Stressed about your modern languages interview? Here are some tips about what you can expect:
There are two compulsory aspects in a modern languages degree at Oxford. The first is, unsurprisingly, learning the foreign language, or languages, that you have chosen. The second is reading and studying the literature in that language. Whilst in your second and fourth years, you have a chance to study other topics, such as linguistics, in your first year, these are the compulsory elements of the degree. This is therefore what the Oxford tutors are testing at interview.
By the time you get to the interview, you will already have sat the MLAT test, and so your tutors will have a good idea of what your language competency is like. The fact that you are at the interview will mean that it is at a high enough level. The emphasis of the interview is therefore on analysis of literature. Whilst the system can differ from college to college, generally candidates will be presented with a few extracts of literature before the interview. They must then prepare these extracts for the interview. You will have one extract for each language you study, and then also one in English – mine was from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.
As you prepare these extracts go through the following steps:
- What is going on in the passage? Try to understand the context of the passage, and what is actually happening. See if you can summarise the passage in two concise sentences. It is likely that one of the introductory questions will be about the actual events in the passage, so have a good answer ready.
- What style is the passage written in? Is it a light, colloquial tone, or a dense, poetic one? Think about what that might tell you about the narrator, and how the tone might have affected your first impressions of the writing.
- What language features has the author used? You know all about these: alliteration, repetition, metaphor etc. Make sure your interviewer knows that you understand what these all mean. However, don’t just list different language features – also explain how they change the effect of the passage. This is the difference between description and analysis.
- Don’t worry about vocabulary. In the passages written in other languages, there may well be some pieces of vocabulary that you don’t understand. Don’t spend too much time trying to work out the meaning of one random word; your time will be better spent analysing the passage, than working on vocabulary. You can always admit you don’t know what a word means in the interview – you will not be heavily penalised for not knowing an obscure piece of vocabulary!
As I said at the beginning, not every modern languages interview in Oxford works like this. However, it is common, as it is a way of testing the skills that you will be using on a daily basis when you start studying at university. Good luck!