Modern and Medieval Languages

What makes the Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) course special?

The MML course is flexible and varied: after the foundational first year course, you can create a bespoke pathway through the degree. Students can carry on with two languages that they have taken for A -level, or they can pursue one A-level language and learn another from scratch (ab initio). No matter which of these routes students take, the course is designed so that all students will achieve the same level of excellence by their fourth year. Within the course itself there are lots of options available, ranging from language and literature to linguistics, from history and thought to film, fine arts and cultural studies. The range of options varies by language, so you should look at the Faculty website to get a sense of what is available in the languages you are interested in. You can also combine a modern European language with a classical or a Middle Eastern language (in the AMES Tripos), or in the joint Tripos with History. In addition to their two degree languages, and depending on satisfactory progress, our students can also take up a third modern language such as Catalan, Portuguese or Ukrainian, or a medieval language like Occitan or Gothic. And there is the option to ‘borrow’ courses from other Faculties, such as History, Classics, English or Philosophy. 

As the MML courses are designed in the first and second years for foreign language learners, we would not normally recommend that native speakers apply to read their own language. Should they wish to do so, we would encourage them to discuss the matter with the Admissions Tutor or Directors of Studies in MML first. 

Why choose Newnham for MML?

  • A dynamic teaching team with a wide range of interests, spanning literature, linguistics, intellectual history and philosophy. 
  • Outstanding facilities: Newnham’s library holds one of the largest MML collections in Cambridge. We also have periodicals and newspapers in the major European languages, and a group study room that can be used for audio-visual materials.
  • A great location: Newnham is just across the road from the MML Faculty, where classes and lectures take place. The Computer Assisted Learning Facility (CALL) and Faculty libraries are also based there, and the Language Centre is only 10 mins away. You’ll be the envy of all your fellow students!
  • An induction course just before the beginning of your first term to help you hit the ground running. 
  • Generous travel and book grants: we have a dedicated travel fund for MML students and special language prizes, such as the Irina Kirillova prize. 
  • Help with organising language-related travel.

What do you current students say about the course?

We asked our current first year students why the study of language is so important and they said;

‘In an increasingly polarised world, where there appears to be more hate than love, we may look for ways to resolve such conflicts. While politicians may proceed to enact new laws, or economists would assert that a stable economy feeds peace. We linguaphiles ask ourselves, what can we offer?

In this digital age the use of languages has often been sneeringly questioned – an impractical study which to dedicate resources, time ought to be better spent elsewhere. This world needs more doctors to treat the sick, this world needs more engineers to construct our infrastructure, this world needs more lawyers to maintain law and order, but the world also needs to be worth living in. As naturally social beings, us humans are born to thrive in groups. Connected by a shared passion to know and grow with each other in a community. It is language that forms the bedrock of our connections. To make a profound connection is to understand the language in which we each became ourselves.

As such, it is not absurd to assert that we live in a world of culture where language is the engine. The relationship between interdisciplinarities is made possible through the use of languages and is so clearly crucial to progress and tolerance.

Through the study of language in literature, theatre, music and the arts there is much value to be gained. Like a doctor treats an illness – we will learn to treat the sickness of cultural ignorance, like an engineer who constructs a bridge – we will aid in the building of social bridges and akin to a lawyer who balances the scale – we will navigate the differences in perception with the mission to resolve conflict using a skill that is so interwoven in our fabric as humans that it separates us from other species – language.’

How many students are there at Newnham and what languages do they read?

We usually have between eight and ten MML students per year, one of the largest subject groups in College. 

In total there are usually about thirty modern linguists in College, with another ten or so on their year abroad. Currently our students read French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, with many choosing Catalan, Greek, Portuguese or Ukrainian as an extra language. 

Often students stay on at Newnham for a postgraduate degree, and the Faculty offers Master’s courses in literature, linguistics and film. 

How will I be taught at Newnham?

