Modern and Medieval Languages

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

Studying Modern Languages at Cambridge is about much more than just learning languages; you look closely at culture as well, whether that be through literature, film, philosophy or art. Taught mainly on the Sidgewick site, MML teaching ranges from large lectures, to classes of 10-15 students, to small two on one supervisions. With a compulsory third year abroad, your MML degree sometimes makes you feel like you are doing a little bit of everything all at once! With some outstanding lecturers and teachers, a well stocked library and great fellow students, it is a brilliant faculty to be part of.

MML Credit: Cambridge University

What about the Modern and Medieval Languages course at Cambridge appealed to you?

Carine, MML French and ab initio Russian, Pembroke College, 1st year
Carine, French and ab initio Russian
Pembroke College, 1st year

The MML course at Cambridge was ideal for me because it allows you to study the ‘language’ side in great depth, and the ‘culture’ side was not only literature. Cambridge also allows many other options aside from literature to discover the culture of a country - history, philosophy, linguistics, film- and the literature you study in your first year is very varied. (I have looked at Old Church Slavonic and Medieval French in just my first year!) Plus, the papers on offer change with the research interests of the department so you know that what you’re studying is being taught by some of the most accomplished researchers in the field and is up-to-date. Studying Russian from scratch too, it was important for me to consider when the year abroad would take place, as some universities offer the opportunity to be in Russia in your second year. Cambridge offered me the chance to consolidate my Russian with enough time to get a good foundation of grammar, before living in Russia (if you choose to) for a year.

How have you found the structure of the course?

Rachel, MML French and Spanish, Jesus College, 3rd year
Rachel, MML French and Spanish
Jesus College, 3rd year

I would divide the MML course into two sections. Firstly, the language papers i.e. grammar and translation and secondly, the ‘scheduled’ papers i.e. literature, film, linguistics. ‘Papers’ is really just the Cambridge way of saying modules. I took two languages at A-Level, so in my first two years I had grammar and translation papers in both French and Spanish. In my final year, you take language papers in only one language and I have chosen to specialise in French. In your first year of MML, your scheduled paper topics will be broad and will most likely whizz you from Medieval Literature to contemporary film, giving you a brief insight into the literature, history and philosophy of different time periods and from different places. You will have one compulsory scheduled paper for each language. Then for the second and fourth years, you can choose three scheduled papers from a wide range of choices, including different languages such as Portuguese, Ukranian and Catalan, and papers in history, linguistics or classics too. I have found that the broadness of the course means that you are forced to look at work from time periods which you had perhaps already dismissed, maybe because you hadn’t really looked at it before, or you thought you wouldn’t find it interesting. I was initially apprehensive about studying a Medieval French text in my first year because it was out of my comfort zone and two years later, I’m writing my dissertation on some very similar texts.

What is your faculty/department like?

Jo, Spanish and ab-initio Russian
Clare College, 4th year

The MML faculty is in the middle of the Sidgewick site, and is known as the RFB - that’s the “Raised Faculty Building”. And that’s exactly what it is: a fairly standard functional faculty building, but raised on stilts into the air! It’s in the shape of a massive square horseshoe and spans three floors. In one wing of the first floor is the MML library. I like how being raised means that all the views from the library look down on people walking around the Sidgewick site. Most lectures are either in the classrooms in the RFB or in the nearby lecture block, which serves all of the Sidgewick Site (where most humanities subjects’ faculty blocks are). The lecture block is quite old and has hundreds of very steep stairs up to the top floor, where the majority of my lectures always seem to take place… keeps me fit though, eh? ;)

What types of work do you have to do?

Carine, MML French and ab initio Russian, Pembroke College, 1st year
Carine, French and ab initio Russian
Pembroke College, 1st year

Work varies a lot to help you consolidate and improve different skills. Studying a language from scratch (‘ab initio’) means you’ll probably receive a lot of grammar and vocabulary exercises (work sheets, fill in the blanks, translations) that aim to consolidate your knowledge of the grammar of the language. In beginners’ Russian, in our first term (‘Michelmas’), we worked from a textbook each week that allowed us to cover reading short texts, useful vocabulary, and grammar exercises. Between both languages though, you’ll receive an essay to write on a weekly or fortnightly basis that aims to explore different texts and themes within your syllabus. You’ll also work on your oral skills which may involve thinking about a text in advance of your class and then discussing it with a native of the language. Libraries are a good source of information for reading around your texts, and your supervisors will provide you with all the resources you need if you want to revise grammar rules online or read further on a particular topic (they may give you a reading list) - just speak to them!

Do you have career plans?

