Language Learning

We are keen to support the development of students' language learning. Language tuition is encouraged and we sponsor language acquisition, as far as feasible, so that students are given the chance to improve existing foreign language skills or to learn a new language in order to extend the scope of their research.

The History Faculty organises courses in French, German, Spanish and Italian for postgraduate students; there are facilities for independent study, and it is sometimes possible to organise or fund additional provision. Please note that in general, teaching is envisaged as accompanying and supporting students' independent study - the aim is not to coach, but to support students' learning.


Language as a subject of study

Attendance to either the pre-term or term-time course is considered compulsory for those arriving without evidence of proficiency in the language to read for the MSt in Medieval History or the MSt in Medieval Studies (unless they opt for another medieval language), and for research students in medieval history. Proof of enrolment in a similar Latin course outside Oxford would be an acceptable alternative.

If you are enrolling in the MSt/MPhil in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies you should carefully consider, in consultation with your supervisor, how much additional commitment to language learning you can realistically undertake as the programme was conceived with comprehensive language modules included. 


Studying European Languages

The University's Language Centre provides courses in major languages at every level, including reading courses, and the Faculty co-organises with the Language Centre reading classes in French, German, Spanish and Italian. In the case of continental European topics, students will need to satisfy their supervisor and the course convenor that they have, or are acquiring, adequate (reading) knowledge of the relevant language(s) to pursue their dissertation work. 


Pre-sessional Course in medieval Latin

We offer a three-week pre-sessional intensive introductory course in Latin in September before term begins, covering elementary morphology, syntax and vocabulary.

It is specifically designed for incoming graduate medieval and early modern historians, and there may be places for some new graduate students from other faculties. There are usually two groups (beginners and intermediate), but this depends on demand. You will very likely have a 90-minute class each day (weekdays only) and will be expected to undertake independent study on top of this. In 2023-24, the pre-term Latin course will be delivered online.

Knowledge of Latin is fundamental for any work on primary sources of medieval Europe, and is often also of significant relevance during the early modern period, and this opportunity to acquire or develop that knowledge is offered without additional fee to candidates enrolled for a relevant degree with the History Faculty.


Latin Assessment Test

All new medievalists under the auspices of the History Faculty are expected to take a Latin Assessment Test. Early modernists who are not sure how important Latin is likely to be for their research should seek advice from their prospective supervisors before missing this opportunity of skills development.

These tests are not part of the assessment for the degree; they serve to indicate how far the student needs to make further progress in the study of the language in order to competently undertake research in the field of medieval history.


Term-time Latin Learning

Weekly classes for those who need to improve their Latin will be available throughout the three academic terms of the year. Students enrolling on the pre-latin course would normally be expected also to join the Latin classes during term to build on the foundations laid in the three-week course.

Please note that we cannot take complete beginners for the term-time Latin course, so if you need Latin and have none you should sign up for the pre-term classes.

Teaching is also available for a wide variety of medieval and modern languages (including medieval Celtic and Germanic languages).

Funding for further language study

The Faculty has set aside some funds to sponsor language tuition, mainly in non-European languages, for which there is no formal provision in Oxford (e.g., through the Language Centre or the Oriental Studies Faculty).

Our funds are limited, so we will not always be able to cover all the cost involved. We would at the very least recommend that you apply in parallel to your College for support.

In the first instance, you should consult your supervisor about your need of language acquisition, and once you have agreed a way forward you are welcome to apply to the Faculty for support.

There is currently no formal application procedure, an email or free-form letter to the Graduate Office is perfectly acceptable. Before you submit an application you should investigate how you could acquire the language skills you need and provide the following information:

  • A letter of support from your supervisor(s)
  • The cost of the language teaching you require
  • How the tuition is relevant to your research

Once we have this information we will be happy to consider what contribution the History Faculty would be able to make in your particular case.

The Language Centre

The Language Centre, provides courses and has a library with materials in 200 languages. It has lending books, sound recordings, videos, newspapers and online resources. The facilities are available free of charge to graduate students.

The pressure on places in the classes is considerable, and you are urged to register for whatever course you wish to follow as soon as possible after enrolments begin, in Week 0 of Michaelmas Term.

For non-native speakers who wish to improve their English, there are a variety of courses in English for Academic Studies (particularly the pre-sessional courses, held in July to September).