Modern and Medieval Languages

What makes the Cambridge MML course so special?

Apart from the fact that we came top of the league table for modern languages and linguistics again in the Guardian University Guide 2016?

Well, we offer a huge amount of choice. Students can carry on with two languages that they have taken for A Level or they can pursue one A Level language and learn another from scratch. No matter which of these routes students take, the course is designed so that all students will achieve the same level of excellence by their fourth year. Within the course itself there are lots of options available, ranging from language and literature to linguistics, from history and thought to film, fine arts and cultural studies. You can also combine a modern European language with a classical or a Middle Eastern language.In addition to their two degree languages, our students can also take up a third modern language such as Catalan, Portuguese or Ukrainian, or a medieval language like Neo-Latin, Occitan or Gothic. And there is the option to borrow courses from other Faculties, such as History, Human, Social & Political Sciences, English or Philosophy.

As the MML courses are designed in the first and second years for non-native speakers, we would not normally recommend that native speakers apply to read their own language. Should they wish to do so, we would encourage them to discuss the matter with the Admissions Tutor or Directors of Studies in MML first.

For an excellent discussion of the importance of learning languages, you might like to read “Parlez-vous Zulu? The importance of modern foreign languages” a talk given by Baroness Jean Coussins at an MML Networking Lunch at Newnham, and later at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Baroness Coussins studied MML at Newnham (French and Spanish). After graduating, she became Secretary of the United Nations Association and went on to have a distinguished career as an adviser on corporate responsibility, as Director of the Commission for Racial Equality, then Chief Executive of the Portman Group. Jean Coussins was appointed to the House of Lords in 2007, where she sits as a cross-bencher. On joining the House of Lords she made her passion for languages her particular cause, setting up the All-party parliamentary group for modern languages, which has tirelessly sought to promote language learning and teaching in Britain, informing and seeking to influence policy. She has spoken frequently in the Lords on the subject and co-ordinates efforts nationally. Her profile in this area has been recognized and honoured by the Chartered Institute of Linguists of which she has been Vice-President since 2013. The British Academy has also awarded her the President’s Medal.

Why choose Newnham for MML?
  • A dynamic teaching team with a wide range of interests, spanning literature, linguistics, intellectual history and philosophy.
    Outstanding facilities: Newnham’s library holds one of the largest MML collections in Cambridge. We also have periodicals and newspapers in the major European languages, and a group study room that can be used for audio-visual materials.
  • A great location: Newnham is just across the road from the MML Faculty, where classes and lectures take place. The Computer Assisted Learning Facility (CALL) and Faculty libraries are also based there, and the Language Centre is only 10 mins away. You’ll be the envy of all your fellow students…
  • An induction course just before the beginning of your first term to help you hit the ground running.
  • Generous travel and book grants: we have a dedicated travel fund for MML students and special language prizes, such as the Irina Kirillova prize.
  • Help with organising language-related travel, often through ex-students living abroad.
Where do Newnham students go on their year abroad?

As a Newnham MML student, you have innumerable opportunities. Our students have spent the year abroad doing voluntary work in French-speaking Burkina Faso, working as a translator in Berlin, being a journalist in Russia, teaching English in Argentina, studying in Portugal, learning photography in Barcelona or working as a web designer in Rome. We also have a fantastic exchange scheme with the Ecole Nationale Supérieure in Lyon. With some minor restrictions you can organise your year abroad to suit your interests. There will be a lot of support on a Faculty level through the Year Abroad Office, but at Newnham one of the Directors of Studies also has special responsibility for the year abroad.

How many students are there at Newnham and what languages do they read?

We usually have between eight and ten MML students per year, one of the largest subject groups in College. In total there are usually about thirty modern linguists in college, with another ten or so on their year abroad. Currently our students read French, German, Italian, Classical Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, but we have also had students reading Dutch and Modern Greek in the past. Often students stay on at Newnham for a postgraduate degree, and the Faculty offers Master’s courses in literature, linguistics and film.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

Lectures and language classes will be organised by the Faculty, but in addition students are usually taught in pairs or even on their own for essay-based supervisions. Supervisions are organised by the Directors of Studies in Newnham. We currently have teaching staff in French, German, Russian, and Spanish, so we can do much teaching in-house. But we are keen to ensure that whatever combination of languages and courses our students choose, they always receive world-class tuition by specialists in their field. So we have a lot of reciprocal teaching arrangements in place with colleagues at other Colleges. This means that you will get to know linguists at other Colleges very well.

What jobs do Newnham MML students go on to do?

Our students have no difficulties in finding jobs. The year abroad is a good springboard, and work placements can result in permanent posts after graduation. Often students continue to work in the arts, e.g. in publishing or the media, or they take another qualification. Many use their language skills to move into financial or legal careers. Working for international institutions or businesses is also a popular option. In general, the MML course will teach students a lot of skills that employers value: the ability to analyse complex information, to communicate accurately and clearly in speech and writing across linguistic and cultural divides, and to be open-minded in dealing with people. Newnham students can draw on ex-students for support and advice. For example a group of very well-connected women, the Newnham Associates regularly offer seminars on topics such as networking or time-management and can even give work placements.