Jo Spanish and ab-initio Russian
Clare College, 4th year
Rachel, MML French and Spanish, Jesus College, 3rd year
Rachel, MML French and Spanish
Jesus College, 3rd year
Carine, MML French and ab initio Russian, Pembroke College, 1st year
Carine, French and ab initio Russian
Pembroke College, 1st year

Jo: Until quite recently I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. However there are always really good career talks on here (through the Careers Service) and that helped me to realise that I’d like to run my own business. Some of my friends are currently applying for law conversion courses or for marketing companies abroad. Don’t think that an MML degree restricts you from technical jobs too - I also have a friend who has applied for coding at a local software start-up on the basis of taking a computational linguistics paper in final year!

Rachel: I am still undecided about where I would like to go and what I would like to do when I finish my degree. I have been to a few Careers Service talks and found them to be very informative. Right now I am thinking that when I graduate, I will take some time out to live and travel in either Spain or South America perhaps teaching English. Having spent my entire year abroad in France, it would be nice to get my Spanish up to speed again.

Carine: I would definitely like to see more of the world in the future and be able to use my languages in my work. I am also keen though to work in politics after I leave university. MML is a great course because it provides you with a variety of skills that are easily transferable to many disciplines so the world is your oyster.

What about your course would you change?

Carine, MML French and ab initio Russian, Pembroke College, 1st year
Carine, French and ab initio Russian
Pembroke College, 1st year

Cambridge is great because there is a strong ethic that if you are unhappy with your course, there are many opportunities for you to raise these issues such as with your subject representative (there’s one for each year group if not paper in each subject) or your Director of Studies (somebody who looks over your course). I am very happy with my course though because it allows me to develop a wide variety of skills in a short period of time. Of course, especially with beginners Russian, this means there is quite a lot of work to complete in a short space of time. But it is totally doable and if I had to change something, it would mean I wouldn’t be able to explore all the different topics we do in our first year! It can feel hard to do sometimes, but it’s very rewarding at the end of each term when you can see how much progress you’ve already made!

Tell us about your year abroad

Rachel, MML French and Spanish, Jesus College, 3rd year
Rachel, MML French and Spanish
Jesus College, 3rd year

When it comes to deciding how you want to spend your year abroad, you have quite a lot of freedom over what you do and where. I chose to work as an English language assistant for the British Council, so I am currently working in a secondary school in the South of France. The job is not a big commitment hours wise (12 hours a week), is well paid and is generally great fun. It also has given me a lot of time to explore France - friends in Cambridge have the impression I’m on one long holiday eating croissants and drinking coffee! If teaching isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options. I have one friend studying history of art in Paris, another volunteering in rural Peru, another working for a translation company in Seville. Although gaining near fluency in your chosen language is important, the best thing to do is decide what you want to achieve from your year away from Cambridge: do you want to study more, travel as much as possible, gain professional experience? Then, just go for it! Despite all this talk of fun, you do have to complete a dissertation on a chosen subject by the beginning of your fourth year. Although approaching this can be daunting, if you pick a topic which you are really interested in then it makes opening those books a little easier!

Typical timetable of a 1st year Modern and Medieval Languages student

Jo Spanish and ab-initio Russian
Clare College, 4th year

The below timetable is very similar to what I had in my first year. I started Russian from scratch so you can see it is weighted slightly more to Russian than Spanish to give time to get through the huge amount of grammar. For each language you’ll have a paper in grammar, translation to English, oral skills and some sort of culture (mostly literature) paper, and there’ll be approximately one hour of teaching or lecture per week for each paper, along with supervisions (individual or in very small groups) every two weeks or so. As you can see, some days you only have one or two hours of contact time, which gives you plenty of time to do your own studying and complete the work you’ve been set. It can vary between languages (and from week to week, depending on your lecturers’ organisation!) but generally you should expect to have to do two sets of grammar exercises, two translations and an essay each week.

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9am - Russian Oral Supervision - - -
10am Use of Spanish (grammar lesson) - Spanish Oral Supervision Use of Russian (grammar lesson) -
11am - Translation from Spanish to English class - - Supervision: Russian Literature and Translation
12am - Use of Russian (grammar lesson) Translation from Russian to English class - -
1pm - - - - -
2pm - - Lecture: Introduction to Russian Culture (From Kievan Rus to Silver Age literature) - -
3pm Lecture: Introduction to Spanish Literature (Cervantes’ Don Quixote) - - - -
4pm - - - - -

What has been going on at Modern and Medieval Languages?

- Recent Events -

Screening of Catalan film "La plaga" and Q&A with the producer, Pau Subirós

"La Plaga is a film of intertwining stories, that offers a moving portrait of life in the outskirts of Barcelona. The main characters are not actors. They play as themselves after four years of working with the director."

MML Faculty's ‘Leap into a Jumper’ day

Students were invited to wear a jumper rather than ramping up the heating. Wearing their warmest/silliest/funniest jumper or onesie, students had their photo taken and were entered into a prize draw!

MML Social

Had a meet-up with all the ab initio Russianists - began with chatting in somebody's room till late finishing at Cindies nightclub.

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