Studying beginners’ languages at Cambridge

Sophie Wrigglesworth
Created: 7 months, 1 week ago
Last modified: 7 months, 1 week ago

Pretty much as soon as I found out it was possible to study a language ‘ab initio’ (from scratch) at university, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Before looking at university websites in Year 12, I had thought studying two languages was out of the question - I was taking (and loving) A-level French, but had not studied another language at GCSE, let alone at A-level. Fast forward a few years and I’m in my second year studying French, Spanish and Catalan at Cambridge! Here are a bit about the options available.

When asked what I study at university, I usually just reply with ‘languages’, but the full name of my course is ‘Modern and Medieval Languages’ (or ‘MML’ for short!). Six main languages are available to study as part of this degree - French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish - and currently, all except French can be studied from scratch. This can mean having never studied the language before, or perhaps having studied it to GCSE, but not further.

In ‘MML’, people study two of these languages in first year, and then have the option to take on a third language in second and/or fourth year - I’m doing Catalan this year, and there are also paper options for Greek, Polish, Portuguese (for people who didn’t study it in first year) and Ukrainian). Cambridge also offers a ‘History and Modern Languages’ course, where the language taken with history can be post A-level or from scratch. Another option is studying one of the six MML languages with Classical Latin (currently only post A-level) or Classical Greek (post A-level or from scratch).There is also the four-year Classics course if you haven’t studied Latin before.

In addition to the Faculty Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics (MMLL), the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) offers in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, all of which are taught from ab initio. It is possible to study some of these alongside a post A-level MML language.

Lastly, it’s important to note the opportunity to study languages at Cambridge outside of degree courses! The university has a Language Centre which offers courses in a range of languages and levels, no prior knowledge of the language is needed. While these courses generally have a fee, many Cambridge colleges are happy to give partial or full reimbursements to students for completing the course. If casual, unstructured language learning is what you’re looking for, there are multiple student-run societies that can help with this.

As you can see, there are many possibilities when it comes to studying languages at university, including ones you haven’t studied before. University is a great time for starting something new, so why not have a look at what’s on offer - you never know where it may lead you…

Other links:
Courses offered by the MMLL faculty:
Language Centre:
Blog about choosing languages: