Second-hand bookstall in Madrid - Photo: Leigh Cooper on Unsplash -

Studying Modern Languages and joint schools at Merton

Modern Languages at Oxford

Linguists at Oxford are studying in one of the largest and most successful faculties of Modern Languages in the world, consistently ranked as such in the QS World University Rankings, where it is currently rated as the global leader for the subject.

The study of language and literature is central to our courses, with literary study ranging from the medieval to the contemporary period, in both European and global settings, and across every conceivable genre.

Literary study also encompasses a wider exposure to the languages in question, as well as the contextual study of history, society, politics, other cultural forms, and thought.

Specialist courses on fields such as linguistics, cinema, the visual arts, and advanced translation studies are also available.

Modern Languages at Merton

Modern Languages at Merton is a vibrant and diverse cohort of tutors and students, studying a wide range of languages, periods, and literary genres. Whether you’re interested in Isabel Allende or Émile Zola, medieval Germany or modern-day Latin America, you’ll be sure to find someone at Merton to share and develop your interests. Our tutors, Professor Ian Maclachlan and Dr Alice Brooke, combine years of experience teaching the Oxford syllabus with innovative research in modern French literature and philosophy, and colonial Spanish literature and culture.

The College currently admits nine undergraduates a year to read Modern Languages and the associated Joint Schools with Linguistics, Classics, English, History, and Philosophy. Applicants are welcome in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, or Russian, but for the Honour School of Modern Languages one of the languages offered must be French or Spanish. Beginners may be admitted to read Italian, Portuguese, German or Russian. For the Joint Schools, any of the above six languages may be offered.

"With languages being one of the largest subject groups at Merton by number of students, it is really easy to feel like you are an integral part of the college’s academic life. This, along with dedicated language Fellows and a generous Year Abroad grant, means that I am very glad of my decision to study languages at Merton."
Seb Dows-Miller, French and Linguistics

The teaching team

The teaching of Modern Languages and joint schools at Merton is coordinated by our Tutorial Fellows, Professor Ian Maclachlan (French) and Dr Alice Brooke (Spanish). The following are the overall team of lecturers across all languages, many of whom are Fellows of other colleges:

The benefits of studying Modern Languages at Merton

Our tutors cover a wide range of academic interests, meaning that we can offer in-house tuition on topics ranging from the conquest of the Americas and colonial literature to 20th-century French literature and philosophy. For topics not covered by college tutors, we arrange specialist tuition with world-leading experts around the University.

All students are assigned an individual Director of Studies to guide their academic progress throughout their degree, to assist with planning their year abroad, and to provide advice on course-related queries.

Our small cohorts and friendly modern languages teaching team cultivates a supportive and collegial atmosphere among students and tutors. An active Modern Languages Society organises an annual dinner alongside other social events throughout the year.

Our students consistently gain outstanding results in both the Preliminary Examination and the Final Honours School. In order to ensure that all students can achieve their academic potential, Merton offers a wide range of academic, financial, and welfare support, including:

  • generous financial support for undergraduates, including book and travel grants, vacation residence for those preparing for exams, and a dedicated travel grant for the year abroad;
  • a Graduate Mentor Scheme to provide supplementary academic support to Merton undergraduates, including advice on essay planning, writing style, and language skills; and
  • two excellent college libraries with plenty of study space, dedicated collections in Modern Languages, and a book ordering service for any course-related reading not in stock.

