Modern and Medieval Languages

Modern Languages is a flourishing subject at Fitzwilliam. Our students achieve excellent exam results and a large number of students are accepted to do postgraduate work after getting Firsts in Tripos. We have Senior members in French, Spanish and Russian, which means that we can do most of our main-line teaching 'in house' - but we also have arrangements with colleagues in other colleges in the areas we do not cover ourselves. This ensures that Fitzwilliam students, whatever combinations of languages or papers they choose, can always be sure of receiving individual tuition from first-rate specialists in every field.

We aim to take six or seven undergraduate Modern Linguists each year. There are thus about 20 linguists in residence in College in any single year.

Choice and combinations of languages

A high proportion of our undergraduates read French and German or French and Spanish, but at Fitzwilliam we also actively encourage less common combinations such as French or German with Russian, or Spanish with Portuguese or Italian.  Students may begin the study of any language from scratch except French, which Cambridge only offers as a post-A-level course. A candidate who has done French and Spanish at school may decide to continue with French and add Russian or continue with Spanish and add Portuguese, while one who has studied German and French might choose to drop one of the A-level languages and study German and Russian or French and Italian. At Fitzwilliam our policy is to explore the possibility of any such changes with every candidate.

This flexibility also enables us to accept keen linguists who have studied only ONE language at A-level. We are always happy to receive applications from such students.

In their second or final years, students may also take introductory papers in a third language, among them Catalan, Dutch, Portuguese and Ukrainian.

Some students may wish to combine the study of a Modern European language with the study of a language taught in the Faculties of Classics or Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.  Such combinations present special challenges, but they also offer unique intellectual rewards. Students might, for example, choose to combine the study of Italian or French with post-A-level Latin; post-A-level German or Spanish with introductory Hebrew; or post-A-level Russian or Italian with Classical Greek or Arabic. Each such combination would enable students to investigate longstanding connections between the cultural traditions associated with these languages.

Students who wish to combine the study of Modern Languages with Classical Latin or Classical Greek apply to the Tripos in Modern Languages; those who wish to combine the study of Modern Languages with Arabic, Hebrew or Persian apply to the Tripos in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. In either case applicants will be asked to interview with representatives of both Faculties.

Information about combining the study of Classical and Modern Languages is available on the MMLL website.

Students who wish to study a European language in combination with Arabic, Hebrew or Persian must apply to the Tripos in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Information about this combination of languages is available here.

Structure of the course

The Modern Languages Tripos at Cambridge consists of three parts. Part IA in the first year and Part IB in the second year combine intensive language study with papers on literature, culture and linguistics.  The course is arranged so that students who are starting one of their languages as beginners at university, as well as those who continue studying both of their A-level languages, all achieve the same standards of excellence by the time they are ready to take Part II in their fourth and final year. Part II of the Cambridge MML Tripos is famous for the exceptionally wide choice of subjects it offers in literature, fine arts and film studies, linguistics, philology, and history. Most school students have no knowledge of linguistics, and many also come up to Cambridge having had no chance to gain literary experience from their A-level studies. This is certainly not a disadvantage. The University has for some years become quite used to providing specialised teaching to enable students quickly to acquire the skills necessary for both literary and linguistic studies.  The College also offers a series of workshops on language-learning skills and academic writing that have been designed specifically to help students meet the demands of the course in Modern Languages.

Lectures for the literary, linguistics etc. papers are provided by the Faculty and so too are the weekly language classes. The College provides supervisions.  These are generally regarded as the most important feature of an undergraduate's working life for it is for these occasions that the student writes his/her essays.  Each hour-long supervision takes the form of a detailed criticism and discussion of the student's work by his/her supervisor for the subject concerned. Topics are set for further study, bibliography is recommended and help and tuition are given to students in both language-work and literature either individually or in pairs.  Usually there is one supervision per fortnight for each paper being studied.

Study abroad

We very much encourage students to spend up to a year in one or both of the countries whose languages they are studying before they come to Fitzwilliam. The advantages of this are obvious,  especially so in the cases of students who are taking up a new language at University. In planning their pre-Cambridge lives students are therefore advised to take this fact into account if it is at all possible for them to do so. The majority of students applying for deferred entry to Modern Languages spend some part of the year between school and Cambridge in this way.  

