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Modern and Medieval Languages

St John’s College usually admits about ten undergraduates each year to read Modern and Medieval Languages (MML). The College is able to provide tuition in any of the areas taught by the MML Faculty, and there are Fellows of St John’s who teach French, German, Italian and Portuguese. Native speaker tuition is available in any of the languages taught by the Faculty, and St John’s employs its own French Lector/Lectrice. Modern linguists at St John’s are able to benefit from generous travel and book grants. There is an active College Modern Languages Society, and the College Library provides very well for undergraduate needs in the subject, including a wide selection of foreign DVDS. The College also has long-established student exchange arrangements with the Universities of Heidelberg and Pavia.


Courses in Modern and Medieval Languages 

The Cambridge modern languages course (the MML Tripos) is immensely rich and flexible, offering opportunities to study linguistics, literature, history, philosophy, film and other aspects of visual culture, as well as achieving an extremely high standard of competence in one or more European languages.

These different dimensions of the subject can be linked in a variety of ways, and at all levels the study of literature tends to be combined with aspects of the history and thought of the language-area concerned, as well as with the theoretical thinking that helps in the analysis of cultural issues.  Students are free to choose whether to focus their studies in the modern or the medieval period, or in any other area of specialisation offered by the Faculty. Details of particular courses can be found on the Faculty website. It is also possible to combine the study of a European language with Classical Latin or Greek, or with certain languages taught by the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

In the first two years (Parts 1A and 1B) there is a strong emphasis on practical language learning, including oral work, in two languages, of which one may be a language you have not studied to A2 level.  First-year courses typically offer you the opportunity to sample the kinds of study in which you can choose to specialise at higher levels, ie a combination of literature and film, the linguistics of the language in question, and elements of history and thought.

Modern linguists normally spend their third year of study abroad. They have the choice of studying at a foreign university, or working as an English assistant in a school, or doing some other kind of paid work on their year abroad, during which time they are required to write a dissertation, or a translation project, or a linguistics project, which counts towards their final exam results, and generally continue their preparation for their final year’s study (Part II).

In Part II the emphasis is on the advanced study of the literature, thought, history, culture or linguistics of the European nations and of those parts of the Americas and Africa where Spanish, Portuguese and French are spoken. Linguistics options can be studied either as part of the MML Tripos or in the separate Linguistics Tripos.

To see more details of the course please click here.

Entry Details

UCAS Code: R800

Entry Requirements

A*AA at A level or equivalent, provided that it includes at least a grade A in any languages currently studied.

There are many possible ways to succeed in Modern Languages. When considering applicants for admission we naturally expect a high standard of competence in at least one of the languages taught by the MML Faculty. But what matters at least as much for us is flair and intellectual curiosity for one or more of the kinds of study that are pursued in depth in MML, as described above. We structure our admission interviews accordingly.St John's will consider any application for Modern Languages based on a predicted strong exam performance, provided that it includes Grade A in at least one of the languages taught by the MML Faculty. Given the nature of the MML Tripos, there is an obvious sense in which an A level in English Literature, English Language, or History can provide useful preparation for some elements of the course, but since students of MML are able to choose from a very wide range of options we do not impose any specific limitations on the combination of A level subjects we expect applicants to have.

We are also very happy to consider applications for any appropriate combination of languages. If you want to take advantage of the opportunity that exists in Cambridge to study a language from scratch (this option applies to German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish), then we shall expect to see some evidence at interview that you are making serious efforts to find out what the study of that language and its culture will entail.

Those invited for interview will have at least two interviews: one with the Tutor handling the application and one or more (depending on the combination of languages concerned) with Teaching Fellows in Modern Languages.

With the letter inviting them for interview, applicants are sent a reply form on which they are asked to indicate the following:

  • The language in which they wish to do the oral test that is part of the subject interview;

  • The topics and/or texts and/or films that they are studying for their language A level(s) or equivalent exams;

  • The titles of any other books or films that they would particularly like to discuss in the subject interview.

The subject interview is likely to involve two or more interviewers, and after initial introductions designed to put applicants at their ease the normal pattern of questioning is as follows:

  • The applicant will have been provided beforehand with two short texts in the language indicated on their reply form and instructed to choose one of these as a basis for the oral test; the applicant is asked to read a portion of the chosen text and to answer questions about the content of the text in the language concerned; this will usually be followed by a few questions in English about linguistic features of the text, and the applicant may be asked to translate a few lines of the text into English. This part of the interview normally lasts less than 10 minutes. Applicants may also be asked at a later point in the interview to respond briefly to a short text in the second language they wish to study, or to speak briefly in that language, at a level that is appropriate to their current studies;

  • The applicant is then asked to discuss aspects of books they have read, or films they have seen, or first-hand experiences they have had that relate to the languages and cultures they wish to study; questioning will initially be prompted by the titles that the applicant has listed on their reply form and/or indications contained in their application papers of what they already know about the literature and cultures they wish to study; supplementary questioning is likely to be prompted by things that the applicant has said in response to the initial questions;

  • Either at the beginning or the end of the interview there may also be one or two questions of a general nature relating to the applicant’s motivation for and interest in the subject as it is studied in Cambridge , or to their current studies. Applicants are also given an opportunity at the end of the interview to ask one or two questions about what is involved in studying modern languages in Cambridge.

On the day of your interviews you will also be required to take a one-hour written assessment, which follows the format set by the MML Faculty. This involves summarising and responding to the content of a short English passage in one of the languages you wish to study, and commenting in English on aspects of the passage.

More information on the Cambridge MML written assessment, a specimen paper and the marking scheme can be found through the Cambridge admissions page for MML.

In order that we can see for ourselves what sort of work you have been doing on your present course and take this into account in our overall assessment of your application, we ask you to send us two recent pieces of written work. These may be items written either under controlled conditions or in your own time, but ideally one should be written in English and the other in one of the languages you would like to study at Cambridge (please contact the Director of Studies if you want to discuss what combination of items would be appropriate in your particular case). You may be asked questions in the interview about the written work you have submitted if time permits, but this does not happen in all cases.

No special preparation is necessary, or indeed desirable, for either the Tutor’s interview or the subject interview. We try to conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them.

Student Perspectives

Follow the links below to learn about our students' perspectives of studying MML at St John's in their own words.

Clare Cassidy

Claire Huxley

Further Information

Further Information

The Modern Languages Faculty website gives detailed information on course content and other activities in the Faculty, including Faculty Open Days. Alternatively you can phone the Faculty Office on 01223 335000, or email the Faculty at