Here’s what some of our recent students have to say about the benefits of studying at Merton:

"The tutors at Merton are especially good at communicating between departments to make my course run as smoothly as possible, which really makes a difference to my enjoyment of the course."
Amalie Coleman, French and Classics

"The tutors – they have made me feel completely at ease and encouraged me."
Julia Willemyns, French and Portuguese

"The college library has a really nice language section, and the library staff are very willing to buy in or help to source any books that you might need."
Emily Webber, French and Spanish

"The travel grants for the year abroad and time abroad during vacations are a real help. The tutors are also very organised, which makes planning our work so much easier."
Ben Gowers, French and Spanish

Year abroad

Merton students typically spend their year abroad in a diverse range of roles, studying at universities, working in internships, or acting as English-language assistants in schools and universities. Recently, for example, students have:

  • studied in universities in Santiago (Chile), Salamanca (Spain), Bamberg (Germany), and Lyon (France);
  • taught as English-language assistants in many parts of France, Canada (Québec), Germany, Spain and Italy;
  • undertaken a research project in Recife (Brazil); and
  • worked as interns: for charitable organisations in Argentina and in Haiti; for publishers and literary agents in Paris and the south of France; in a hotel in Italy; for an electronic music magazine in Paris; and for a radio station in Guatemala.

Recent Merton graduates in Modern Languages and Joint Schools have gone on to careers in law, education, development, business and finance, the civil service, interpreting and translation, and the media. Not surprisingly, their linguistic skills and cultural adaptability have often taken them to careers across Europe and beyond.

Student Profiles
Eleanor Coomber
Eleanor Coomber

Year: 3

Subject: English and French

Where are you from?: London

Why Merton?
I’m famously indecisive and was struggling to decide whether I should apply to Oxford, let alone which college. Merton wasn’t even on my radar at the Open Day, until we heard rumours of free ice cream and decided at the last minute to follow the Merton tote bags and purple balloons. We were welcomed by cheery and enthusiastic faces who were more than happy to squeeze in one last tour at the end of a long day! I loved Merton’s charm, with the cobbled street, beautiful buildings – big and yet somehow not intimidating – and especially the gardens! And the promise of free food wooed me and has never disappointed since! 

Best thing about your course?
One of the great things about joint schools is that you really get to personalise your course, and in my opinion, get the best of both worlds! After a taste of everything in first year, second and fourth year give you the chance to hone in on exactly what interests you across both subjects, whether that be a mixture of completely different topics, or ones that complement and feed into each other nicely. The structure of my course also meant that for most of my second year I had one-on-one tutorials, which sounds terrifying, but was actually a real privilege! It challenged and pushed me to think in new ways about all sorts, with the help of a (friendly) expert.

Favourite spot to relax?
This has to be Port Meadow – only a 10 minute cycle or 30 minute walk from Merton, it’s easy to get to but feels detached enough from the centre of Oxford and the buzz of activity that it’s like a mini holiday, and a breath of fresh air when things get hectic! If you’re brave, a swim in the river is extra refreshing!

What were you worried about before you arrived?
Struggling to keep up academically and not being at the same level as everyone else. I soon realised, though, that everyone comes at their course from different backgrounds and different angles, but we were all in the same boat and the tutors are interested in what everyone has to say! 

What do you do in the holidays?
Unwind, bake cakes, and make the most of having friends from college who live all over the country (and further!) to visit!

In the long summer holidays I also look for opportunities to practise my French – there are college grants available to help language students get abroad to improve their skills.

Alia Eyres
Alia Eyres

Year: 1

Subject: French and Spanish

Where are you from: Lancashire

Best thing about Merton?
The best thing about Merton is definitely the people. Coming from a massive sixth form college, I love walking through Merton and being able to say hello to almost everyone I pass. The friends I have made are amazing and supportive, and there’s generally someone in college who will help out if you’re ever struggling with anything, from an essay crisis to a fancy-dress emergency!

How do you cope with the workload?
The workload can feel like a shock at first, but you soon get used to it. Each week I make a ‘to do’ list which is colour-coded according to deadlines and subjects, then I decide what to focus on each day and try to stick to it. I try to vary the work I am doing each day, so when I’m not in lectures or classes, I might spend a few hours on translation or grammar work before swopping to reading for that week’s essay. Personally I find it easier to write up an essay over a single day, so I tend to set aside the day before the weekly deadline to actually compose the essay, once I’ve done plenty of reading and planned my argument.