The year abroad

The year abroad (taken in the third year) is compulsory unless a good case for exception can be made out by the student and his/her Tutor. The whole course is therefore of four years' duration. Sometimes students apply for teaching assistantships in foreign schools through the British Council or take one-year places at foreign universities through the Erasmus scheme; but it is also possible for students to arrange approved employment abroad. Students have to complete either a translation project or a dissertation on a subject of their choice by the end of their year abroad. There is nothing to prevent a student from spending periods in both countries of interest although arrangements for this may be complicated. 

The College itself is not responsible for arranging the year abroad for students but we give undergraduates every possible help in making their applications.

College and University support for year abroad

Linguists usually travel to at least one of the countries where the language(s) they are studying are spoken during  the spring or summer vacations. Vacation travel of this kind is not mandatory, but it is very strongly encouraged, particularly during the long vacation between the first and second year for students who have started a language from scratch.  In order to defray the costs of study-related trips Fitzwilliam offers small Travel Awards each term.  Almost every Fitzwilliam linguist has benefited from these awards at least once during his or her time here.  Small grants to support student travel are also available from some departments in the Faculty of Modern Languages, as well as from the Centre for Latin American Studies. Fitzwilliam linguists also benefit from the generosity of their predecessors: donations from Fitzwilliam alumni over the past 40 years have created a Modern Languages Fund that provides small grants to assist students who need help with the extra costs of the mandatory year abroad.

Social life

The Modern Linguists at Fitzwilliam are a strong and distinctive group within College.  We encourage them to work together and to help one other as much as possible so that first-year students soon get to know those in their second and final year and benefit from their experience of the College and the University.  The linguists thus come naturally to form a sort of informal club.  Frequently the Fitzwilliam linguists arrange parties for themselves and their friends.  Fitzwilliam students are among the most active members of the Hilltop Linguists' Society, which organizes termly events for linguists from Churchill, Murray Edwards, Girton and Fitzwilliam Colleges.  These are very popular, as they usually feature a short, lively talk followed by a dinner at one of the member colleges. The Modern Linguists' Dinner, a formal event held in the Lent Term each year, has become one of the most well-attended functions in the College calendar, as are the occasional Linguists' Curry outings and the elegant end-of-year Linguists' Soiree.


All applicants to Modern Languages must apply for at least one language which they are taking, or have taken, at A Level (or equivalent). If the applicant intends to take the second language ab initio, a second language A Level is not required (although it is a common choice).  Aside from this, there are no further required subjects.  The typical A Level offer for Modern Languages is A*AA. Fitzwilliam would usually specify that the A* should be in a language.  The typical IB offer is 40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level.

Applicants are also required to sit the Modern and Medieval Languages admissions written assessment, if invited for interview.  More information can be found on the University website.

What does it all lead to?

On graduation at the end of the fourth year the degree of BA (Hons) [not joint hons] is awarded. Seven terms after going down from Cambridge a graduate may apply for the degree of MA, which will be granted without any further studies or examination, simply by complying with some minor College formalities. Cambridge graduates in Modern Languages seem to be highly employable people judging from the fact that most of them are successful in finding jobs and careers either before they graduate or shortly afterwards. Not many go into teaching and not all of them use their languages very much in their work. The most popular careers are in international banking, insurance and finance, but there are also many in the media, business management, marketing, industry, the civil and foreign services, private and public administration, both at home and abroad, publishing, etc. The possibilities are great and the range of choices is very wide indeed.  It is difficult to say why Modern Linguists are so attractive to employers. Perhaps it is because they acquire such varied skills - the technical appreciation of accuracy and attention to detail (which comes from language work), the ability to analyse and synthesize complex material and an understanding of cultural values (both of which come from their range of study), the practical skill of speaking and writing fluently two or more foreign languages, a certain ease in dealing with people (which comes from work-experience abroad), and an open-mindedness and tolerance of other points of view and cultures and an almost professional interest in world affairs (which all come from the fact that their studies reveal new horizons to them not normally seen by other people studying other narrower subjects).

