Modern & Medieval Languages

The course

The MML Tripos concentrates solely on foreign languages and you will study two languages in your first year. The most popular combinations are French with German, or one of those languages with Russian, Spanish or Italian. The College welcomes interested linguists who wish to begin a new second foreign language – possible in all languages taught in the Faculty except French – as well as those who already have two languages at A Level. Beginning a new language is called the ‘ab initio’ option. The ab initio option is well worth considering: you are at no disadvantage in finals. Many people study the ab initio language for two years, and concentrate on their A-level subject for finals. However, every year there are people who graduate with a First in a language which they only began at Cambridge.

The MML course lasts four years, the third year being spent abroad. In the first, second and fourth years students sit papers in language and non-language elements. The latter can include not just literature but linguistics, history, philosophy and other options. Over the first two years you will have to offer papers in both languages. In Part II you offer language papers in only one of your two languages, but may take ‘non-language’ papers in either. It is therefore possible to end up specializing in one language to the exclusion of the other, or to retain an almost even balance between the two. In Part II it is also possible to ‘borrow’ papers from History, English and Classics. If literature is your special interest, there is no better course than Cambridge MML: a very broad chronological range is available in each language, so you can choose to specialize in one period (e.g. Medieval Studies) or one particular nation’s literature (e.g. the whole of German from start to finish) or just pick and choose. However, it is possible to go through the second and final years without picking a single literature option for your ‘non-language’ papers. Linguistics can be studied from day one, and many undergraduates choose options in history, philosophy etc. An increasing number of students now go down the path of linguistics. Those who wish to opt out of MML altogether and finish with a specialized course in linguistics, can do so in the second or final year. For more information, see the Linguistics page on the University website. 

The third year of the MML course must (in nearly all cases) be spent abroad. It is usually spent in just one country. Many people work as paid language assistants at schools, or attend university. Many, however, make their own arrangements to work in banks, or other offices, on newspapers, or for charities. The choice is yours. During this year you will research and write either a dissertation or a translation project. Again, the choice of topic is yours. In short, the course is very much what you make of it. At Pembroke we are very happy for people to find their own particular niche, regardless of the individual interests of the Directors of Studies.

Further information about the structure of the MML course can be found on the page about MML on the University website. 

Pembroke and Modern Languages

There are currently two teaching Fellows in Modern Languages at Pembroke: Professor Sylvia Huot (French) and Professor Chris Young (German). Professor Huot is primarily a specialist in medieval literature, but has teaching interests going well beyond this particular field of study. Professor Young teaches and researches in medieval literature, the history of the German language and aspects of modern German culture (specifically sport). They are supported by an external Director of Studies in Spanish, Dr Andreea Weisl-Shaw, who is an expert in  medieval Spanish Literature and Culture. Direction of Studies and teaching are, however, provided for all languages, and you are at no disadvantage if you wish to study languages other than French, German and Spanish.

Undergraduates taking Part I of the Tripos have regular College supervisions in addition to Faculty lectures and weekly classes in translation and in the use of the languages. There is a small group discussion of texts chosen from the Part I literature papers, based on written work submitted and marked in advance. A second weekly supervision is given by a native speaker and is devoted to language work and either general conversation in preparation for the Oral, or guidance for the Language Essay paper. Pembroke annually appoints a lectrice/lecteur for French, a Lektor(in) for German, and arranges similar teaching with native speakers for those studying other languages. The College encourages its linguists to take full advantage of the broad range of options available in the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos and to find a combination of papers suited to individual interests. The Directors of Studies are primarily interested in helping students to find their niche and develop their own special interests to the full, whatever these might be.


Pembroke usually admits five or six undergraduates a year to read Modern and Medieval Languages, though numbers vary to reflect the quality of the field. The minimum requirement is one language at A-level, in one of the languages that you wish to study. Ab initio courses are open to you even if you have not got GCSE in the particular language: you will be at no disadvantage. No other A-level subjects are stipulated or deemed inappropriate. Applicants are very welcome in any language offered by the University.

Several of the undergraduates reading Modern Languages at Pembroke take a year off after completing school before coming up to university, and the College is very happy to receive applications for deferred entry, although understanding that it is not always possible or desirable.

Admissions interviews are with both Directors of Studies in Modern Languages, Professor Huot, and an Admissions Tutor. If you are applying to read a language other than French and are studying for an A-level in that language, then we will arrange for a colleague from that particular department to see you in addition. For interviews in your A-level (or equivalent) languages, you will be expected to look at a passage in each foreign language you are studying, given to you about fifteen minutes before the interview with the relevant Fellow. This will then be discussed, and you will also have a short (unrelated) discussion in the language. For interviews with a Director of Studies who is not an expert in a language you are studying at A-level (or equivalent), you will be given a passage in English.

You will be asked to do a written test on the day of your interview and this will take place at Pembroke. The written test will be of one hour’s length and based on a short text in English. It will be marked by the subject experts according to an agreed set of criteria. Two specimen tests, together with the agreed criteria, can be found on the Faculty website.

You will be asked to submit two pieces of written work with your application. These must be pieces of work that you have already prepared in connection with your A-level (or equivalent) studies. At least one must be in a foreign language that you propose to offer at Cambridge, while the other can be in any Arts subject. Work submitted must be accompanied by a cover sheet, provided on request by the College, and signed by your teacher certifying that it is your own work. Try, however, to read as much in the foreign language as possible before the interview. Foreign literature is one excellent way for sixth-formers to broaden their vocabulary, gain experience of a broad range of linguistic registers, and learn something about the cultural and intellectual interests of the communities and nations whose language they are studying.

Professor Huot is happy to answer any questions relating to this course or preparation for interview via email. See also the page about Modern and Medieval Languages on the University website.