What do you do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I enjoy taking part in various musical activities, from the Oxford University Orchestra to open mic nights in college. I also translate articles for a publication called R:Ed Oxford, which gives me a completely different style of translation practice to the passages I translate for my course. One of my favourite things to do is cooking and eating with my friends, then chatting or watching a film in one of our rooms.

What do you do in the holidays?
In the shorter holidays I usually stay at home to relax with my family and catch up with friends from school. I always have reading to do to prepare for the next term, as well as revision of the last term’s work for the Collections (mock exams) that we sit at the start of each term. In the long summer holidays, I’m planning to work to top up next year’s maintenance loan.

Katie Jaroszewicz
Katie Jaroszewicz

Year: Fourth

Subject: Spanish and Portuguese

Where are you from: Opole, Poland

Best thing about your course?
I love my degree and I love being in Oxford, but the best thing about studying languages has to be the year abroad! I spent seven months interning in Spain and five months volunteering in Portugal. I managed to visit some truly incredible places and made amazing friends, and I absolutely cannot wait to go back!

How do you cope with the workload?
A literature degree involves a lot of reading but I’ve found it very enjoyable. I try to do a little something every day and visit the college library, or other university libraries (the Taylorian Institute has a gorgeous reading room), where I find I focus really well, when I have a lot of reading before a tutorial. Apart from tutorial essays, we have translation exercises and other homework for language classes, so every week I list all my deadlines and plan out the work I’m going to do each day – and I try to include something fun like watching a talk show or a series in Portuguese.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I try to make the most of Oxford’s many events and go to film screenings, discussion groups and student plays, there is always so much to choose from.

Favourite place to eat?
Typically, our kitchen, as I live in Holywell Street and usually eat in with my flatmates. I’m also a big fan of Hall food, and of the Gloucester Green market.

What do you do in the holidays?
Since I’m an international student, I usually go home to spend time with my family and visit friends from school. But I’ve been able to travel a bit as well – after my first year, I went to Lisbon for a month for a language course, and in second year I went back to Portugal during the Easter vacation and spent a few weeks helping out at an organic farm.

Amelia Smith
Amelia Smith

Year: 1

Subject: Spanish and Beginners’ Portuguese

Where are you from?: Oxford

Best thing about Merton?
I was nervous at first upon arriving, but I soon settled in and now it feels like a home away from home! Merton is so beautiful, and the people are all so friendly.

Best thing about your course?
I loved studying languages at school but when it came to choosing a university course I was still unsure about what would be right for me. But I can say now that I am sure I made the right choice as I am thoroughly enjoying my studies so far! Yes, it can be intense and yes, the work can be stressful at times. But that’s all part of academic life at Oxford and it feels so rewarding each time you complete an essay or piece of work. It all feels a little less stressful knowing that I’m studying the best course for me.

Best thing about Oxford?
It’s an amazing university, of course! But, in all seriousness, it’s nowhere near as scary as I thought it was going to be. I don’t feel like an ‘intruder’ here and there’s always so much support on offer both academically and in terms of welfare and mental wellbeing.

Best thing about the collegiate system?
The collegiate system is part of what makes Oxford so great. Your college becomes like a second home and makes meeting new people less overwhelming as there isn’t a huge number of people in each year. But, most of all, I love being able to step out of my college bubble and meet students from other colleges!

Highlight of the year?
Definitely the Merton Winter Ball. It was amazing and loads of fun!

How do you cope with the workload?
At first, I struggled with managing my time. I often ended up leaving things too late and having to pull an all-nighter to complete an essay, which is always a bad idea; trust me – students need sleep! Now I tend to try and plan out my day or week roughly, so I have an idea of when my work is due and when I’ll be able to complete it. Prioritising tasks and deadlines is important, but so is scheduling breaks and time to relax!

What do you do when you’re not working?
Hanging out with mates in the bar or the games room, Netflix when I don’t feel like leaving my bed.

Favourite spot to relax?
Christ Church meadows – just behind Merton!

Favourite place to eat?
G&D’s – paninis, bagels, ice cream, Wi-Fi – what more could you want!