Modern Languages is a subject well worth studying which can lead to a fine career in the modern world. At Fitzwilliam we can give the best that Cambridge has to offer in this field.

Directors of Studies

Dr John Leigh, University Senior Lecturer in French.

Mr Paul Hoegger, Affiliated Lecturer for German

Other College Teachers for Modern Languages at Fitzwilliam 

Mr Clément Courouve, Supervisor of Studies in French (external): Clément Courouve is a graduate of the University of Metz (Lorraine, France) where he studied English language, literature and culture. With a particular interest in linguistics, grammar and translation, he went on to study for a Master's degree before spending two years abroad as a French language assistant. In the meantime, he passed the French competitive examination to become a language teacher and subsequently taught in the French education system for a couple of years, before moving to Cambridge in 2011 and joining the Language Unit in the Department of Engineering as a teacher of French. In 2014 he began teaching French language courses in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages. He was appointed Supervisor of Studies in French for Fitzwilliam College in March 2017. 

Dr Emanuela Davey, Supervisor of Studies in Italian (external): Emanuela Davey received her PhD from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, where she wrote her dissertation on the process of estrangement in Joseph Roth's life and work. An Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Italian, she is Fellow and Director of Studies in Italian at Murray Edwards College. At Cambridge she has taught and examined every Italian language paper in the Part I and Part II MML Tripos. In addition to modern languages and the literature of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, her interests include the history of art, theatre and cinema. 

Mr Paul Hoegger, Bye-Fellow in German: Paul Hoegger coordinates and teaches in the German programme of the Cambridge University Language Centre.  He is also Principal Examiner and setter for the German Pre-U paper at University of Cambridge International Examinations.  Originally from Bern in Switzerland, Paul moved to Germany in his late teens to work as a ballet dancer in various companies for 15 years. From 1993 - 2000 he worked as newsreader and presenter for the German World Service (Deutsche Welle Radio). In 2000 Paul moved to Cambridge (King's College), where he received his BA in Modern Languages (French and German) and MPhil in European Literature, then entered the Ph.D. programme in German. He is currently researching his dissertation on eighteenth-century German drama. Apart from frequent visits to the theatre, in his spare time Paul loves swimming, cycling, gardening and high-altitude walking.

Dr Geoffrey Maguire, Supervisor of Studies in Spanish and Latin America studies (external): Geoffrey’s research and teaching interests focus on the intersections of politics and culture in contemporary Latin America, with a particular emphasis on 21st-century Argentine literature, film and visual art. He is the author of numerous academic articles and book chapters, as well as the recent monograph, The Politics of Postmemory: Violence and Victimhood in Contemporary Argentine Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). This book analyses works of literature, cinema, theatre and photography produced over the last decade and explores the theoretical relevance of postmemory frameworks in the contemporary Argentine context. His current research focuses on contemporary queer cinema from Argentina and Chile, exploring the representation of the gay male subject through recent theoretical debates surrounding (queer) masculinities and filmic embodiment. With Dr Rachel Randall (Oxford), he is also editing a volume of essays that examine the figure of the adolescent in recent Latin American visual art. More broadly, Geoffrey is interested in literary and filmic representations of the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, and in theories of exile, film and cultural memory. Geoffrey regularly conducts fieldwork in Argentina, and would be very interested to hear from students who are thinking about spending time studying or working in Latin America. 

Ms Afra Pujol i Campeny, Batista i Roca Fellow and Lectora in Spanish and Catalan: Afra Pujol i Campeny was born in Girona, Catalonia, where she discovered her passion for languages. She read Classics in Cambridge (2010-2013), and specialised in Historical Linguistics during her MPhil (Cantab, 2013-2014). She is currently a PhD candidate in Old Catalan and Old Occitan syntax, but her range of academic interests also include (Historical) Sociolinguistics, Language Planning and Language Teaching. At present, she combines her research with Catalan and Spanish teaching in the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty and Fitzwilliam College. She was elected to the Batista i Roca Fellowship in 2017. 

More information

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics >>