Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
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faq FAQs

What courses in Modern Languages are available at Oxford?
Why study languages at Oxford?
What part does language work play at Oxford?
But doesn't the course emphasise literature?
What are the non-literary options?
What is meant by "transferable skills"?
How is the course structured?
What can you tell me about the year abroad?
How hard is it to get into Oxford to study Modern Languages?
What is expected of a potential student?
Can I start a language from scratch?
What is the entrance procedure like?
Criteria for Admission to the BA in Modern Languages and associated Joint Schools
Do you accept people who plan to take a gap year?
How can I prepare myself for the entrance procedure?
UNIQ Summer Schools
Joint Degree Courses

What courses in Modern Languages are available at Oxford?

There are three ways of studying European languages at Oxford:

A: you can focus on one language

There are special first-year courses for French and German. These allow you to concentrate exclusively on French by taking the usual language and literature papers, plus papers in French Film Studies, Literary Theory and Thought; or you can concentrate exclusively on German by taking the usual language and literature papers, plus papers in German Film Studies, Medieval Studies and Thought.

If you study one other language on its own you will take some compulsory Linguistics papers in your first year.

B: you can study two languages;

If you study two languages at Oxford you take both up to the same level.

C: or you can do a Joint Degree combining one language and a different subject.

There are six Joint Degrees available: these combine a European language with Classics; with English; with Linguistics; with a Middle Eastern Language; with Modern History; and with Philosophy.

For more information on all these courses, see the University Prospectus; or you will find details on the web at http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/courses/

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Why study languages at Oxford?

  • The course is intellectually challenging, exciting and enjoyable.
  • Recent studies indicate that an increasing number of British employers are realizing the value of recruiting trained linguists, and Oxford Modern Languages graduates regularly go into interesting and well-paid jobs in such highly competitive areas as the City, international banking, the Law, management consultancy, big business, accountancy, international press agencies, the media, advertising, the Civil Service, Foreign Office and the performing arts. Employers value them because they are competent in one or two languages; have acquired a range of transferable skills; and have first-hand experience of other cultures.
  • Many others go on to do post-graduate work in a wide range of subjects (Law, Literature, Accountancy, Theatre, International Relations etc.). Others become language and literature teachers in schools at home and abroad, university teachers, professional translators or interpreters.
  • Modern Languages have been taught in Oxford since 1724, over which time the Faculty has built up two large libraries: the Taylor Institution Library and the Faculty Library. Both are situated in the city centre. The Taylor Library is the largest research library in Britain devoted to Modern Languages and is part of the Taylor Institution (founded 1845), the building in which many of the Faculty’s lectures and classes are held.
  • Oxford’s Modern Languages tutors are scholars of international standing, and you will come into constant contact with them through tutorials, classes, seminars and lectures.
  • Because of the college and tutorial system, there is almost certainly more individual and small-group teaching in Oxford by full-time staff than in any other British university.
  • Oxford offers a very wide range of language combinations, and most students study to a high level two of the following languages: French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Greek, and Portuguese.
  • Oxford Modern Languages students have access to the University’s excellently equipped Language Centre. This received special praise in the most recent HEFCE Teaching Quality Assessment.
  • Oxford has funds to support applicants and students with a range of disabilities. Information, in printed form or as a cassette, is available from the Equal Opportunities Officer, University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JD.

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What part does language work play at Oxford?

