Cambridge French: Tips & Questions for Interview

5 min read

Have an upcoming French interview at Cambridge but unsure what to expect? Don’t worry! We have spoken to top performing candidates to get their unique insights to help you smash the interview!

What is the Cambridge French Interview structure?

Most candidates have 2 interviews of 30 minutes in length. Some candidates also had 15 minutes of pre-reading before the interview to analyse specific texts.

Students typically get their interview timetable a week in advance. Most interviewers consist of you and two interviewers – often a more senior tutor, and a more junior one.

Interviews take place in December. If you have an online interview, make sure you have practised using the technology beforehand!

Cambridge interviews
French at Cambridge University interviews may be held virtually

Example Past Questions from Cambridge French interviews

General questions:

  • Why do you want to study French at Cambridge?
  • Questions on why I talked about X in personal statement 
  • What is it about French that most excites you?
  • What skills would make you suited to be a successful student at Cambridge?
  • Why this college?
  • Why Cambridge University?
  • Why do you want to study a very literature-based degree?
  • What can you contribute to college life?
  • Discussion on my EPQ topic (if done)
  • What did you do in your gap year?
  • Why learn a language in a globalising world?
  • Why study French when we all have access to Google Translate?
  • Discussion of my future plans for study and career
  • What have you read outside of the classroom in X language?
  • Who is your favourite author? Which of their other works have you read?
Free Oxbridge Interview Scenarios

    Cambridge French interview questions:

    • The tutors gave me a page of grammar questions (such as conjugating verbs, or changing the gender of particular adjectives), and some sentences to translate. I also had a short passage in a foreign language, and the interview mainly covered my answers and thoughts based on this work.
    • I was given a text (in French) beforehand, and was given a painting to analyse alongside the text. In the interview we talked about the text and painting (such as linking to its historical context), before moving to my personal statement. Does a language need to have letters? Can it be made just of numbers? Is grammar therefore necessary?
    • What gets lost in translation?
    • How does Le Monde differ from an English broadsheet?
    • How does grammar govern tone and style in literature?
    • I was only asked one question about my personal statement which was the question in French: what are the key skills needed for debating? (I had mentioned debating in my extracurricular section). 
    • They asked about details of the poem, including imagery, motifs, literary devices, structure, rhyming scheme etc. They provided me with a translation of the poem alongside the original French, and asked me to comment on this too (e.g. words I thought might have been mistranslated). 
    • What makes something poetic?
    • How does literature affect your opinion of that society?
    • Should we skip “bad words” when learning another language?
    • Is there such a thing as an immoral book?
    • For my French interview they asked me to read a short extract beforehand, before discussing some general questions on it. They then asked me to explain/defend my argument in one of my submitted essays, before the interview switched into us speaking French with more discussing on the pre-reading.

    Further Questions

    • In my French interview, they asked me more general questions (such as language choices for the course), and was quizzed about recent French political events. 
    • We spoke in English for half the interview, looking at translating English sentences into French. We then spoke in French about French texts that I mentioned in my application.
    • I was asked to compare and contrast a French book I mentioned in my personal statement to a French extract, looking at the choice of language used and key themes.
    • In my first interview, I was given some material in French and ten minutes to read it. They then asked me to read some of it out loud, and identify some of the tenses used and to translate some sections. They asked me how certain effects were created by the writer. The interview then switched to us speaking in French, with a few questions on my academic interests and my personal statement. 
    • Why do accents exist?
    • Does language define our identity?
    • Is there any point studying languages with the advent of modern electronic translators?
    • What determines how easy a language is to team?
    • Do people who speak different languages think differently because of it?
    • If you had £1,000,000 to find out more about the origins of language, how would you spend it?
    • What is language? How have languages evolved over time? Why? How?
    • Are languages important? Should we try to move towards a “universal language” that everyone in the world speaks?
    • Britain declares war on Europe. What advice would you give to the ministry of defence if they asked you what level of French/German/French each of their personnel should have?

    What happens on the day of my Cambridge French Interview?

    According to Cambridge University, in a lot of French interviews, candidates are given a short passage (in a foreign language) to read before the interview. There is often not a right or wrong answer, in the interview they just want to see how you respond to new material!

    A lot of candidates are also asked to speak in the language for which they are applying, as well as giving interviewees the opportunity to demonstrate their aptitude to other areas of the course (such as different aspects of the literature)

    Most importantly, interviewers want to learn about you, your thoughts, and your ideas! They are keen to know about what you have read in school, and any extra readings outside of the curriculum (as this is a good way to show your own intuition and passion for the subject!)

