skip to content

Why Not Languages? resources

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Student Q&A

Three of our current students answer some of your most frequently asked questions.


Language Studies questions

  • When did you realise that you wanted to study languages? 

'Each time that I reached the next stage of my education I found myself leaning towards languages. As someone who finds themselves interested in almost everything, the great thing about languages is that I can study from a literary, a linguistic, or a historical point of view. Language learning at university can be very flexible.' - Brianna

'I was lucky enough to take part in an exchange programme with a student in France while at school. On that trip, surrounded by fast-talking French teenagers with whom I was desperate to fit in, the deal was virtually sealed: I wanted to study languages. Once I returned to school and started to notice my language improving, I pushed myself to improve further. By that point I was certain that studying languages was the best option for me.' - Dan

'I only decided that I definitely wanted to apply to study languages at the end of year 12, but I think it was always an option for me.' - Elisha


  • Why did you choose to study languages? Why your languages in particular? And why at Cambridge? 

'I had the opportunity to attend a humanities summer school, organised by Selwyn College, in the summer following my GCSEs. It was this, in particular, that made me realise that I wanted to study at Cambridge. In terms of the languages that I chose to study, I had studied both French and Spanish as A-levels. Whilst some of the other languages did intrigue me, I decided to focus on advancing in the languages that I already was learning. It made sense to be better at fewer languages than adequate at many.' - Brianna

'The great thing about learning languages is that it never goes out of fashion. It is a highly sought-after skill in the modern world, it broadens your horizons in pushing you to think more globally, as well as providing opportunities for working or traveling abroad. Even for those who don’t use their languages much after their degree, it provides an amazing foundation for the ways in which you think about the world around you. I chose to study languages as I believe that it is second to none for opening life’s doors and crossing its bridges.' - Dan

'I did Spanish and German A levels and they were my favourite subjects. I realised that I really did enjoy spending my time learning languages and knew that I was prepared to put in the extra effort that studying at Cambridge might mean compared to other universities. I love how within my degree subject I can study history, literature, philosophy, film and even art. I think MML is one of the most diverse degrees!' - Elisha


  • What is the most interesting thing about learning a language? 

'It is the simple things, such as realising that you’ve read a section of a text in its original language and that you understand it. Communicating in a language that is not your own will always be difficult but the rewards of learning about different cultures and different ways of living speak for themselves.' - Brianna

'The most interesting part about learning a language is getting to use it – both within your degree and beyond! People come from all over the world to study at Cambridge, which means lots of different languages are brought here, so you can nearly always find people fluent in the languages you’re studying. Speaking to them is a great way to learn more about your languages and it’s very rewarding to see how much progress you’re making!' - Dan

'I think it’s interesting learning how different languages have different structures, vocabulary and tenses to express certain ideas. For instance, learning metaphors and idiomatic phrases is always really interesting. Being able to read books and watch films in other languages is also fascinating, and makes your language learning feel worthwhile.' - Elisha


  • What is the most difficult thing to learn in a language? 

'For me, having a conversation is the most difficult thing. Whilst I am strong at seeing patterns in written language, my comprehension of what is spoken can be significantly slower. Despite this, I am able to see a lot of progress through small group sessions with the college lectrice.' - Brianna

'For me, something I’ve found hard about learning languages is that there will always be vocabulary and other things you don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when there are many fields of vocabulary that you don’t know. However, as I’ve progressed in my language learning journey, I’ve realised that this sense of there always being more is actually what makes it exciting.' - Elisha


  • What was it like learning a language from scratch at university? 

'Learning a language at any stage will be difficult however university is an excellent time to do so. Individual study alongside access to native speakers means that progress can be achieved at a much faster rate than it would be otherwise.' - Brianna

'In my second year, I chose to learn Portuguese from scratch. I think that already having a knowledge of other languages, especially Spanish, really helped. Since you will already know at least one other language before learning one from scratch, knowing how grammar and tenses work in any language will help you learn another even if they are quite different languages.' - Elisha


  • How is language taught at university? 

'Language teaching at Cambridge is split up into three different types. First, lectures – you will usually have 2 hours of lectures per week per language, where you listen to the latest ideas on the books/films you’ve been studying. Secondly, language classes (or seminars) – these again typically take 2 hours per week per language, in groups of around 10 students, and the classes are focused on improving your grammar and translation. Thirdly, supervisions – roughly 1 per week per language, usually one academic to two or three students, these provide an incredible (and often intense!) opportunity to develop your own ideas about a specific subject by speaking to an expert in the field. On top of this, the expectation is that you complete your own study at home, and you should expect to work 35-40 hours per week in total.' - Dan

'In each year there will be certain classes that are compulsory: these include a translation class and one other class (based on the teaching of grammar in the first year). After the first year, your options become much wider, meaning that you are able to focus your study on particular areas and even try new topics which intrigue you.' - Brianna


  • How many languages can you study at once at Cambridge?