  • Language is the keystone of the Oxford course. Language papers form about 50% of the Preliminary (First-year) and Final Examinations. The First-year language course is designed to improve your command of grammar and broaden your vocabulary; you will also receive tuition in the spoken language.
  • The Final Examination includes a range of oral and aural tests as well as written exercises.
  • The course aims to teach spoken fluency in colloquial and more formal situations, the ability to write essays in the foreign language, and the ability to translate into and out of the foreign language with accuracy and sensitivity to a range of vocabulary, styles and registers. The increased use of e-mail and the World Wide Web means that proficiency in the written language is becoming as important in the work-place as oral proficiency.
  • The French and German Departments now offer optional Finals papers in advanced translation so that you can, if you wish, devote up to 75% of your Finals papers to language or language-related studies (i.e. Linguistics).
  • The Language Centre possesses a collection of printed, video, and listening comprehension materials that are specifically tailored to the needs of Modern Languages undergraduates. It also has a library of taped, self-instructional courses in all major European languages and a large collection of reference works. It is equipped with satellite TV that receives broadcasts in eight languages, and with computer-assisted language learning facilities. Its library contains over 15,000 audio and video cassettes, covering over 100 languages. For further information see: http://www.lang.ox.ac.uk.
  • The Faculty employs native speakers of French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian as Language Instructors or Lectors, who offer courses on grammar, essay-writing and oral/aural skills. Additionally, most colleges employ one or more native speakers as lectors in French and German.
  • Each year, the Faculty awards up to 15 travelling scholarships, each worth £1200 in 2002, on the basis of a competitive examination. Further travel grants are offered by the Faculty and many colleges.


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But doesn't the course emphasise literature?

  • Yes, on the grounds that the study of literature is enjoyable, personally and linguistically enriching, and intellectually challenging. It gives you an understanding of other cultures that cannot be acquired solely through learning the language, and it leads you into areas such as gender issues, popular culture, theatre studies, aesthetics, anthropology, art history, ethics, history, philosophy, politics, psychology and theology. The Nuffield Languages Enquiry (2000) suggests that such cultural understanding forms a valuable complement to linguistic proficiency in the work-place.
  • Precisely because the study of literature can take you in so many, often surprising, directions, many students who have done little or no literature during their A-level course become enthusiastic about and committed to it once they encounter it at university. It certainly presents few difficulties for able linguists; you will have the opportunity to investigate some of the most interesting products of human imagination and thought, and will be given expert guidance by tutors.
  • The Oxford course allows you either to study a broad, chronological range of literature or to focus your studies on the medieval, the early modern, or the modern period right up to the present day.
  • The Oxford course also offers a wide range of options in non-literary subjects.

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What are the non-literary options?

  • Linguistics. This is the study of language in its own right. Language is probably human beings’ most distinctive characteristic, since it arguably distinguishes us from animals and underlies almost all our achievements. Linguistics looks at how words are formed (morphology), how sentences are constructed (syntax), how we make and hear sounds (phonetics), and how these sounds behave in particular languages (phonology). Linguistics investigates how age, sex and social status affect language use (sociolinguistics); how children learn to speak (language acquisition); how languages change (historical linguistics); and how the same language can vary according to where it is spoken (dialectology). Linguistics examines how words and sentences mean what they mean - and how they sometimes don’t mean what they seem to mean (semantics and pragmatics)! In short, Linguistics provides us with ways of understanding such diverse areas as the language of poetry, children and computers; the (in)efficiency of social communication; and the acquisition of our mother tongue or a foreign language.
  • Philology. Oxford is uniquely equipped for the study of this branch of Linguistics - which deals with the history of languages, the common ancestry of “families” of languages, the evidence for earlier stages of language history, and the principles of language change. Philology involves the study of the earlier stages of languages and throws unexpected light on their modern forms. For example, the reasons why so many European languages use both “to have” and “to be” as auxiliary verbs in compound tenses appear mysterious until you delve into their history. And if you take definite and indefinite articles for granted, then you will be surprised to learn that they did not exist in the early forms of most European languages. As you find the solutions to such historical puzzles, so you also discover much that helps you to achieve a fuller understanding of contemporary linguistic usage.
  • Advanced Translation. This final-year option invites you to think about the principles of translation. It also has a pronounced practical bent so that you will find yourself working on everything from theatre to marketing and subtitling to strip cartoons.
  • Film Studies (European Literature and Cinema). This Final-year option gives you the opportunity to explore some of the inter-relationships between the literature side of your course and cinema. The work of such directors as Sergei Eisenstein and Fritz Lang lays the foundation for later developments in European cinema which you may study via a number of topics. These include auteur theory, spectatorship, adaptations of literary texts, and the work of literary authors writing for the screen.


