuss.

3) For all Cleo's apparent mobility, her itinerary in Cleo de 5 a 7 is dictated by determining factors that are far from leaving her free. Discuss.


1. ‘Le personnage racinien tente sans cesse de remonter à la source de son échec; mais comme cette source est son plaisir même, il se fige dans son passé’ (Roland Barthes). Discuss with reference to Phedre.

2. ‘La seule pensée du crime y est regardée avec autant d’horreur que le crime même’ (Racine’s preface to the play). Discuss with reference to Phedre.

3. 'Phedre se presente comme l'expression meme d'une liberte et d'un choix arrogants et volontaires.' (Michelle Coquillat, 'Phedre ou la liberte dans l'acte heroique', The French Review). Discuss


1. ‘Zola est un simple analyste qui s’est oublié dans la pourriture humaine comme un médecin s’oublie dans un amphithéâtre’ (based on Zola’s preface). Discuss with ref. to Therese Raquin.

2. ‘In contrast with Zola’s prefatory insistence on physiology and pathology, the actual narrative is more equivocal in its evocation of the tantalising interrelation of flesh and fantasy, and of real and imaginary elements.’ Discuss with ref. to TR.

3. Though it may profess an interest in scientific observation, TR is principally fascinated by the spectacle of violence. Discuss.

(sorry for the lack of accents- my keyboard is rubbish)

What do people do after graduating in MML?

After doing their degree in MML about 30% of students go on to do postgraduate study. The rest go on to teach languages (10-15%), go into translation, journalism, publishing, international diplomacy, become civil servants etc.

More information about MML graduate destinations is given here