Cambridge Modern & Medieval Languages: Tips & Questions for Interview

5 min read

Have an upcoming Medieval and Modern Languages interview at Cambridge but unsure what to expect? This article will help you smash the interview, giving you lots of unique insights and tips to help you prepare for the big day.

Modern and Medieval Languages Cambridge
Modern and Medieval Languages Cambridge may seem daunting at first, but this article contains key bits of advice to help guide you!

What is the Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages interview structure?

Most candidates have 2 interviews of 30 minutes in length, with some having 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.

Cambridge interviews
 Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University interviews may be held virtually

Example Past Questions from Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages interviews

General questions:

  • Why do you want to study Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge?
  • Questions on why I talked about X in personal statement 
  • What is it about Modern and Medieval Languages 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?
  • Discussion of my future plans for study and career
  • What have you read outside of the classroom in X language?
Free Oxbridge Interview Scenarios

    Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages interview questions:

    • The interviewers 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.
    • Tutors gave me a text (in Spanish) beforehand, and 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. 
    • For my French interview I read a short extract beforehand, before discussing some general questions on it. I then explained/defended my argument in one of my submitted essays. The interview switched into us speaking French with more discussing on the pre-reading.
    • In my Spanish interview, tutors asked more general questions (such as language choices for the course). I was quizzed about recent Spanish political events. 
    • We spoke in English for half the interview, looking at translating English sentences into Spanish. We then spoke in Spanish about Spanish texts that I mentioned in my application.
    • The interviewers asked me 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 had 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. 

    Example Questions

    • Why do accents exist?
    • 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?
    • What gets lost in translation?
    • 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?
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    What happens on the day of my Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages interview?

    According to Cambridge University, in a lot of Modern and Medieval Languages interviews, candidates have 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 also speak in the language for which they are applying. This gives 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. (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. There may be 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!

    What do you have to bring to your Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages interview?

    We were told to wear whatever we felt most comfortable in – whether this is a suit or gym clothes. I opted for more casual clothing to make me feel more comfortable, and my tutor did the same!

    I had a pen and paper handy to make any notes through the interview, and was presented with documents and images over screen share during the interview. 

    When are Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages 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 Modern and Medieval Languages interviewers like?

    My interview experience was very positive!

    Whilst it can be daunting at first, the interviewers do a great job making you feel more comfortable. Often, they will ease you into the interview, starting off by discussing interesting elements of your personal statement, before moving on to an extract analysis or talking in a foreign language.

    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 study type
    Students reading Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge will typically have 2 tutorials a week with 0-3 other students and a tutor

    Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages 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 Modern and Medieval Languages 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 EPQ (if applicable)! A lot of candidates are asked questions on books/articles they have mentioned in their personal statement – the last thing you want is to be asked about a book you have not really read!

    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!

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