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What is meant by "transferable skills"?

  • The ability to assemble information, analyse questions, formulate an argument, and present it lucidly, concisely and interestingly, both orally and in writing.
  • The ability to research a problem and retrieve information.
  • The ability to perceive new problems and arrive at imaginative solutions.
  • The ability to work in small groups and listen both critically and creatively to what other people have to say.
  • The ability to organise your time well and work sensibly under pressure.
  • Oxford’s tutorial system, which involves the regular production of closely-argued essays and personal contact with tutors, is particularly good at teaching students these skills.


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How is the course structured?

  • Your first year is closely structured. If you study two of French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Greek and Portuguese, you will attend oral classes and courses on the grammatical structure of both languages, translation into and out of both languages and, in some of the languages, comprehension. You will also attend introductory lecture courses and participate in seminars and/or tutorials on literature. If you study only one of those languages, you will attend the same courses in that one language, with additional courses depending on your subject combination.
  • After you have passed the Preliminary Examination at the end of your first year, your second year gives you much more freedom to choose your own areas of study. You will have one or two tutorials per week. You will also normally have 2-3 hours of language classes per week in each of the languages being studied. You are also free to attend any of the many lecture courses offered by the Modern Languages Faculty or, indeed, by any other Faculty.
  • Your third year is normally the one you will spend abroad.
  • During the first two terms of your fourth year, you continue the course that you began during your second year, and you take Finals in the second half of the third term.
  • There are no second-year University examinations, but individual colleges and languages set informal examinations at the start of most terms to help prepare you for Finals.
  • You may submit an extended essay based on your own research as part of Finals, and some options allow for a certain amount of marked coursework in the Finals assessment.
  • You can study Czech (with Slovak) with French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Greek or Portuguese or as part of a Joint Degree course, but you cannot study Czech (with Slovak) on its own.
  • Catalan, Celtic, Galician, Polish, Provençal and Yiddish are not available as full Modern Languages degree subjects, but you can study them as optional papers at Finals and/or in certain subject combinations.

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What can you tell me about the year abroad?

  • You can spend the year abroad in one of three ways: as a foreign language assistant in one country; as a university student in one or two countries; working in a paid or voluntary job in one or two foreign countries. Students studying Russian often spend part or all of the year abroad on Russian language courses that are run in Russian cities by a national organisation called Russian Language Undergraduate Studies. Note that students taking Russian for Beginners (Course B) spend a compulsory 8 months on a RLUS course during their second year.
  • If you decide to be an assistant, your college will help you to apply for a post through the British Council. Language assistants receive a reasonable salary (which they often supplement by teaching English privately) and their host schools frequently help them find reasonably priced accommodation.
  • If you wish to study abroad, your tutors will normally be able to give you help and advice since college tutors often have contacts with foreign universities. Oxford’s German Department has an exchange scheme with the University of Bonn. The Italian Department has similar arrangements with the Universities of Siena and Pavia. The French Department has special arrangements with the Sorbonne, Sciences Po and ENS Lyon. The Greek Department has close links with the University of Thessaloniki.
  • The Faculty has a Year Abroad Database, which students can use to search for information about previous year abroad experiences, destinations, and activities.
  • The tuition fee payable for the year abroad depends on your fee status and, in some cases, on your household income. More detailed information can be found here. Some year abroad activities currently accord a fee waiver and/or provide a placement grant -- some university exchanges, the British Council assistantship scheme, and certain combinations of work placements. The Faculty also has a Year Abroad Travel Hardship fund to offer financial support to students whilst they live and study/ work abroad.
  • If you wish to work abroad, your tutors will often be able to give you help and advice.
  • During your year abroad you will be expected to consolidate the work that you did during the second year; follow a course of study agreed beforehand with your tutors; keep in regular touch with your tutors; and prepare for your final year. If you wish to submit an extended essay as part of Finals, the year abroad is the ideal time in which to do the preparatory work.
  • Oxford Modern Languages students have recently spent their year abroad at the Sorbonne, the British Institute in Paris, the Conservatoire de Lyon, working in an orphanage in Central America, working for a TV company in Argentina, and working in banks in Paris and Frankfurt. It is possible to find jobs in Russia, either teaching English or working in commercial and cultural organisations. One recent Oxford graduate spent a year teaching English at the University of Yakutsk in Siberia. Others have taught English in Martinique and French-speaking Africa and Canada.


