How many languages will I study and which languages are available?

All MML students at Cambridge take two languages. A list of the languages available and a full description of the MML course can be found here.

What if I am only studying one language at the moment?

It is not necessary to have taken two languages to A2 or equivalent: students may take up a new language and a significant number do so each year (the only exceptions here are Classical Latin and French). Ab initio courses at Cambridge are extremely well designed; they are demanding but very rewarding, and many of our students have taken this option and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Is literature a compulsory part of the MML course?

Along with history, linguistics and thought, literature forms part of the syllabus covered in first-year introductory papers in most languages, but from the second year onwards it is possible to choose from a range of different options, including papers on history, philosophy, cinema, and linguistics. Many students feel daunted at the prospect of studying literature in a foreign language, particularly if their A Level syllabuses had not included the study of literature, but all our courses are designed to be introductory and many students find that literature becomes their favourite part of the course.

What is the admissions process for MML at Robinson?

The admissions procedure at Robinson follows the same general pattern as those of colleges across Cambridge in MML. Because the Modern Languages course demands a wide range of skills at a high standard, we like to see as much evidence as possible of applicants’ ability. If invited for interview, you will have two separate interviews with a specialist in each of the languages you have specified for study. You will be asked in advance of the interview to submit some written schoolwork. All candidates sit a written test on the day of the interviews, which is designed to test your language skills as well as your ability to summarise the key points of an argument and to analyse the major ideas and stylistic features of a unseen text.

I have been asked to send two coursework essays – what should I send and what are you looking for?

As part of your application we will ask you to send, two weeks in advance of your interviews, photocopies of two essays (marked work you have done as part of your examination course), relating to the MML course you have applied for at Cambridge. In assessing these essays, we are looking for evidence of your ability to analyse your given topic in depth, to construct a clear and interesting argument, and to use register and style appropriately. We find it easier to judge your abilities in longer essays or commentaries on a literary, cultural or historical theme, rather than essays which summarise facts in order to reach a position (for example, an essay on the impact of environmental policies in a particular country). We understand that not all candidates will have studied specific literary texts or historical topics as part of their A Level (or equivalent) syllabus, but submitting pieces of work on subjects as closely related as possible to those offered on the MML course at Cambridge (film, history, literature, art, philosophy, linguistics) gives us the clearest indicators of your ability. This may mean that it is more appropriate to send us a piece of work you have done for another A Level subject. It is also most helpful if you can submit one piece of work written in one of the languages you wish to study, and the other in English.

What will happen in the interviews and what are you looking for?

Each MML candidate will be given two interviews at Robinson, one for each of the languages you intend to study here.

Our interviews are not designed to be intimidating or punishing. We want to put you at your ease as far as possible so that we can find out what you enjoy discussing and how you respond to a variety of tasks and topics. Often you will be given a short passage to read before the interview, which will form the basis of discussion; you may also be asked about your wider reading, topics you have studied at A level (or equivalent), or anything you have mentioned in your UCAS application. During the interview, some discussion will take place in English and some in the language you plan to study. Candidates wanting to take up one of their languages from scratch (ab initio) will not be expected to speak in that language, although if you have studied it to GCSE or AS level, you may be encouraged to ‘have a go’ at a basic conversation topic if you wish (we will obviously not expect proficiency at this stage!) We will expect ab initio candidates to have thought carefully about their choice of language to study, and to show evidence of an interest in related cultures.

Interviews try to discover flexibility of mind, curiosity and potential, not simply acquired knowledge. We are looking for bright, motivated students with a capacity for, and genuine interest in, intellectual pursuits.

What is the format of the written test for MML at Robinson?

The written test follows the same general format as the test set by all Cambridge colleges for MML. On the day of your interviews, you will be asked to sit a short written test. There will be two parts to this test. In the first part, you will be asked to read a passage in English and to summarise its main points, writing in one of the modern languages that you are applying to study at Cambridge, i.e. in a language that you are studying or have studied at an advanced level (A2, IB Higher or equivalent). If you are already studying both of the languages that you wish to study here at an advanced level, then you are free to choose which of those two languages to write in. For the second part, you will be asked to respond to some questions, this time in English, in relation to aspects of language, form or imagery in the passage you have read for the first part of the test.  Sample test papers and the marking criteria used by all colleges for the test are available here.

Is there funding available to help with the costs of taking language courses abroad?

Yes - Robinson is unusual in being able to cover most or all of the costs of taking a one- or two-week language course abroad during a vacation, once a year while you are a student here. This is thanks to a generous anonymous donation. We encourage all our students to take up the offer - it's a wonderful way of improving your language skills and confidence in speaking, while getting to know a new place and experiencing different customs and cultures, often through a homestay with a local family.

Updated June 2015