Lectures and language classes will be organised by the Faculty, but in addition students are usually taught in pairs or even on their own for essay-based supervisions. Supervisions are organised by the Directors of Studies in Newnham. We currently have teaching staff in French, German and Spanish, so we can do much teaching in-house. But we are keen to ensure that whatever combination of languages and courses our students choose, they always receive world-class tuition by specialists in their field. So we have a lot of reciprocal teaching arrangements in place with colleagues at other Colleges. This means that you will get to know linguists at other Colleges very well. 

What’s the social life like for linguists at Newnham?

The Newnham linguists are a close-knit group and we encourage them to work together, but they also tend to make lots of friends in the Faculty because of all the different language combinations. In College, the MML Dinner and the MML garden party are always popular events, and ex-students often join in. The French lectrice holds a regular French table in the Buttery, and there are often screenings of foreign language films. University-wide, there are clubs and societies for all the different languages on offer: 

Can you tell me more about the Newnham Senior Members?

For information on the current teaching staff and Fellows for Modern and Medieval Languages, please visit our teaching webpages.

Where do Newnham students go on their year abroad?

As a Newnham MML student, you have innumerable opportunities. Our students have spent the year abroad doing voluntary work in French-speaking Burkina Faso, working as a translator in Berlin, being a journalist in Russia, teaching English in Argentina, studying in Portugal, learning photography in Madrid or working as a web designer in Rome. 

We also have a fantastic exchange scheme with the École Nationale Supérieure in Lyon. With some minor restrictions you can organise your year abroad to suit your interests. There is a lot of support on a Faculty level through the Year Abroad Office. 

What jobs do MML students at Newnham go on to do?

Our students have no difficulties in finding jobs. 

The year abroad is a good springboard, and work placements can result in permanent posts after graduation. Often students continue to work in the arts, e.g. in publishing or the media, or they take another qualification. Many use their language skills to move into financial or legal careers. Working for international institutions or businesses is also a popular option. 

In general, the MML course will teach students a lot of skills that employers value: the ability to analyse complex information, to communicate accurately and clearly in speech and writing across linguistic and cultural divides, and to be open-minded in dealing with people. Newnham students can draw on ex-students for support and advice. For example a group of very well-connected women, the Newnham Associates, regularly offer seminars on topics such as networking or time-management and can even arrange work placements. 

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful? What grades do I need?

You will need at least one foreign language at A-level (or equivalent) in a language that you wish to study at Cambridge and ideally a GCSE in another (including ancient and community languages). 

Essay-writing subjects such as History or English are also very useful, but we have an open mind. 

You’ll need to perform very well at A-Level: A*AA is the minimum. We will look at your past performance, such as GCSEs. But we assess you individually and can be flexible. Call or email us to talk it through. 

Can I take a gap year?

Of course! Gap years are a great way of learning languages and can be particularly useful if you are planning to take up a language from scratch: we do expect you to travel to a country where one of the languages you are planning to study is spoken. As long as you don’t want to spend your whole year on a beach, we are very happy to offer deferred places and can give advice on organising the year. Even if you are not taking a gap year, we would encourage you to travel during the summer before coming up to Cambridge and to go on language courses if at all possible. 

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

In addition to your school studies, try to read for yourself a short novel or two, a play and perhaps even some poetry in your chosen language areas either in the original or, if need be, in translation. It is useful to gain some insight into how languages work by reading a book such as David Crystal’s Introducing Linguistics. Reading foreign newspapers or magazines and watching films would also be very useful. At interview, we will discuss your reasons for wanting to study your two chosen languages, your reading and other related topics. You may well find it helpful to have familiarised yourself with the general outline of the MML course, available on the Faculty website. Before each interview you will be given a short passage to read for 10-15 minutes in one of your chosen languages and you will be asked to comment on this during the interview. You’ll have to talk in one or two of your foreign languages for a little while, and like all other Colleges we will ask you to sit a one-hour written language test. 

Is there an Admissions Assessment for MML?

Yes – applicants who are invited for interview will take a Cambridge College registered written assessment. You will not need to register in advance for this assessment and the Colleges will provide details directly to you. You will find further information about applying and about the format of the test, with sample papers, here: 

Where can I find out more?

You can contact the Admissions Office by emailing

The Languages Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website provides information and resources for exploring your subject 

Back to course list