Modern Languages and Linguistics
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Modern Languages and Linguistics

This course allows students to study one modern language together with Linguistics, the study of language itself. One half of your course will be half of the Modern Languages course, giving you practical linguistic training and an extensive introduction to the literature and thought of the European language you have chosen.

The other half of the course focuses on Linguistics, where you will be introduced to the analysis of the nature and structure of human language. Topics include: how words are formed; how sentences are constructed; how we make and hear sounds, and how these sounds behave in particular languages; how age, sex and social status affect language use; how children learn to speak; how languages change and how the same language can vary according to where it is spoken; how words and sentences mean what they mean – and how they sometimes don’t mean what they seem to mean; how language is used in literature, the media and by various social groups; and how language is organised in the brain. In this part you will also apply these ideas to the study of the structure and history of your modern language.

Modern Languages and Linguistics at Oxford

Oxford offers facilities for the linguistic and philological study of European languages unmatched anywhere else in Britain. The University has particular expertise in general linguistics, phonetics, syntax and semantics, and in the history and structure of many individual European languages and families of related languages. These are seen to best advantage in this degree course, which combines the different elements to give a mutually reinforcing package of theoretical study of what human language is and how it works and more detailed study of specific issues of language structure and change applied to the language you are studying. You will find a wide range of options available, allowing you to concentrate on those areas you find most exciting.


The combination of a modern language with the ability for rigorous analysis will be popular with a wide range of employers. The Languages Work website has further information about careers using languages.

Recent Modern Languages and Linguistics graduates include a management consultant, a brand marketing manager, a market researcher for a company in the chemical industry, and a teacher.

Tamsin, who graduated in 2000, now works as a lecturer in psychology at the University of Abertay Dundee. As part of her undergraduate degree, she spent a year teaching English in La Réunion, visiting nearby Madagascar and Mauritius along the way, and developing a flexibility, independence and resolve that have supported her ever since. She also believes that the extensive linguistic training received at Oxford has shaped her approach to psychology.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider other language courses, Oriental Studies courses, or Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.

Work placements/international opportunities

Refer to the entry for Modern Languages.

A typical weekly timetable

Your week’s work will include a tutorial on linguistics or literature, in or arranged by your college, a linguistics class and language classes on different skills relating to the language or languages you study, and five or six lectures.

1st year

Modern Language:

  • Same as for Modern Languages


  • General linguistics
  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Grammatical analysis

First University examinations:
Seven written papers, including translation and literature

2nd and 4th years

Modern Language:

  • Same as for Modern Languages


  • General linguistics
  • History of the language you will be studying
  • Structure and use of that language in its modern form
  • One or two specialist options, for example: Syntax, Semantics, Phonetics and phonology, Sociolinguistics or Psycholinguistics

Final University examinations:
Eight or nine papers and an oral examination are taken

You can either study Linguistics with a Modern Language you already speak, or with a Modern Language you’d like to learn from scratch.

For the following course combinations you would usually be expected to have the Modern Language to A-level (or another academic equivalent).

Linguistics and:

 UCAS code

Modern GreekQQ71

The following course combinations allow you to begin studying a Modern Language from scratch.

Linguistics and:

 UCAS code

Beginners' Modern Greek
Beginners' ItalianQR13
Beginners' PortugueseRQ5D

No experience of studying Linguistics is required, though knowledge of the relevant modern language may be expected, as detailed below. English Language, Mathematics, a science or any other language may be useful for some elements of the course, although they are not required for admission.

For Czech, French, German, Modern Greek, Russian and Spanish
Candidates would usually be expected to have the language to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another academic equivalent.

For Italian and Portuguese
Please note there are different course codes for these languages, depending on whether you are applying with an A-level or equivalent in the relevant language, or if you are applying for a beginners’ course. Beginners’ courses allow students to start studying one of these languages from scratch.

All candidates must also take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

For the language part of this course, candidates must submit the same written work as required for Modern Languages by 10 November 2014. Please see Modern Languages for further details. Additionally, if you are studying an A-level or other qualification involving linguistic analysis (eg English Language), please also send in a piece of written work from that.

Written test

All candidates must take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT), normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014. Separate registration for these tests is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test.

What are tutors looking for?

Language tutors will be looking for a good command of the grammar of any language you have already studied at school or college and want to continue studying at Oxford as well an interest in literature and culture.

Linguistics is a subject that virtually everybody starts from scratch at University, and our primary requirements are an interest in exploring the nature of human language; an aptitude for describing and analysing language; and a willingness to acquire the formal tools for acquiring a detailed and rigorous understanding of the structure, use and history of the language you are studying.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Modern Languages.

Suggested reading

Please see the guidance on the FAQs section of the Modern Languages Faculty website under the heading 'How best to prepare for the entrance procedure'.

Ashley, 2nd year

'I applied to Oxford on a whim: when I finally received my acceptance letter, I was convinced there’d been a mistake! Like most students, I began Linguistics as a completely new subject. I knew I loved languages, but had no idea what the study of them would entail. What makes this course so absorbing is that it offers such scope for specialisation: you can explore anything from controversial new theories on first-language acquisition to translation of nonsense verse like The Jabberwocky.'

Martin, who graduated in 1997

He is an Associate Principal at ZS Associates, a management consultancy firm specialising in sales and marketing issues. He says:  

‘The Oxford tutorial system really mirrors the kind of deadline-driven project work we do for our clients – we understand and synthesise a large amount of qualitative and quantitative data in a short space of time and then make recommendations by layering in insights on top of the analysis to help solve the client’s business problem...when you think about it, the process has a lot in common with writing a good essay!’

Poppy, French, who graduated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The fact that language and grammar are almost entirely self-taught and expected to flourish without regular testing.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'It's okay not to love it all the time, and to think Freshers' Week is a bit rubbish.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'It provided me with amazing friends, amazing buildings to work in, amazing tutors (my teachers were world experts), incredible sporting opportunities (rowing!) and it prepared me for the world.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'1) Saturday of Summer Eights 2012

2) Picnics in Christ Church Meadows

3) Walking past the Rad Cam every day and still being impressed.

4) Sitting in Exeter Fellows' garden and taking in the view

5) Working on the balcony seats in the Taylorian (definitely the most breathtaking library in Oxford!)

6) Survivors photo at 6am at Magdalen ball after dancing to Labyrinth all night.'

Click on the UCAS code list below to see KIS data for each subject option.

KIS data linksUCAS codes
French and LinguisticsRQ11
German and LinguisticsRQ21
Modern Greek and LinguisticsQQ71
Beginners' Italian and LinguisticsQR13
Italian and LinguisticsRQ31
Beginners' Portuguese and LinguisticsRQ5D
Portuguese and LinguisticsRQ51
Russian and LinguisticsRQ71
Spanish and LinguisticsRQ41

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college