Favourite place to go out?
Spoons, Park EndThe Bullingdon

What are tutorials like?
Intimidating at first, but after you realise your tutor isn’t going to bite your head off if you don’t know an answer it’s not daunting at all! Tutorials are a great way to learn a lot about the course material from the experts themselves. They’re also the best place for asking questions and putting your own ideas forward, and for learning from your mistakes so you don’t trip up in exams!

Rebecca Smithson
Rebecca Smithson

Year: 2

Subject: French & Linguistics

Where are you from?: Accrington, Lancashire (near Manchester)

Why Merton?
I fell in love with it on the Open Day. The garden was huge and calming and felt like home, and everyone was so friendly. I liked the accommodation and how old the buildings were, and there’s so much financial provision to help you out. I can’t imagine studying anywhere else!

Best thing about your course?
The combination of science and humanities. One day I’m analysing sound waves and making graphs and dealing with formulae, and the next day I’m reading poetry and learning about authors. There’s so much variety in my degree, and it really stretches me to gain a range of different skills.

Best thing about the collegiate system?
It really helps the community to thrive – you don’t just get lost within the huge university, but instead you interact and build relationships with the people surrounding you, students and staff.

Most important thing you’ve learnt?
To keep an open mind and to be compassionate – in a community of such diverse lifestyles and people, you can learn so much about how to live. Oh, and also to make sure not to leave your socks in the laundry room. They will go missing.

How has Oxford changed you?
I was so worried that coming to Oxford would make me lose my personality, my home and - most importantly - my accent! The opposite is true: whilst my mind has been opened up by living in a city full of opportunity and people from all walks of life, I’ve gained another home, not lost my old one.

What were you worried about before you arrived?
I was so nervous that I would be the odd one out because of my working-class background. I didn’t know how to ‘do university’, and I put so much pressure on myself to get it just right. Little did I know that so many people are in the same situation. I coped really well and settled in so quickly!

What new opportunities have you had?
The range of opportunities on offer is astounding, and I often feel sad that I can’t get more involved in a wider variety of activities! I’m involved in what is essentially a student committee for the college (the JCR), and have been able to work for the university! I also am involved with a translation outreach project, which involves going into schools and leading creative workshops. I like dance and have benefitted from the range of dance groups on offer, as well as attending French Society, Spanish Society, feminist events, craft events, academic talks...You name it, Oxford has an event for it.
Employment possibilities are also in abundance in Oxford. Whilst you don’t have the time to have a part-time job during term, the university offers lots of help in securing internships and placements outside of term time, as well as offering continued careers support both during and after your degree.

How do you cope with the workload?
Lists and planners. I love being organised and so I try my best to plan out my day and what I’ll do. When you break the big tasks down, they don’t seem as intimidating.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I like to go to museums, exercise, dance, meet up with friends, go to talks and lots of other stuff!

Favourite spot to relax?
Anywhere green – Fellows' Garden, Christ Church Meadows, Park Meadows... I also love to bask in the sunshine on the memorial outside the Taylorian!

Favourite place to eat?
Other than the kitchen? I like the Alternative Tuck Shop on Holywell Street – it's really good value.

What are tutorials like?
Tutorials can be scary at first, but the academics just want to read your ideas (through your essay) and then have a discussion with you. It’s like having a teacher all to yourself, but imagine that teacher wrote the textbook (as many tutors often do)! It’s fun to experiment with your ideas and try out new things.

Video: Modern Languages at Oxford University
Key facts
Average intake at Merton:

Nine (including joint schools).


All candidates must take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT). Additional tests may also be required for joint school courses.

Written work:

For Modern Languages, one piece of marked work written in the target language(s) to be studied, and one piece written in English. For joint school courses, see detailed University course pages.

Specific subjects:

One or more modern language is essential, with the specific language dependent on course choice. For joint school courses, certain other subjects are essential and/or recommended.

Deferred entry:

Applications for deferred entry will be considered on their merits.