    Another common aspect is the focus on the candidate’s personal statement, with an in-depth discussion on any books or references the candidate has mentioned, or a discussion on school material that relates to the course. The interviewers often have a genuine interest in your interests and what you have read!

    Oxbridge tutor
    Oxbridge Interview Online Course
    Oxbridge interview preparation from the comfort of your own home!

    What do you have to bring to your Cambridge French Interview?

    Dress code doesn’t matter at all – they are only interested in what you say, not what you look like! I took pens and highlighters to the interview so that I could make notes & annotate the poem beforehand. 

    When are Cambridge French Interviews held?

    According to Cambridge University, interviews typically take place during the first three weeks of December, with a small number of candidates interviewing in January. Most candidates are interviewed over a period of 2-3 days, but if you get pooled for another round of interviews then this period could be even longer.

    Tutors then make a decision based on the performance of the applications, and offers are typically sent out to candidates in mid January.

    What if my technology cuts out during the interview?

    Although very annoying, try to stay as calm as possible! Interviewers are understanding of the technical issues candidates may face, and have assured candidates that no one will be disadvantaged by technical issues, and to try to let the interviewers know as soon as possible.

    What are the Cambridge French Interviewers like?

    The interviewers were friendly, but they didn’t give much away. It’s really hard to tell what they’re thinking, so don’t try and guess! They gave me a reassuring nod now and then, and when I did make a mistake (at first I said the wrong rhyming scheme, but I just corrected myself and it showed by ability to work around difficult problems), they were really nice about it and were more impressed to see me work out the real solution on my own!

    The interviewers clearly had an idea of the questions they wanted to ask, especially at the beginning. But as the interview progressed, they were led in their questioning by things that I said, i.e. things they either disagreed with, found interesting, or thought needed expanding on. The questions were by no means generic, and I couldn’t have predicted them!

    It honestly felt like a fairly informal conversation talking about our interests. It was also very exciting having the opportunity to talk and discussing this with a leading academic in the field!

    Cambridge course study
    Students reading French at Cambridge will typically have 2 tutorials a week with 0-3 other students and a tutor

    Cambridge French Interview tips

    Because many candidates have reported interview questions involving topics they mentioned on their personal statement/submitted essays, we strongly advise going over these to make sure you would be comfortable answering any questions in detail!

    We recommend revising the grammar of your language of study, as well as speaking out loud in this language to someone else (as this is a recurring theme in many interviews). Cambridge University states you should feel comfortable speaking to the interviewer in the language you are applying for, for up to 10 minutes. There are many resources online to help practise your translating, as well as helping you recap your grammar and vocab!

    It may also be beneficial looking at articles from different newspapers and analysing them, examining the stylistic devices used and why (as this also helps keep up to date with current affairs!).

    Cambridge also recommends exploring and reading widely around your subject, such as reading pre-twentieth century works as well as contemporary writing. For more resources, Cambridge University recommends this website.

    Tips for the Cambridge French interview itself

    1. Try to stay calm! Interviewers will understand if you are nervous, so do not be afraid to take a few seconds to compose yourself and structure your thoughts.
    2. Do not panic if you do not immediately know the answer. Focus on talking out loud, clearly communicating your thought process throughout the interview.  Cambridge University states interviewers want to see how you think and apply your current knowledge, rather than just assessing your final answer – so make sure you show the interview how you logically arrive at an answer step-by-step!
    3. Mock interviews help! Answering a question out loud to someone else is quite unusual and a very different skill to answering it in your head – practice, practice, practice!
    4. Show your passion for their subject! Your interviewer could be your tutor every week for the next three years – so make a good impression outside of academics: be engaged, enthusiastic and friendly!
    5. Get a good night’s rest before! Try not to cram at 1am, instead get a good night’s sleep to feel fresh for the interview
    6. Know your personal statement and written work really well. Be able to defend any arguments that you make in either. 
    7. Don’t try and predict what will happen in the interview. It’s impossible!
    8.  Practice talking to other people about your ideas. It can be harder to put them into words than you might think, and you will build up confidence.
    9.  Practice reading work written by French writers, and discussing their uses of style/imagery/form etc. 
    10. Read around your personal statement and written work a bit, so that you have something left to say in the interview!

    Enjoy the experience! Being invited to an interview is an achievement in itself, and see this as an opportunity to discuss your interest with leading academics in the field!

    Still got a question? Leave a comment
    Post as “Anonymous”
    Just Start Typing...