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How hard is it to get into Oxford to study Modern Languages?

  • In recent years, about one out of every three applicants has got a place at Oxford to read Modern Languages; the ratio varies for each Joint School degree (see the information on each course page on the University’s Admissions webpages).
  • Your choice of college does not affect your chances of obtaining a place: a sophisticated scheme is in operation which allows good candidates who have applied to over-subscribed colleges to be interviewed and accepted by other colleges.

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What is expected of a potential student?

  • Normally a good command of the basic grammar of the language(s) you are studying at A-level and intend to study to degree level.
  • An interest in language, literature and culture.
  • Even if you have done little or no literature as part of your A-level course, you are not at a disadvantage since your interviewers will be trying to discover whether you read naturally, independently and intelligently. This includes reading English literature and/or foreign literature in translation.

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Can I start a language from scratch?

  • Yes. A lot of people who study Czech, Greek, Italian, Polish and Portuguese are admitted as beginners.
  • A Russian for Beginners course is now available (Course B); this course is offered only with another modern language, in which those applying must have A-level or an equivalent standard, and cannot be followed as part of a Joint Degree with English, History, Classics, Philosophy, Linguistics or a Modern Middle Eastern language.
  • For further advice on these languages, please contact the Modern Languages Faculty Office, 41 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JF, or write to us at reception@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk, and your enquiry will be forwarded to the relevant tutor.

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What is the entrance procedure like?

  • The starting point for finding out about the entrance procedure is at: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk. A guide on how to apply is available at http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/apply, and all documents relating to applications are grouped together here http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/downloads.
  • General guidance on the submission of written work is available at http://www.ox.ac.uk/undergraduate/how_to_apply/written_work/written_work.html.
  • All candidates must submit one piece of marked classwork written in each language which you plan to study and in which you will have A2 (or an equivalent standard) before university. This will demonstrate to interviewers how you are developing in your use of the target language(s) in work you have completed in the normal course of your A2 (or equivalent) study. If you are applying for a language in which you will not have reached this standard before university, you do not need to submit anything in that language. All candidates must also submit one piece only of marked writing in English (perhaps on literature, or history, or some other subject you are studying at school or college). This piece will show how you construct an argument and express your ideas in English. So, for example, if you are applying to study French and German, you will need to submit three pieces of written work: one in French, one in German and one in English. If you are applying to study Spanish and Beginners' Russian you will need to submit two pieces of work: one in Spanish and one in English. Please see further guidance on the submission of written work.
  • You will be asked to sit a 30-minute written test(s) in the language(s) you intend to study at Oxford that you are taking to A2 (or equivalent) level. Depending on your choice of degree course, you may be required to sit a Language Aptitude test, or a test for another subject if you are applying for a Joint Schools degree or Modern Languages and Linguistics: for full details of all test requirements and specimen test papers, see http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/tests/languages.
  • You will have one or more interviews, depending on the college to which you apply. Because different colleges have different practices, it is hard to generalise about interviews. But because we want to find out as much as possible about your intellectual interests and academic potential, you may be asked, for instance, about your reading, your interest in the culture of the relevant country, or the work you have submitted. You may also be given the opportunity to speak in the relevant foreign language(s) or asked questions about a short passage in English or the relevant foreign language(s). As far as possible, interviewers will try to let you show your strengths, interest in the subject(s) you intend to study, and reasons for applying to Oxford.
  • If you apply for one of the Joint Degrees, you will be interviewed by tutors in both subject areas.
  • For a variety of reasons, you may be interviewed by more than one college.
  • Not all colleges accept students for all the languages listed here. Go to the Coursefinder page to discover which colleges accept which languages and language combinations.