A degree in MML can take you all over the world: Sheena Shah studied MML (German and French) at Newnham before completing a PhD in Linguistics at Georgetown (USA). Her year abroad in Namibia sparked her interest in endangered African languages, and she now holds a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for African Language Diversity, University of Cape Town.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

You will need at least one foreign language at A-level and ideally a GCSE in another (including ancient and community languages). Essay-writing subjects such as History or English are also very useful, but we have an open mind.

What grades do I need?

You’ll need to perform very well at A-Level (A*AA is the standard offer). We also consider your AS results and will look at your past performance, such as GCSEs – our successful applicants normally have six or more A* grades at GCSE, but each applicant is assessed individually and we can be flexible. Call or email us if you would like to talk it through.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

In addition to your school studies, try to read for yourself a short novel or two, a play and perhaps even some poetry in your chosen language areas either in the original or, if need be, in translation. You might also like to read an introductory book on the study of language such as David Crystal’s How Language Works. Reading foreign newspapers or magazines and watching films would also be very useful. We will ask you to send in some marked schoolwork (in English), ideally about a cultural or a literary topic.

At interview, we will discuss your reasons for wanting to study your two chosen languages, your reading and other related topics. You may well find it helpful to have familiarised yourself with the general outline of the MML course, available on the Faculty website. Before each interview you will be given a short passage to read for 10-15 minutes in one of your chosen languages and you will be asked to comment on this during the interview. You’ll also have to talk in one or two of your foreign languages for a little while.

Applicants to all Colleges will also be required to take a written assessment. You do not need to register in advance for this; the College will send you information about it when they acknowledge your application.

Can I take a gap year?

Of course! Gap years are a great way of learning languages and can be particularly useful if you are planning to take up a language from scratch: we do expect you to travel to a country where one of the languages you are planning to study is spoken. As long as you don’t want to spend your whole year on a beach, we are very happy to offer deferred places and can give advice on organising the year. Even if you are not taking a gap year, we would encourage you to travel during the summer before coming up to Cambridge and to go on language courses if at all possible.

Can you tell me more about the Newnham Senior Members in MML?
  • Dr Jenny Mander, Director of Studies and Lecturer in French, researches and teaches eighteenth-century French thought and literature and modern critical theory. She is currently working on eighteenth-century colonialism and involved in a critical edition of the Histoire des deux Indes.
  • Dr Sheila Watts, Director of Studies and Lecturer in German, works on the linguistics of German, particularly with reference to language variation and change. She is currently working on building a corpus of texts in Middle Low German.
  • Professor Katarzyna Jaszczolt, Newnham’s Director of Studies in Linguistics and Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy of Language in the University, has a special interest in ambiguities, semantics/ pragmatics interface, saying/implicating distinction, propositional attitude constructions, and Discourse Representation Theory.
  • Ms Erica Segre, College Lecturer in Spanish, specialises in nineteenth-century Latin-American literature and thought, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century visual culture in Latin America, especially Mexico.
  • Ms Silvia González-Jové, Special Supervisor in Spanish, has an MA in Applied Linguistics and is interested in language teaching in theory and practice.
  • Dr Elena Filimonova, Special Supervisor in Russian; her research interests include linguistic typology, and children’s bi- and multi-lingualism involving Russian.
  • Dr Lucia Ruprecht, Special Supervisor in German, is interested in performance aesthetics and currently works on charisma and virtuosity around 1900.
  • Ms Simone Kügeler, German Lektorin, is completing a PhD on medieval German literature, and will be responsible for your German language work.
  • French lectrice: A student from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure in Lyon, the Lectrice is responsible for oral and other aspects of language tuition. She also acts as a focus for additional French cultural activities in College and gives advice about getting to France etc.
What’s the social life like for linguists at Newnham?

The Newnham linguists are a close-knit group and we encourage them to work together, but they also tend to make lots of friends in the Faculty because of all the different language combinations. In College, the MML Dinner and the MML garden party are always popular events, and ex-students often join in. There are often screenings of foreign language films and University-wide there are clubs and societies for all the different languages on offer.

Where can I find out more?

You are very welcome to contact the Newnham Admissions Office if you would like more detailed information, would like to come to an Open Day or visit on your own. Dr Sam Lucy, the Admissions Tutor, and Ms Felicity Macdonald-Smith, the Admissions Co-ordinator, are keen to hear from you. They are also able to send out first-year reading lists, if you would like to have a taste of the material our new students work through (NB: We do not expect you to read all of this before your interview!).

You can also find out more on the MML Faculty website.

The Faculty website also has useful language learning material in French, German, and Spanish.

For Germanists, video clips are also available.

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