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Modern Languages: Q&A's for undergraduates

Our Modern Language academics Dr Danielle Hipkins and Dr Susana Afonso hosted a Q&A session as a story on our Instagram account @uniofexeter.

We received dozens of questions and have collated the main themes below:

If you want to focus on Modern Languages, then our BA Modern Languages is the degree for you. However, there are a number of combined honours degrees on offer where you can study Modern Languages alongside other Humanities subjects such as English and History.

We also offer Flexible Combined Honours degrees where you can study two subjects where there is no current combined honours. Our wide-ranging Language Centre programme also means that students can take up a language through modularity, although you will need to check with your main subject whether this is an option.

Those are the only two current MAs we offer. The MA in Translation Studies provides excellent professional training for careers in the language services industry.

Our graduates have become freelance translators with their own businesses; they have found employment as in-house translators and project managers in translation companies. We also offer the opportunity to study linguistics or another language or culture-related topic under the supervision of one our experts.

This is under the auspices of the MRes in Modern Languages, which is not advertised online yet, but offers a way to tailor your study to your particular interests.

At Exeter we recognise that students come to modern languages with a wide variety of cultural interests, and we are proud of the wide range of option modules that we offer. You may end up studying some literature as an element of a module at some stage, but there are also plenty of options on history, film and visual culture, politics, intercultural communication, gender and linguistics.

Take a look at some of the module options currently on offer.

You will always have some element of choice – our BA in Modern Languages is very flexible so you can select option modules from across the department, and also from outside the department, according to availability. Your Academic Tutor will help you to make these choices.

You will spend your third year abroad. There are a wide range of options in Europe and beyond. As an example if you are studying Portuguese you can study in Portugal or Brazil. You can normally choose between taking up a work placement (which our Global Careers Zone will help you to find), taking a teaching placement through the British Council, or studying at one of our partner universities.

The Year Abroad is normally obligatory unless there are mitigating circumstances, in which case transfer onto a 3-year programme is subject to approval by the Head of Modern Languages.

Typically your timetable will be 10-12 hours of contact time (lectures, seminars, language and oral classes), with 28+ set aside for private study each week.

It’s great to hear about your passion for this poet. We offer a wide range of French literature from medieval love poetry to Proust to Marguerite Duras.

Take a look at some of our module options. We don’t currently cover Rimbaud at present, but we have at least two members of staff who would be delighted to supervise a final-year dissertation on his work.

If you are starting a language from scratch you will normally be taught separately from the post- A level students in your first and second year. In your first year you will have extra classroom time to help you to catch up.After the Year Abroad you will all be taught together.

Students also come with different backgrounds even when they all have an A level in that language, so for those students in the first year there will be consolidation of grammar covered at A level, as well as new material, to make sure that everyone has covered the same ground.

There is a very wide range of career options. Employers know that you are resilient having been able to live and work in a foreign country and language. Throughout your studies, in addition to your language skills you will develop valuable skills of analysis, argumentation and critical thinking.

Our graduates go into the Civil Service, Law, Journalism, Public Relations and Marketing, Accounting and Management, as well as translation work and teaching.

Spanish beginners can be taken towards achieving ‘with proficiency in Spanish”. This involves successfully completing a minimum of 60 credits in one language taken through the Language Centre, of which 30 credits must be at Level 2 (Language Centre Intermediate 1) or higher.

You could choose to start a new language from scratch or develop an existing one. For example, a Geography student who passes 30 credits at Spanish Beginners and a further 30 credits at Spanish Intermediate 1 could have their degree title amended to BA (Hons) Geography with proficiency in Spanish. If the 60 credits are ALL at NQF Level 6 then the words "with proficiency in advanced ...." can be added.

A lecture can vary in number from 10 to 100. However, you will have more seminars and language classes, sessions in which you are expected to participate more; these classes usually have around 12-16 students. Oral classes will be around 8 students.

This is an important first stage in pursuing that career. Students wishing to become interpreters will often follow up a BA in Modern Languages with a specialist postgraduate degree, but that will also depend on the employer and your experience.

We look forward to welcoming you to Exeter. Make sure you double check you’ve attached all required supporting documentation for your application to avoid delays processing your student number and keep an eye out for the four pre-arrival emails you will received during the summer with advice on getting accommodation. Follow @exeterabroad on Instagram too!

You can study one language on the Beginners’ route in your first year and add a second in your subsequent years, subject to progress.

You can take 1-3 languages in combination – out of Mandarin Chinese, Russian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. At the moment Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese can only be studied from scratch and alongside another subject or language.

You can study a language in our Language Centre for a fee (reduced for students) on an evening course. It might be better to find a way to integrate it into your degree, via what is called ‘modularity’.

Check with your subject department as to whether this might be possible.

Within the BA in Modern Languages we are very flexible. You can change your language to another one of our seven languages (French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish) when you first arrive in Exeter, as long as you do not want to study more than one from scratch in your first year.

If you do not change within the first two weeks, you will still have an opportunity to make changes in your second year, when you could drop one language and start a new one, subject to progress. However, since Arabic is homed in a different department, you would have to contact the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies for information about that particular language.

At the moment Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese only really cater for beginners, but you certainly don’t have to be a beginner for our other languages.

We have post A level (or equivalent) classes in five of our seven languages (French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish). If you are beyond A level when you start, you might request a waiver for your first-year classes and use the credits to study more culture instead.

The year abroad helps you to develop in three key areas: language learning, employability skills and intercultural skills. You will have an option to study at a partner university; teaching English on a British Council placement or Working in other employment. Our Global Careers Zone will help you to find a work placement.

We have a dedicated and well-resourced Language Centre in the Queens Building where you can spend your study time outside of class watching films or working on your grammar.

The Centre produces its own magazine, see our latest edition at and also runs a popular tandem language exchange which links you up with visiting Erasmus students for language practice.

You can study Portuguese as a Modern Language from beginners level as part of a Flexible Combined Honours with Psychology, or you can study for credits in the language with the Language Centre and gain ‘with proficiency in Portuguese’ to your Psychology degree title.

The minimum number of credits you can take in a language is 30, which means that you would just focus on language acquisition. That would probably mean 4-5 hours a week, depending on the language.

Where language teaching is concerned we aim to develop an immersive environment, using the target language as much as possible, although this is not always possible (when teaching from scratch), or desirable (when teaching translation into English).

On our culture modules, we encourage reading and viewing in the target language, but lectures, discussion and written work tends to be in English to ensure that you develop the necessary graduate-level skills in analysis and argumentation.

Yes, you can take a beginners language in the first year and another in the second (subject to progress), but not in the final year.

French and Spanish are our most popular languages.

If you are studying two of our core languages you will normally spend the academic year (7 months) in the country of the language in which you are less proficient. If you are studying at post A level in both languages, you may be able to spend half of the year in one country and half in the other.

Some students try to spend some time over the summer before or after the official Year Abroad in the third country.

Yes, Exeter has a number of staff with specialist interest in Latin America; we have a growing Centre for Latin American Studies, and we offer options in this area at every level. Currently these include courses like ‘The Latin American Short Story’ and ‘Place and Identity in Contemporary Venezuelan Culture’.

Your final year language module will develop advanced language skills: a high level of skill in written translation between English and German and in composition in German, and help you to develop fluency and expressiveness in oral German.

No, some of our language option modules are open to students without that language, and we have an increasing range of options open to all students of Modern Languages, which are comparative (see those with the SML code online). You will still need to accumulate a certain number of credits in your specific language to have it named in your degree title, but this is something you can discuss with your Academic Tutor as you select your options.