'In your first year, everybody studies two languages. In your second, you have the option to study Portuguese, Ukranian, Polish, Catalan or Modern Greek as a third language. In final year, you can also choose to study one of these languages, potentially as a fourth language!' - Elisha

'It is very rare that you can study more than three languages. I am a slight exception to the rule however as I am learning a fourth language because it is beneficial to one of the modules that I am taking.' - Brianna


  • If you study two languages, do you ever get confused between them? 

'Personally, no. I find that after a tiring day of language learning, the language that is most likely to go wrong is my native language.' - Brianna


  • How flexible is your timetable? 

'There are certain things that can be changed and others that can’t. The general rule is the more people that are involved the less likely it is to be changed. A weekly lecture time won’t be changed because the time doesn’t work for some people, but a supervision with your supervisor can often be more flexible.' - Brianna

'Lectures and classes are at fixed times each week, but in my experience supervisions are usually flexible and you can arrange them with your supervisor to fit around your other lectures/ classes and other commitments.' - Elisha


  • Which language do you find most interesting? 

'I have taken up Modern Greek this year. It is by far my most challenging language so far, however I am intrigued by learning about a culture of which I have no prior knowledge. Equally, it is refreshing to learn a language which is so distinct from my own.' - Brianna

  • What is the most interesting topic you’ve learned while doing languages? 

'This would have surprised me before entering university, however I really enjoy looking at 17th century French plays. What interests me is looking at all of the rules and conventions that the playwrights had to follow, and how most of these playwrights managed to get around the rules even when they didn’t defy them completely.' - Brianna


  • During translation what is the most important thing to look out for? 

'Structures that are unique to a language will crop up all of the time. It is important to look out for language features that cannot be translated literally (i.e. the English idiom, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’). Once you have identified these structures the task will be to work out how the meaning will be conveyed; usually by finding a similar idiom in the target language or by slightly simplifying the message that is being conveyed.' - Brianna


Year Abroad questions

  • Is it compulsory to go on a year abroad when studying a language? 

'Unless there is a justifiable reason not to, it is compulsory. This is because university can only provide the theoretical aspects of the language. The year abroad elevates your language ability by giving you chance to gain the necessary practice in the language.' - Brianna


  • Can you choose where you spend the year abroad and where you study/work? 

'If you decide that you want to study abroad, you will have a list of university institutions that you are able to study at. These are primarily European based however there are also several options in Latin America.  With working abroad your options in terms of location can be much more open however it will be your responsibility to find the job. It will also have to be approved by the university.' - Brianna


  • Has taking a language given you more confidence to ask for directions & communicate with people abroad?

'I am going on my year abroad next year and I am excited to put into practice everything I’ve learned in my languages over the past few years.' - Elisha


University general

  • What is everyday life like at Cambridge? (e.g. schedule)

'Every day at Cambridge is different to the one before. Depending on the scheduling of your chosen languages, you can have days which are full of classes and lectures then other days which are empty and should be used for individual study. As long as you are able to organise deadlines and tasks to complete you will be able to deal with the workload - even if it does all seem to pile up around the same deadlines.' - Brianna


  • How do you deal with the stress of uni? 

'The most important thing is to make sure that studying is not your life. Studying should be a major part of your university life but it should not be the only part. Societies are an amazing way to get a release from studying. For me, there is no society greater than the Cambridge Dancesport Society; and once you have joined a society, you’ll have hopefully increased the number of friends that you can meet up with across Cambridge.' - Brianna

'The stress of university gets to everyone at some point, but luckily there are a great number of different ways to deal with it that are available to students at Cambridge. People settle in at different speeds, but everyone ends up finding their friends before long, and having a supportive group around you is one of the best ways to help manage those feelings of stress and pressure. Then, there are all the things you can get involved in outside of your degree. From sports, music and drama, to national and cultural societies, to charitable groups, there are clubs and societies for everyone at Cambridge. There are also lots of official sources of support should you ever need it. Every student has a ‘Tutor’, whose job is to make sure you’re enjoying yourself! Most Colleges also have ‘Welfare Reps’ who are also there to provide support. Never be afraid to reach out!' - Dan


  • What’s it like to live in Cambridge? 

'At times, it can be strange living in the ‘Cambridge bubble’, however there couldn’t be a better place to live away from home. Everybody who comes to Cambridge is ambitious, and it is this passion for our subjects that allows many friendships to be formed. The social life is not to be forgotten either; from college formals to group dinner-making sessions, there will always be something to get involved with.' - Brianna