Academic Requirements and course choices
The majority of Universities have relatively low expectations when it comes to entry requirements. This is mainly due to lack of demand for places rather than than any idea of languages being an easy option or not worth doing.
With the exception of the most prestigious universities, you can expect an offer within the region of ABB-BBC (with the language you are going to study usually as te highest grade). Entry for Scottish universities is usually ABBB-AAAAB however not all universities require the language you wish to study at higher but will accept standard grade 2 or above.
You can also study a more unusual language from scratch (Japanese, Russian, Swedish etc). The majority of universities will still expect an A level in another language. These beginners courses are often called 'Ab Initio'. Or you may decide to study two languages, or even three!
Also look at combined and joint degree courses - 'French and Politics', 'German and Economics', 'Geography with Spanish', '.... with Linguistics' etc. Combining a language with another subject will give you more potential career options.
Or look at an 'area' study - European Studies, Latin America Studies etc that will incorporate language study and other subjects within one degree. Interested in a course focused on all aspects of only one country? Then look for course called 'French Studies' etc.
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
Foreign Languages university courses tend to have 3 or four elements to them. Firstly there is the language element which includes skills such as grammar, translation and oral classes. Most courses then include modules on the literature, history and culture of the country/countries which speak the language(s) you are studying. Certain universities may focus more on literature, others on culture. You should choose your course carefully depending on which you prefer. For example, if you despise literature, it is probably not a good idea to apply to Oxford, as this course is very literature-heavy.
In addition to this, almost every language student must spend time abroad as part of their degree. Normally you spend the time either as a teaching assistant, studying at a foreign university or working (either paid or voluntary). It is usually up to the student to do the majority of the organisation of the year abroad and to decide how to split it between the languages studied.
Any Year Abroad is usually in the 3rd year of study, but this can vary depending on the university. Make sure you check this out before you apply, and whether or not this is an integral part of the course or something extra you might have to pay for.
This course structure for BA (Hons) French a the University of Nottingham is typical:
- Year one - You will receive a firm grounding in the structures of French through the core language module and pursue introductory studies in reading French texts, plus contextual studies related to contemporary France, French history and linguistics.
- Year two - Your language studies will be consolidated and developed to prepare you for the year abroad. You will study a choice of modules aimed at developing your knowledge in some or all of the fields mentioned in the course description above.
- Year three - This year will be spent in France or a Francophone country on a programme of studies in a higher education institution, as an assistant in a school or on a work placement.
- Year four - You will perfect your command of the French language and its use in increasingly sophisticated contexts and study optional modules drawn from a list covering a wide range of topics in the fields mentioned in the course description. You also have the option to do a dissertation.
Personal Statement Help
No matter what the subject is, many people are unsure when it comes to writing their personal statement and get writer’s block. Before you start writing then, have a look at this and see if it helps.
You must remember that your personal statement is the first, and sometimes only thing an admissions tutor has on which to base their decision to give you (or not to give you) a place. You only have 4000 characters/47 lines to present yourself, so use them wisely!
So what are admissions tutors looking for in a personal statement? (From Bristol University's School of Modern Languages site)
• interest in and commitment to the subject;
• evidence of clear thinking and understanding, problem solving and analytical skills;
• appropriateness of this course for the applicant;
• time spent in one or more countries where the language(s) to be studied are spoken;
• some knowledge and appreciation of the particular linguistic culture;
• reading or research which goes beyond the AS and A Level syllabus (or equivalent);
• non-academic achievements, extra-curricular interests and positions of responsibility;
• other relevant skills and experiences;
• team working;
• response to challenges faced;
• standard of written English.
Whilst it is realistically impossible to always include each aspect of the above, you should be aiming to show most of it, particularly if you are applying to a top university.
At its most basic level, your personal statement should have a clear structure, guiding the admissions tutor through with ease. Usually it is split into four parts:
• General Introduction [snappy opening, why do you want to study languages?]
• Academic information [things related to your studies that interest you about the target language(s), any literature you have read, responsibilities at school…]
• Extra-curricular activities [what you enjoy out of school, whether you have a part time job, Duke of Edinburgh award, travelling…]
• Conclusion [to tie together all that you have mentioned with clear enthusiasm, your future goals, leaving an impression on the admission tutor so s/he will give you an offer]
You should be very careful not to make any personal statement faux-pas, many of which can be detrimental to your application, some even more so if you are selected for interview. Some of these include:
• Horrendous written English, or statements riddled with spelling, punctuation and/or grammar mistakes. You must remember that your personal statement is a formal document, and must be written as such (no abbreviations or contractions!).
• Inaccurate proof reading [with words or book titles in the target language misspelled, or in some cases mis-copied!]
• Lies! Some people say they have read X, Y, and Z book in the target language, yet when quizzed on them at interview fall to pieces. You must know your material particularly when the university in question chooses to interview its candidates.
• Clichés! For example, “I always knew I wanted to be a linguist” or “Ever since the age of five, I knew languages were my true calling”. In reality, these are seldom the case. In addition, words such as ‘passion’, ‘fascination’, etc might sound good to you, but to an admissions tutor who sees these words in every personal statement will sound uninspiring and insincere.
• Monotonous language. You need to show flair in your personal statement, and the ability to write well will convey this easily. Using boring sentences like “X about Italy interests me”, or starting every sentence with “I…” does not show your enthusiasm for your subject and will most likely cost you a place.
Good luck and happy writing!
Life as a Foreign Languages Student
As a languages student, you will probably have around 12-14 hours a week of classes. These can be big lectures, smaller seminars, tutorials, language labs (listening classes). You will also receive homework, as there will be lots of vocabulary and grammar work to do each week. This means that you may be a lot busier than most other arts students.
Language students also tend to be quite social as the very nature of the degree invovles speaking. You will also find that linguists have a huge passion for their area of study, so you will meet a lot of enthusiastic and hard-working students.
Most universities will have societies for the languages, e.g Russian Society, French Society, etc., where Languages students and language enthusiasts alike meet to talk in the language, watch films and have social events.
Graduate Career Prospects
Language skills will always give you an edge in a competitive job market. So think outside any preconceptions you might have about 'what can you do with a degree in languages?'. Don't assume that teaching is your main option. Language grads go into the biggest range of job areas you could imagine.
The Languages careers guide from the University of Kent has lots of ideas about transferable skills and info about the sort of jobs language graduates do.
The Multilingual jobs website has examples of current recruitment needing languages ranging from French to Arabic to Cantonese to Swiss German.
The government graduate careers website, Prospects has a great article on graduate destinations for Languages Students.