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Criteria for Admission to the BA in Modern Languages and associated Joint Schools

1. General Admissions Criteria

Successful candidates for admission will possess the following qualities. The admissions process as a whole is designed to identify which candidates possess them in the greatest measure:

  • Motivation and commitment along with capacity for sustained study of language and literature.
  • Communication: willingness and ability to express ideas clearly and effectively both in writing and orally; ability to listen and to give considered responses.
  • Proven competence in the language(s) as established by school work written in the language(s), by the language test and (in some cases) by oral competence at interview. In the case of beginners, clear evidence of aptitude and potential for language study.
  • While there is no requirement that candidates will have read any literature in the language(s), successful candidates will demonstrate an aptitude and commitment to the study of literature by evidence of their readiness to discuss their reading in English or in the relevant language(s) or by their response to a reading-passage at interview. Assessors will look for evidence of intellectual curiosity and critical engagement.


Selection is competitive and it may well be that a candidate is able to demonstrate these qualities and nonetheless is edged out of contention by a candidate with stronger all-round claims. In applying these criteria, the main concern is to identify proven competence in the language(s) along with future promise and aptitude in literary and cultural studies. Examination results, predicted examination results, school reports, school written work, performance at interview and in the language test(s) are all taken into account in the assessment of present achievement and of future potential. In the case of candidates whose first language is not English, competence in the English language is also a criterion.

Candidates will normally be invited to interview unless they display at least one of the following shortcomings: results in official examinations, especially GCSE, are not at a sufficiently high level; results predicted for A-level or other impending official examination suggest that the candidate is unlikely to succeed in meeting the conditional offer; the school report contains clear negative aspects relevant to the general admissions criteria; the written work submitted is clearly deficient in respect of the general admissions criteria. A low score in a language test in conjunction with any of these other shortcomings would mean that a candidate would not normally be invited for interview. A score in the lowest quartile for the language test(s) required by the course applied for would normally mean that a candidate is not called for intervew. Candidates applying for a joint degree with another subject whose test performance does not meet the short-listing criteria of the other subject will not normally be invited for interview

Candidates who display one or more of the above shortcomings may nonetheless be invited for interview if the paper application reveals a clear justification for, or explanation of, the shortcomings and clear alternative evidence of the candidate's potential.

2. Criteria for assessing submitted written work

Written work will be assessed in the light of the general admissions criteria. Account will be taken of the circumstances in which the work was done. A different standard of content and presentation will be expected from pieces of highly prepared course-work done over several days or even weeks, and from pieces of written work done for homework with a short deadline or in class or under examination conditions.

Assessors will bear in mind criteria such as:

  • Relevance to the question or topic;
  • Coherence of argument;
  • Clear and logical structure;
  • Precision and clarity of writing;
  • In the case of written work in the language(s), ability to use correctly a range of grammatical structures and vocabulary;
  • In the case of written work in English, a good command of the English language.


3. Criteria for assessing written language tests

The written language test lasts half-an-hour and is taken in schools in November. It may vary in format from one language to another or there may be variations in format in the same language from year to year but the test is always designed to test knowledge of basic structures of the foreign language. It is not primarily a test of vocabulary.

4. Criteria for assessing interviews


The interview is intended primarily to assess the candidate's potential for future development and suitability for an intensive, tutorially-based teaching system. Knowledge of the literature of the language(s) is not being assessed but assessors will look for evidence of an aptitude for literary study. In some cases candidates may be given a short passage (either in the language or in English) to prepare before the interview. Successful candidates will take the opportunity to present a reading of the passage in an argued, clear, critical and articulate way; they will equally be ready to listen to ideas put to them and to assess their relevance.

