By Charlotte ‘Poddy’ Wilson; @poddywilson
I made my application to study French Sole (i.e., just one language) in 2019, but in truth, I had been preparing long before that. As soon as my GCSE’s were out the way and I began to research French courses, I learnt that Oxford’s is a literature degree, through and through. Unlike MFL courses at other universities where you can more or less avoid all novels if you’re strategic enough with your module choices, this is not an option at Oxford, nor would any Oxford student want it to be. It is a prerequisite of an Oxford Languages student that they are an avid reader: in your first year, you study a text a week, and in your second and fourth, you’re more likely to study three or four. With this in mind, if you’re thinking of applying, it’s best to hit the library at the earliest opportunity!
I began by looking at select poems spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. After breaking them down individually as I would a poem in A-level English lit, I began to make connections between them, and to research the literary movements in which they’d been written. In the meantime, I also read Madame Bovary, in English. At this stage, don’t be afraid to read in translation occasionally – it’s still beneficial as you’re consuming from the language’s literary history. My extracurricular interest in theatre also led me to research France’s great dramatists. All these years later, and I’m now studying Racine and Molière for my special authors paper, so you never know how far these early discoveries will take you!
In my personal statement I recorded all of these readings, my brief thoughts on them, and the connections I had made between one and another. I wrote briefly on other activities I had undertaken pertinent to the degree, like seeing plays in French, and informally tutoring younger students at school. Following the advice of my form tutor, I dedicated very little of my personal statement to describing my extra-curriculars; whilst they’re important in being a well-rounded character, they’re not really relevant to the tutor who’ll interview you.
I also had to take an MLAT, (Modern Languages Aptitude Test). Being a sole candidate, I only had to take the French paper, but if you were to apply for linguistics, or an ab initio course, you would need to take an additional section. I easily accessed past papers online, and was very well prepared for the type of questions that would be thrown at me. As a pointer, it’s a good idea to refamiliarize yourself with sticky grammatical features, like preceding direct and indirect objects, for instance!
Finally, I was called to interview in December 2019. I had three interviews, all at Oriel College. In two interviews, I was given French passages to look at beforehand, and I was asked, among other things to recount the plot, describe the genre, and unpack some grammar points. In these interviews, I was also asked a little about the two essays (one French and one English) that I had submitted a few weeks earlier as an example of my essay writing. Now, by this point I had largely forgotten what I had written about in those essays, so make sure to take copies with you when you go to interview, to refresh your memory! The other interview, which I remember thoroughly enjoying, saw me being given an English poem, and being told simply to unpack the poem line by line. This sat really well within my comfort zone. Another top tip would be to revise literary devices, because being able to point out antanaclasis or litotes and describe their effect will really set you apart from other candidates.
If you’re thinking of applying, then I’d say the best place to start is by researching the history of French literature, and finding a sort of equivalent to a writer or movement that you love in English. If you’ve read texts you actually enjoy, and which pique your particular interests, then this will shine through in your personal statement and interviews!