There may be an oral component in the interview, designed to test the correctness and fluency with which the candidate can speak the language.

Interviewers may ask questions about the candidate's interests and accomplishments as a way of easing the candidate into the interview proper or in order to assess the candidate's motivation. The candidate's interests and accomplishments are not relevant to the selection process except in so far as they may bear upon one or more of the general admissions criteria.

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Do you accept people who plan to take a gap year?

  • Yes, but different colleges have different policies on this question and you should approach the Admissions Tutor of colleges you are interested in before filling in your UCAS form.
  • Note that Russian for Beginners is not available for deferred entry.

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How can I prepare myself for the entrance procedure?

  • Thoroughly revise the basic grammar of the language(s) you intend to study post- A-level.
  • Try to read some books in the foreign language or in English translation, and go and see films or plays by foreign authors.
  • Think about what you have read or seen. Ask yourself, for example, what you liked or disliked about a book or film, and what you learned from them; why you prefer one book or author to another; whether the books you enjoy reading have anything in common.
  • Come to our Faculty Open Days in May, July or September, or to one of the Open Days that are organised for individual languages or by colleges. Please consult the Undergraduate Prospectus, or contact the University Admissions Office for more details (01865 288000). At these Open Days you will be able to meet tutors, talk to current students, and receive answers to any questions you may have. More information on the Open Days can be found at: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/opendays.

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UNIQ Summer Schools

UNIQ logoIf you are interested in studying Modern Languages at Oxford, and would like to get a taster of what it would be like, why not apply to take part in a UNIQ Summer School?

UNIQ Summer schools are for UK students from state schools, currently studying for AS Levels (lower sixth form). The courses for 2012 will include French, German, Spanish and a new course in Beginners’ Languages. As well as engaging in an intense academic programme which will give you a good idea of what studying at Oxford is like, you'll have the opportunity to take part in a varied social programme including theatre trips, sports activities, and drama workshops.

For more information and to make an application, please visit http://www.ox.ac.uk/uniq

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Joint Degree Courses

  • The six Joint Degree courses are a particularly attractive and challenging aspect of Oxford’s Modern Languages programme. You can combine one modern language with Classics; English; Linguistics; a Middle Eastern Language; Modern History; or Philosophy. The Joint Degree courses are not available to those following the Russian for Beginners Course.
  • You can either divide your time equally between the Modern Language and other subject, or you can devote slightly more time to one of the two subjects.
  • All six courses allow you to choose options which relate to and complement one another in a variety of ways.
  • All six courses normally involve a year abroad.
  • If you wish to study Classics and Modern Languages, two courses are available. The more usual one (Option 1) is for people who have studied Latin or Greek, as well as a modern language, to a good standard at school and involves the study of both the modern and the classical language throughout the course. If you have not studied Latin or Greek at school and wish to start one of these languages from scratch, we offer an alternative course (Option 2) in which only Classics is studied in the first five terms, and the entire course (including the year abroad) lasts five years.
  • If you wish to study European and Middle Eastern Languages you will normally have an A-level in the European language, but you need have no previous knowledge of the Middle Eastern language (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish). During the first year, you concentrate intensively on the Middle Eastern language and keep the European language going by means of a regular amount of language work and a reduced amount of literary study. The second year is spent abroad.
  • More detailed information on the range of options available in each of the six Joint Degree courses is available in the University’s Undergraduate Prospectus or at: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/courses/. This will also tell you which colleges do not accept students for some or any of these courses.

 

BA (Hons) Joint Degree Courses

English and Modern Languages
Classics and Modern Languages
Modern History and Modern Languages
Philosophy and Modern Languages
European and Middle Eastern Languages
Modern Languages and Linguistics

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